Open Enquiries from a Featured Theist

In my first ever blog post, almost a year and a half ago, I declared my sentiment that the debate on the existence of God is ultimately meaningless.  Since that fateful day, I have posted articles about philosophy, science, psychology, history, mythology, as well as random thoughts and just some utter bullshit.  Inevitably though, I am time and time again roped into the same religious debates that I denounced with that first post.  In these debates, I have argued from both sides of the fence, playing Devil’s and God’s advocate depending on the context, all while stealthily avoiding affiliating myself with any one denomination.  Throughout the course of these discussions, the rare times I’ve had to directly address the question, I’ve described myself as an omnist, a deist, an agnostic apologist, and an aimless wanderer between all beliefs (and no belief).  But, despite all my efforts to avoid it, I have recently been labelled by a wonderful alliance of atheist bloggers on their compendium, Enquiries on Atheism, as a ‘Featured Theist.’  Now don’t get me wrong, I am both honored and flattered to be featured on this collaboration, and I want to send my sincere thanks to whoever is responsible for making the decision (even if it’s just a random computer algorithm).  But it does draft me onto the losing team of a competition of which I’m growing more and more wearisome.  Through all my debates for and against the values and hypocrisies of religion, the one consistency has been inconsistency, specifically, the inconsistency of beliefs among those of the same nomenclature.  Even within a specific denomination of a specific religion, you’re not likely to find any two people who share all of the exact same beliefs, moral, philosophical, or otherwise.  For example, two Christians who attend the same church and both declare Christ as their Lord and savior may have completely different views about the importance of the factual validity of the bible.  Likewise, two atheists may be variably certain about the nature of objective reality.  It’s these and similar discrepancies that have led me to avoid declaring any affiliation myself.  Nonetheless, we humans need to categorize our world in order to understand it, and so people with vastly different beliefs may end up being labelled, by themselves and others, with the same assumption-laden label, which further sparks the debate based on nothing more than each person’s own presumptions about that label.

But while I’m being cast, I might as well play the role, for the show must go on.  And I’d like to take the opportunity to explore the varying beliefs within one of these sticky labels.  Atheists are notorious for avoiding declaring any of their own beliefs by exploiting the loophole that atheism is a lack of belief.  But as atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods, as opposed to nihilism, I’m not gonna let the writers over at EoA wriggle out of the witness stand so easily.  So I do have some enquiries, which I’ll list here and also shoot over to them, that should, if they choose to answer, help clarify what beliefs atheist do not lack. These questions are open to all who want to answer though, and if you don’t mind disclosing your preferred label, it may help to exemplify my point even further.

1. Do you believe in the finality of objective reality, despite that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience. In other words, do you believe that the physical universe is all that exists?

2. Do you believe that logic, and thereby science, is inherent to reality, or do we project it onto reality.  Is logic the language of nature, or is it simply our method of understanding it?

3. Do you believe that our logic, and thereby our science, can or will someday explain the entirety of reality. Can the true nature of reality be known?

4. Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?

5. Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death?

I’ll stop there for now, as these are the questions I’m mainly interested in.  Hopefully from here we can foster a discussion that explores each others’ worldviews.  Until then, have at it!

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Shalim: The Lost God of Peace

At a hangout sesh, late in my high school career, someone left the get-together with the common colloquial valediction, “Peace.”  A friend of mine, in his sage inebriated insight, took notice of this and made the observation, “Isn’t it cool that we use the word ‘peace’ to say good-bye now?”  What followed was another in a long line pointless speculative discussions that took place that night, this one about the origins of this cultural phenomenon.  Maybe the only actually interesting point that someone made was that the Hebrew greeting/valediction combo ‘shalom’ is translated as meaning ‘peace.’

For some reason this tidbit of trivia stuck in my mind, and I began to notice variations of this word in other languages.  The Arabic word for peace is ‘salaam,’ and is also used in greetings, such as ‘As-salam alaykum’ meaning ‘Peace be upon you,’ a universal greeting for Muslims, which also seems be a variation of the word.  The commonality of the word and its synonymy with peace led me to do a bit of research, which turned up the Proto-Semitic triconsonantal root S-L-M.  To explain what this means, Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, etc.) are based on consonants.  The Arabic and Hebrew alphabets contain only consonants, with vowels denoted by dots or lines surrounding those consonants, except for the letter aleph, which serves as a vowel place holder.  So to find the root of any Semitic word, you have to trace it through its main consonants.  For example, the place holder aleph paired with the consonant L gives us the root of Allah, Elohim, and the suffix/prefix –el, which all have divine implications.  This is also where we get the European pronouns and definite articles (le, la, el, etc.).  All of these can be traced back to the Canaanite father-god known simply as El.  Most scholars contend that the Canaanite religion was the basis for Yahwism and by extension Judaism, and it is from this same pantheon that we get the root of the S-L-M words.

Shalim was the god of dusk, twin brother of Shahar, the god of dawn, both attributed to the planet Venus, the morning and evening star (seems they hadn’t yet discovered that these were the same celestial body).  Since Shalim represented the completion of the day, his name become synonymous with completion, wholeness, rest, and of course peace.  This also associated him with death and the netherworld, giving us a glimpse into the attitude the Canaanites had regarding death: a peaceful completion of life.  Tragically the entire Canaanite religion was all but lost to history, only partially preserved in the clay tablets found at Ugarit, but its gods are preserved in the Semitic languages still used today.  Shalim’s legacy, however, lives on in another still relevant context today.

Jerusalem, the ancient holy city of three of the world’s most followed religions, and the center of global controversy, is widely believed to have been originally established as a city for Shalim.  The name of the city, when analyzed from a Semitic standpoint, is literally translated as ‘the settlement of Shalim.’  It is known through Egyptian records, and even in Genesis, that Canaanites inhabited the city before it was conquered by the Israelites, so this is almost undoubtedly the case.  Unfortunately for Shalim, his city has not known his peace for quite some time, but followers of the Abrahamic religions might do well to realize that their holy city was established as the foundation of peace for their ancestors.

So if you are a lover of peace, consider saying a prayer to Shalim.  Tell him that, though he may be forgotten, his legacy lives on through his name, and ask that he return to his earthly temple, so that it may know his peace once more.