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First-time visitors to this site want to know who created it and why it is called The Believer’s Dilemma. The first question they ask is:  What do you believe?  

 

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When I was a teenager and first became interested in religion, my family and friends thought it strange. The big issues of the day were environmental (DDT poisoning, acid rain, the deteriorating ozone layer) and political, particularly the use of violence in connection with radical ideologies and national independence. None of my close friends had any interest in religion. My mother had inherited a passive, ‘cultural’ faith, and my father was an unabashed atheist. Religion seemed irrelevant and well on its way to extinction.

 

When I went off to university to study science I began to think seriously about the universe around me: from the Big Bang and fundamental forces (gravitational, electro-magnetic, weak and strong nuclear), to electrons, neutrons, protons, elements, amino acids, RNA, DNA, self-replicating organisms, and on to the puzzle of consciousness. I assumed that all the answers would be available in my university studies. What I found was that science still had many unanswered questions and was not the least bit apologetic about its ignorance. These unexplored/unexplained territories were not regarded as weaknesses but as exciting opportunities for future discovery. The scientists I met were not hostile toward religion. They conceived of ‘reality’ as the realm of science, while ‘mysteries’ such as the purpose of existence and the meaning of life were best left to non-empirical modes of thought. And so I began to examine religion, hoping to reach an understanding of some of the mysteries that lie outside the realm of empirical knowledge. 

 

The moment I became receptive to religious ideas, I was bombarded by proselytizing Hari Krishnas, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Born-again Christians, Jews for Jesus, Baha’is, Buddhists and others. Unlike scientists, who for the most part agree on what they know and what they don’t know, each religious group claimed to possess a unique truth while all their ‘competitors’ were in error. The ‘evidence’ offered to support these different religious systems was soft, and the underlying reasoning was often circular. For example, to take the Born-again Christian example, the resurrection of Jesus proves He is the son of God, and we know He was resurrected because the Bible provides inerrant witness, and we know the Bible is inerrantly true because Jesus affirmed it and He was the son of God, which we know to be true because He was resurrected from the dead. Each religion offers its own incontrovertible ‘proofs’ which other religion dismiss as deluded nonsense. The most urgent promises of ‘absolute truth’ and ‘divine love’ (which came from Born-again Christians) were coupled with threats of ‘eternal damnation’ for those who refuse to make a leap into the correct faith family (and therefore ‘reject’ Jesus as their personal Saviour).

 

I could understand how people born into a particular faith might accept the claims of people they love and trust. I could understand how a person going through a moral or psychological crisis might be persuaded to take a leap of blind faith in order to ‘join the flock’ and enjoy human fellowship. I had no ancestral faith to follow, and had experienced no emotional crisis to precipitate a leap of faith. Therefore I was not particularly interested in religion, which appeared narrow, negative, and more inclined to offer justifications for ignorance (Mystery! Paradox! Trust!) rather than verifiable answers.

 

Science does not attempt to explain the origins of the universe, but it does reveal an intricate, elegant, and finely-tuned mechanism in which perfectly predictable laws of nature hold chaos at bay. Without gravity, our planet would not exist as a concentration of matter, and it would not orbit the sun. Without weak and strong nuclear forces, electrons, neutrons, protons, and elements would not exist and without hydrogen and oxygen there would be no water, which is essential to life.  If planet earth orbited slightly closer to the sun or slight farther away, water would freeze or boil, and life as we know it would be impossible.

 

The intricate, elegant, and finely-tuned mechanism which is the universe suggests design. Science theorizes that the `designing force’ must be natural, while religion believes that the ‘Designer’ must be supernatural, because Godlike intelligence points logically to God. Religions vary greatly in their beliefs about whether the God who personally directed the creation of the universe continues to intervene in the affairs of the world in the present day.

 

At one end of the spectrum are deists, who believe in a Creator God that no longer intervenes in the universe. Deism attempts to reconcile natural laws and the evidence of design in Creation, with disorder and injustice in the observable world. Deists do not believe the Creator God answers prayers, blesses the righteous, or punishes the wicked.   

 

Polytheism attempted to make sense of observable disorder and injustice with a different model. Polytheists believed that tribes of violent, vindictive ‘gods’ spent their days making life miserable for one another and for mortals. One group of gods  would bless the righteous and punish the wicked, while another group would bless the wicked and punish the righteous. The unpredictability of divine intervention within the polytheistic model made it indistinguishable from the atheistic model of no god at all.  Both polytheism and atheism are fatalistic belief systems which do not propose any grand design for the universe or any purpose for human existence.  

 

The most popular belief system in the modern world is monotheism, in its three main variations: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Monotheists believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God, despite the observable world appearing chaotic, self-destructive, and lacking in justice. This puzzle is made impenetrable by the mutually exclusive claims of opposed monotheists. The three main branches of Christianity are actually different religions which do not regard one another as legitimate defenders of the faith. Roman Catholics and Protestants fought wars that killed millions of ‘false’ Christians. Each of these main branches of Christianity has persecuted and excommunicated heretics within their ranks.

 

Monotheists believe that God answers prayers, blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, although prayers may be answered ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘not now,’ which accurately reflects observable results but makes for an astonishingly convoluted theology of how it all works. The righteous are sometimes tormented by the devil, and sometimes by God, either as punishment for sin or as a test of faithfulness.  Monotheism offers detailed ‘explanations’ for suffering and chaos but is no better than deism, polytheism or atheism at predicting who will suffer or why. None of these forms of Christianity can explain why an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God would permit multitudes of suffering souls to live in error and to die under a curse of eternal torment.   

 

If there is an actual God, I wanted to cut out the bickering middlemen and experience a personal encounter. If there was a purpose to this life, I wanted a personal revelation. This seemed perfectly reasonable to my teenage mind. If there is a God who created the universe for a purpose, and if we humans are part of it, then we should know why we are here. Otherwise we are just killing time during this short experience of consciousness. 

 

I became fanatically obsessed with these questions, alienating my old atheist friends who believed that all ‘god’s are imaginary, and horrifying my new religious friends who believed that all god’s (other than their own) are false and demonic. One by one my friends dropped away until I was absolutely alone in my fanaticism. In the middle of a sleepless night I got up and drove away, picked up some hitchhikers at dawn, and travelled across the continent for two days. After leaving the hitchhikers at their destination, I travelled on to a remote beach beside the Indian Ocean where I waited, totally alone, for God to appear. I saw sun, moon, stars, sand, waves, and seabirds but no God.  For days I fasted, slept, dreamed, and hallucinated until God finally appeared. There I was, face to face with God, the Creator of the universe.

 

How can anybody know they have seen God rather than a hallucination or a delusion? What does the real God look like? What signs and wonders accompany the real God? Descriptions vary greatly from religion to religion, and from person to person within the same religion, which could mean there are different gods, or different manifestations, or different ways of interpreting a transcendental experience. Or it could mean that all God-sightings are personal hallucinations.

 

The only convincing proof of an actual encounter with God would be some kind of revelation that is beyond human intelligence, which only God could know. The revelation must not be some secret hidden in a cave on a planet on the far side of the universe which can only be reached in a space-ship travelling at the speed of light for a million years. The revelation would have to be verifiable here and know.

 

I wanted to know why an ‘omnipresent’ God is so conspicuously absent from our world.  I wanted to know why an ‘omniscient’ God lets us live and die in ignorance of the meaning of creation and our purpose in it. And I wanted to know why an ‘omnibenevolent’ God allows so much suffering.  Science has no answer to these questions. Religions all offer different, contradictory answers. What did God himself have to say? The ‘omnipresent’ God replied that he is present for anyone who seeks him. The ‘omniscient’ God replied that the meaning of creation and our purpose in it have been revealed to every tribe and nation upon the face of the earth.  The ‘omnibenevolent’ God replied that suffering is a necessary – and temporary – product of freewill, and its misuse. My questions were answered.

 

In the moment, I was far more impressed by the divine presence than by the answers which, frankly, made very little sense. In so far as it is possible for a human being to experience God, I have never doubted that the experience was real. It convinced me beyond all doubt that there is a God who created the universe for a purpose and that our individual lives have both meaning and purpose. But what does that mean?  

 

Deciphering the riddle required decades of study and investigation. The strongest revelation was that the meaning of creation and our purpose in it have been revealed to every tribe and nation upon the face of the earth. That immediately eliminated every known religion, because they are all too recent or too regional to qualify. In the absence of a 'universal' religion, what timeless truths have been revealed to every tribe and nation upon the face of the earth?

 

The list of candidates was surprisingly short. Some version of ‘love your neighbour’ is known to all civilizations and cultures. The Golden Rule is compatible with monotheism, deism, polytheism and atheism. Could this be the universal, eternal revelation which defines the meaning of creation and our purpose in it? My eureka moment was quickly followed by dismay. Although monotheism pays lip service to Golden Rule, monotheists can be highly selective about who is their neighbour, and who is to be loved. Jews, Christians and Muslims have fought endless wars with one another, and against pagans, savages and infidels. They have mercilessly persecuted heretics within their own ranks. Atheism, in the few places where it has become the dominant belief system, has been equally ruthless and blood-thirsty.

 

The problem is not that we are unaware of the Golden Rule, it is that we ignore it, or deliberately limit its application to the narrowest possible definition of who is our ‘neighbour. After studying religion for many years it became clear that dominant form within every religion is a ‘Gospel of Wrath’ which inflicts violence on its enemies. A little more study revealed that the Gospel of Wrath always restricts freewill. The violent, ugly religions believe in predestination imposed by an angry God who punishes suffering souls for crimes they did not commit, and rewards an elect few for merits that are not their own.  At the heart of Christianity is a deep dark theology of Wrath built upon Original Sin and defended by pillars of the Church such as Augustine, Luther and Calvin.  Conservative, evangelical Christianity is filled with disciples of Wrath. Their numbers are rapidly growing.

 

The Gospel of Wrath has driven multitudes to become  disciples of Anti-wrath or atheists. The liberal, moderate, tolerant Churches are filled with disciples of Anti-wrath, who seek a God of Love and Justice, but have only managed to replace the God of Wrath with an abstract, non-literal, non-present, non-personal deity so bland and ineffective that their Churches are emptying and dying.

 

The Gospel of Love is virtually unknown to disciples of Wrath, disciples of Anti-wrath, and Atheists.  There are many historical, theological and psychological reasons for this. This website examines the most important ones. We are free to overcome the errors of the past, if we dare to fully exercise our minds and our freewill. This is the believers’ dilemma.

 

To examine the world’s four major belief systems – Wrath, Anti-wrath, Love and Atheism  click here

 

Guy Rex Rodgers

 

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