Thursday 3 June 2010

Conversations with God

For some time now my wife has been participating in a book group whereby the members read then discuss some agreed upon literary tome. She has made mention of the group's latest focus, a book called "Conversations with God". This had impressed her to such a degree that she has mentioned several times that I should read it. I agreed to do so and she got me my own copy. Her advice before I started was that I should read the introduction and go through at least the 1st chapter to get an idea of what the book was about.

One day before heading off to work, I placed "my copy" of the hard covered volume in my briefcase and headed off to the subway with the intention of wading into "CwG" (a common abbreviation for the 3 books in the series) on my ride to work. Once seated, I took out the book, opened it to the introduction and read through the several pages penned by this Neale Donald Walsch. Obviously with the word God in the title, I anticipated some religious theme. Obviously with the word conversation in the title, we would have... well, I wasn't exactly sure what we would have.

In the 1st paragraph of chapter 1, I read that God began talking to the author. I beg your pardon? I continued and arrived at the bottom of the page and clearly understood that the author was claiming that God was in fact speaking directly with him. Not metaphorically, but really; a conversation with God like you and I having a chat over a coffee.

I stopped reading. I looked up in the subway and glanced around the car absent-mindedly looking at everything and nothing specific. I mulled over the claim of the author that he had spoken, communicated, whatever, directly with God. After a moment of cogitation, I concluded that I would not read this book; I could not read this book. Why? The premise of the entire book was that the author has talked directly, personally with God. I didn't believe it. No matter what else the author would say, no matter how good, no matter how beneficial, no matter how insightful in the workings of the human race, relationships with the key to world peace, I could not accept the initial premise.

Neale Walsch may be an extremely nice man. Neale may have a wonderful message that brings hope to anyone who reads his book or his books. However, the premise spoiled the whole thing for me. If Neale had written that the Golden Rule is a wonderful rule and let's discuss how it can benefit us all, I would have said, "Yes". Unfortunately, he started with an idea I can't accept.

What? "I" can't accept? Another example of a non believer? Another Thomas the Doubter? Another ye of so little faith? Possibly, but I would like to think that any first glance dismissal stems from something a tad more profound than the cursory and shallow assessment of what one doesn't understand. What about the immediate recognition of what I have seen many times throughout my life?

How many people have claimed to have spoken directly with God? If you would grant me some hyperbole, David Koresh of the Waco, Texas fiasco claimed to have spoken with God. Jim Jones of the Jonestown massacre also claimed to have spoken with God. Both of these stories ended tragically and because of the tragic ends, we can easily surmise that the claimants were lying, deluded or just simply insane. The negative aspect of the story leads anyone to the conclusion that these people did not talk with God because God or our concept of God would not include the idea of an association between something evil and God, something good.

I return to the question of whether or not a claimant, any claimant has actually spoken with God. History is full of examples of people making such a claim: Muhammad; Joseph Smith who supposedly translated the Book of Mormon and founded the Mormon Church; Bahá'u'lláh of the Bahá'í Faith; even Claude Vorilhon of Raëlism. I am sure the list could go on and on. Who's right? Who's wrong? It would somehow stand to reason that everybody can't be right; somebody has to be wrong. How can we, how can I, how can anybody figure out what's right, what's wrong, what's real and what's a lie?

My wife led me back to the issue of the message, to the ideas in "CwG": the meaning of life, how to live our lives, etc. I cannot and will not deny the importance of these ideas. I must, however, return to the initial premise: God spoke with me. Sorry, not buying it, game over, I'm moving on! You want to talk about world peace and how to achieve it? Fine. You want to tell me that God personally spoke with you about world peace? God? With you? Personally? Now tell me, at what point do I, does anybody ask the question and get the correct answer as to whether this claimant is trying to lead me to Waco or Jonestown? Or maybe they're just claiming that if I get "clear" and everybody else gets "clear", we will all achieve world peace. (I'll leave it to you to figure out that not too subtle reference.)

Okay, let's discuss whether God spoke with Neale or not. I have now concluded that God didn't talk with David nor Jim, did He (or She [chuckle]) talk with anybody else including Neale? To be frank, I don't know, I can't know. I wasn't there, I have no tangible proof one way or another, the answer to the question is not just elusive, it is impossible to obtain. Anybody who says they believe God did talk with Neale is saying so purely based on faith. Nothing wrong with faith, faith is a great part of our lives however the question on the table is whether God actually spoke with Neale.

In the movie Rain Man, Charlie takes his autistic brother Raymond to a restaurant where Raymond wants some toothpicks. Accidentally, the waitress spills the box of toothpicks on the floor. Raymond looks down and states there are 246 toothpicks. Charlie asks the waitress how many are in the box and she says 250. Charlie says, "Pretty close Ray" and starts to walk away but then the waitress says that there are still 4 in the box. You can see Charlie is processing this information not quite sure what it means but realizing that his brother glanced down and accurately counted the number of toothpicks which had spilled on the floor.

Of course, anybody reading this would say that Rain Man was merely a movie. However, I have actually seen "Rain Man" in real life. My wife's cousin has a brother, David, who is autistic. I have met him several times and witnessed this man's extraordinary mental abilities. While his personality, his mental development is that as portrayed by the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie, he also demonstrates abilities that literally defy belief. It is hard to believe that the human brain is physically capable of doing such a thing.

If you give David any date, this is usually is in the form of a game where you give David your birth date, he will take a moment then tell you what day of the week you were born on. Now, apparently, there is a method, a possible mental calculation one can do so such a mental feat is not unknown but the amazing part is that nobody taught David how to do this. He just does it; he has always been able to do it.

David is a pianist, a musician. He composes his own music. I myself played for years, I even studied music, but the first time I sat beside David and watched him play, heard and saw the complexity of his harmonies and melodies, knowing that he was completely self-taught, I was absolutely blown away. That man had more innate musical talent in his little finger than I had in my entire body. And he was self-taught!

The perplexing aspect to David is where did these extraordinary talents come from? In the book Born on a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet, a highly functioning autistic savant talks of himself, his abilities and his view of the world, a view which very much differs from our view, the more "normal" view of the world. (He was given the challenge of learning the Icelandic language and one week later, yes just 1 week later was interviewed on television conversing in Icelandic) The author manages to give a glimpse of the potential, the possibilities of the human brain which re-enforces an idea I heard about a long time ago, that is, human beings really only use about 10% of their actual brain power. Just imagine that, only 10%! As I sit here right now and mull over such a figure, I have a difficult time, no, an impossible time trying to conceive of how we would think, what we would do if we were in fact using 100% of our brain power. 10% may not be an accurate number, but in meeting David, in reading about Daniel, I realise that human brain is capable of things which defy belief. In another era, being able to determine the day of the week for a date, being able to learn a foreign language so fast, might be considered as witchcraft.

Returning to Neale Walsch. Did he talk with God? Who knows what extraordinary things the human mind is capable of? How did Neale write 3 volumes of Conversations with God? How did Joseph Smith write out the Book of Mormon? I don't know. But considering what extraordinary things the human mind is capable of, do I, do we need to seek the answer by invoking the name of God? As I said previously, in another time, such feats would be considered witchcraft. Nowadays, we can say it is the hand of God.

Life is an amazing thing. It is also something which we must admit, remains pretty much unknown or misunderstood. Traditionally, we have sought to explain phenomenon by referring to a deity. Unfortunately, while looking back on the ancients and their beliefs, let's say of the Roman or Greek gods as, well, quaint, misguided, primitive, we seem to have this tendency of forgetting that in these modern times, our own beliefs are really no better than these mythical gods of ancient times. How pretentious of us.

Sorry Neale. When I listen to this cousin's brother David play one of his own musical compositions at the piano, I do not believe that this came from God per se. When I read CwG, I do not disagree with the ideas presented but I do disagree with the original premise. You Neale, like David, do not have a direct link to God any more than I do. To attribute the voice in your head to something outside of your head is to disavow, excuse my little pun, the "almighty" power of the human brain.


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