Sunday, 22 May 2011

Religion and belief

Because some of my dreams contain imagery that is concordant with Christian expectations (see examples here) several people have identified my dreams as Christian-inspired. If that is the case, I don't mind, but I don't think it is true. This same type of mistake is apparent in conversations about God with people who are atheistic or agnostic. The problem is that various religions have defined God in their own way and i so doing, have established limitations regarding what God is, what he will or won't do, and what he looks like. Having created this definition, the religion becomes synonymous with the things it endeavors to describe.

It makes some conversations rather frustrating, because I do not consider myself Christian, despite having been baptized twice. The first time was as a new baby Catholic--one who became an atheist very quickly--and the second was in a Messianic Christian church. The latter occasion was prompted by my sincere desire to understand religious issues, particularly as they related to my dreams. At the time I didn't know the subject well enough to know if I had serious differences with the church, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the purpose of learning more. Later, I discovered that many differences existed. I didn't care too much about this, but these differences are important to most people in Christian or Messianic congregations.

To back up a bit, the non-believers who have expressed an opinion on this declare that the "Christian" content of my dreams is the product of cultural ambiance or leakage from my wife, who is Christian. This argument looks great as long as it isn't compared to the facts, which refute it rather well. This is important because these specific dreams are significant to me in part because I had them first and then learned how they fit into existing theological constructs. It did not work the other way around. I am confident of this, despite the supposed all-pervasiveness of Christian-themed information in America, because my early life did an excellent job of avoiding all this information. As for my wife, we never discussed religion at all. I did not go to church with her, and I didn't sneak a peek in her Bible. She did give me a Bible at one point, and I read part of Matthew before getting bored and putting it down.

Beyond this, I'd seen a lot of paintings by Catholic artists. Based on these, my understanding of Christianity was that Moses might have been Jesus' disciple, Jesus was crucified, there was a "last supper" of some kind (I didn't connect it to the crucifixion), and some guy named Stephen was shot full of arrows for some reason. I was aware that Paul was crucified upside-down, that David slew a giant named Goliath, that someone's head was given to a woman on a silver platter. I recognized the images, but had no idea what they meant, what the context was, or how they fit together. I had no idea that the majority of Catholic art focused on events in the last three days of Jesus' life, and had no idea how the pieces fit together. I got the flight into Egypt mixed up with the Exodus, in both cases aware only that Egypt and fleeing people were involved, including Jesus and Moses, who I still didn't realize lived in vastly different time periods.

The subject matter of my dreams is most closely connected with the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Exodus, Genesis, and Revelation. Although there are numerous paintings based on material from the last three of these, I don't know of any from the first two. Also, The images in my dreams are not about the scenes we all recognize from paintings in art history books, nor are any of the dreams simple recreations of familiar material. Instead, they are original but consistent with what is found in various parts of the Bible, and in most examples, there are no great popular depictions of what might be considered source material for the dreams I've had.

Admittedly, I did attend a summer camp once that was sponsored by a Christian group. It was for the benefit of needy children as a way for kids to get outside and have a nice couple of weeks during summer. The price was right, so my mom sent my sister and I off to this place. I couldn't stand the religious stuff, so I avoided the counselors around the campfires and anywhere else I could get away from them. I enjoyed the hiking, the camping, and the crafts, but diligently avoided dealing with their ulterior motive for bringing us all there: to enlighten us about God. I got trapped twice into listening to a thirty-minute Bible reading. On the second of those occasions I had a horrible nightmare about Satan. I immediately blamed it on the Christian camp counselors, for reading scary stories out of the Bible to us kids. I'm satisfied that one dream was influenced by environmental ambiance, but take note there was nothing subtle about it. It wasn't like subliminal advertising in a Coca-cola advertisement. They were sitting right in front of us reading directly from the Bible. That is the only truly overt example I have. Some aspects of that dream were very peculiar, but I'll save that for later.

In 2005 I had a dream that I call "The Book." The Book dream did not reference a Bible or even God directly, but I saw a book written by the most powerful author of all creation. I saw his words become things as they spilled out of the book and became the entire history of the cosmos. That is the dream that made me decide to go to church and start exploring these religious dreams further. I was almost 40 years old when I had that dream, but the religious dreams started much earlier than that. The camp incident was age 10, a dream of angels and heaven came to me at 16 or 17, I first saw God in a dream when I was about 24, and I'd seen Jesus in a few dreams a year before that. And they have continued to appear regularly ever since.

Some time before I first went to church for the purpose of exploring the possibility that my dreams might have some legitimate connection to theological ideas, I had come to the conclusion that God had to exist. However, I thought of God as existing well outside of any known religion. The idea of an inerrant Bible made no sense to me, nor did I agree with the notion that any one religion was necessary and excluded all others. Because of those two assumptions, I never explored any religion at all until I had that dream in 2005 at the age of 40.

When I did start looking, I was amazed by the large number of parallels I found in the Torah and NT, though primarily the Torah. This is why I went to a Messianic church, because of their emphasis on the Torah. Also, I found that many of the things in my dreams were seriously in conflict with major portions of Christian doctrine. It is because of these differences that my dreams cannot be considered a representation of Christian doctrine or thought, even if I do think they are consistent with the Torah origins of Christianity.

According to my dreams, (and numerous studies by Ian Stevenson) reincarnation is a fact. This means that spirits do not sleep in Abraham's bosom until judgment day, and also that spirits who are not "with Abraham" are not necessarily evil as a consequence. This also creates questions about the validity of one religion being superior to all others. If a Christian can be reborn as Jewish, Buddhist, or something else--and vice versa--then it casts some doubt on the validity of death bed conversions. I see Jesus and God in my dreams, and on one occasion, together. They are not the same being, but distinctly separate. Not only that, but the difference between the two is like a candle to the sun, even if that candle is like a sun in comparison to the majority of humanity (and that is how it is.) Thus, I cannot accept the Holy Trinity, another cherished principle of many Christian denominations. There are many other things, all of which puts me well outside the confines of any given church, yet I am at the same time deeply sympathetic for people who at least try to understand God and their obligations to him by going to church.

What this means is that I will speak favorably about religion even though I am aware of at least some of its errors. This does not make me a spokesman for any religion because I plainly do not speak for them. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that God is real and we should do our best to satisfy our obligations to him, all of which are benevolent in nature.


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