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Does the Existence of a Personal God (Who Has a Master Plan) Make Life Meaningless?

I played the first “Fable” game on the Xbox 360 a couple of years ago. In that game you had the ability to be “good” or “evil”, depending on your actions. One time I got bored and decided to kill every single person in every single village I came across. Every merchant, every civilian, every guard, every wife. Everyone.

It was kinda ridiculous, but I was at an insanely huge level so I didn’t need any potions or anything else.

In this game, the main purpose was to defeat Jack of Blades. That was the grand, overreaching “master plan” so to say of the game designers. No matter how moral or immoral you were in the game, the game would end the same way – Jack of Blades’ defeat.

Now imagine that a god with a grand, master plan exists. Life would be a lot like Fable, where you could dedicate your life to altruism and helping the poor, or spend your free time on cross country killing sprees. If god has some master plan, nothing you do can change his plan. In other words in the grand scheme of things, going into a maternity ward and slaughtering every newborn there has absolutely no effect on god’s plan. Equally so, dedicating your life to the improvement of humanity has no effect on god’s plan. It’s going to come to fruition either way.

If this is the case, then what’s the point? It seems like veiled nihilism to me. No matter what we do, it doesn’t matter to god. His plan is going to be executed no matter what. The fact that we don’t even know what this master plan is supposed to be is what makes it veiled. So “god works in mysterious ways” equals veiled nihilism.

And what if this god is actually malevolent instead of benevolent like in the more popular theisms? We are screwed. And there’s no way to tell, either way. But it does look like any god who created the world did so because he/she/it wanted to see maximal suffering.

On the flip side…

If there’s no god with a master plan then everything you do has meaning; and potentially huge implications to the course of humanity. Like the Butterfly Effect. Take for example the thing in Philly that was going on last year (that I was involved in) called “Free Hugs” at Rittenhouse Square.

What if, simply giving a hug to a stranger made them not commit suicide that day, and then they decide to live and eventually become the next Martin Luther King, Jr., or Jesus, or Einstein? Even the most seemingly insignificant acts to your fellow human being could completely alter the course of human history. Or what if you’re a decorated British soldier in World War I named Henry Tandey who had been killing Germans all day, and notice one German obviously wounded after a long battle walk into your sights. You decide not to pull the trigger and let him live. He nods at you thankfully knowing that you spared him and hobbles off and disappears into the smoke. Then 20 years later you find out that the German you let live was a young Adolf Hitler?

So without a personal god with a master plan, life actually has meaning. Purpose. Things that you do might actually matter in the grand scheme of things. If there’s no predetermined end-game, then who knows how things might turn out. Some people are absolutely horrified of uncertainty, but I always see it as a blessing. Uncertainty means that there are still things to find out, and that there’s always room to grow. It’s like Einstein’s pantheism, where he’s struck by awe at the universe. That natural curiosity. Like a movie where you don’t know how it’s going to end.

So if there’s a god with a master plan, everything you do is pointless. But if no god exists, then everything you do has potentially huge ramifications. If there’s a god with a master plan, then your only true responsibility (if any responsibility at all) is to your self. If there’s no god, then your responsibility necessarily includes more people than yourself, since your actions have an impact on your environment.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2009 in atheism, einstein, nihilism, pantheism, personal god

 

Exodus 3:14 (Redux)

(This is a redux of my slight digression in my post in the history of early Christianity here).

The book of Exodus (along with the majority of the Pentateuch), according to the general scholarly consensus, was written or re-written sometime after the Jews’ return from exile around 500 BCE. But for this post I’m going to focus on what’s probably the most famous passage in the entire Tanakh. Which is YHWH’s response to Moses when Moses asks who he should say sent him. Exodus 3:14.

On the face of it, in our English translations, YHWH simply blows Moses off. But this doesn’t really make sense considering that YHWH does say his name (YHWH) in Exodus 3:15, but in our English translations it say the word LORD. Without going into the digression about HaShem and the Hebrew word(s) for “Lord”, it suffices it to say that “Lord” is not YHWH’s name. But back to Ex 3:14:

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am . [a] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “

Footnotes:
[a]Or I will be what I will be

Is “I am who I am” a fair translation of the Hebrew? English didn’t exist in 500 BCE when this was written, so who knows what was lost in translation. Here’s the “I am what I am” in Hebrew:

אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה;
EHY’H ASHR EHY’H

Since Hebrew has no “tenses” there are varying interpretations of this phrase. EHY’H comes from the Hebrew verb “To Be”. Without going into the many possible interpretations, let’s look at how this phrase was translated by Greek speaking Jews 200 years later. Now, if the English phrase “I am what I am” were what the original Hebrew authors intended, we should find the same exact phrasing in Greek:

εγω ειμι ο ων
egw eimi [h]o wn

So what does “ego eimi ho on” mean in Koine Greek? It most closely means “I am the Being”. “I am what I am” would look more like εγω ειμι ποιο ειμι::I am what/which I am. I picked Greek because it was the second language that was used to translate this passage, and is a language not very much younger than Hebrew. ΩΝ (wn) is the present participle (-ing) Greek version of the Greek ontos, which is the prefix for the word Ontology, or the study of what it means to “be” (exist).

But… most English translations come from Jerome’s (c. 400 CE… 600 years later!) Latin. This is what the passage became in Latin:

ego sum qui sum

This means I am what I am, which is what we have in English. It should be no surprise, since English is a [Roman]ce language. So why the difference between the Greek and Latin? I’m showing my bias here, but the Latin was not translated by a Jew whereas the Greek was. So I’m going to defer to the Greek as the more intentional translation. So why would the Greek say “I am the Being”? To understand that, you have to understand HaShem and the verb “To Be”.

Out of respect for HaShem, “YHWH” is not pronounced. But YHY and HYH are both causative forms of the verb “to be”. HYH means “existed” or “was”; YHY means “may” or “will be”. Therefore The Name might have simply been making a play on The Name and its grammatical relationship to the verb “to be”, with the last two letters of AHYH (ehyeh – I shall be) and HYH (heyeh) containing the first two letters of YHY (yahey – I may be) and thus YHWH. The other interpretation being “I shall be what I shall be” which would have been rendered in Greek something like εγω εσομαι ποιο εσομαι::I will be what/which I will be. εσομαι (I will be) is used in the Greek version of Ex. 3:12 (εσομαι μετα σου::I will be with you).

“I am the Being” (or even “I am existence” would work) is probably the closest the Greek speaking Jews could come to describing the pun that only makes sense in Hebrew. The pun being between the grammatical/phonetic relationship between The Name “YHWH” and instances of the Hebrew verb “to be”. Though in my opinion this is straddling pretty close to pantheism (which is my theology).

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2009 in ehyeh asher ehyeh, exodus 3:14, Hashem, I am that I am, LXX, pantheism

 
 
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