Publisher: Thomas Nelson (Christian publisher)
Preface – The Predicament
I came to Canada in 1973 after having graduated in medicine in 1971 from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. At that time it was still a college of the University of London, England and the training was intensive. I had gone home to Trinidad to work as a means of giving back to my community. After two years of very pleasant work in small communities practising simple rural medicine that though pleasant and satisfying, was not sufficiently stimulating, so I decided to come to Canada to look at specialties that may both satisfy and challenge me. I moved among several specialties including psychiatry and they did not satisfy. So I settled into Family medicine as it gave me a greater variety of challenges.
I chose to come to Canada because several years before entering medical school I spent three years working with IBM as a computer technician. My job had the prestigious title of customer engineer. I had been sent to Toronto to study the 1401 computer, the first solid state computer in the world. While here I fell in love with the University of Toronto and vowed I will return to study here one day. So when the opportunity came for me to expand my training, I chose to come to Toronto. I opened a family practice in a community just outside of Toronto after graduating. I liked it. I build a pretty good practice and I had full responsibility for my patients when I had to admit them to hospital. It was the realization of my dream.
Then something happened that challenged my desire to know and rattled my very Christian upbringing. I must reveal here that, when I was younger and up to my first few years of high school, I had the intense desire to become a priest. I was Catholic and I read voraciously in my early years, from lives of saints to the teachings of Christ to books on history, sociology, psychology, and philosophy, especially the writings of Saint Augustine and the stoic ideas of Seneca. I am sorry to report that the desire to join the priesthood left me when I started to become interested in girls.
The event that challenged my comfort in the practice of family medicine and changed my career path occurred far from Toronto. It happened in Quebec. The rise of the Parti Quebecois and the first referendum of 1980 caused a major upheaval in the Canadian social fabric. Many large corporations across Canada had their head offices in Montreal. The referendum made them quite concerned. Thus, within the span of a few months, a significant number of large corporations moved their headquarters from Montreal to Toronto. Senior executives had to uproot themselves and their families and resettle in a new environment. Though it was still Canada, it was a totally different language, different custom, and a new set of directions for going to work, raising a family, and getting established socially.
A lot of these executives purchased homes in a new development which was where I had opened my office and a lot of them became my patients. I began to see young and middle-aged men and women with disorders that usually afflicted older patients – heart failure, hypertension, stomach problems, and kidney problems. I knew I wanted to be challenged, but not at the expense of my patients. I started appropriate treatments but worried about the possible cause as this seemed to be too large a cohort, and occurring too suddenly. I could not find any obvious cause but I did notice that the majority of these afflicted patients were executives transferred from Montreal.
Around the same time, in 1978, a Montreal-based physiologist named Hans Selye published a book, “The Stress of Life”. In it, he argued that stress was a real issue. It may occur as a mental imbalance but it can create real changes in physiology. He demonstrated that it can initiate diseases like heart dysfunction, hypertension, and a host of abdominal and urinary problems, the very problems I was seeing in my practice. This was also a time when the medical fraternity considered mental problems a developmental issue associated with attitude more than physical disease. Thus, if you had it, you were irreparable. Thus you were simply a tainted product. Selye was attempting to bring it into the main stream, but with some difficulty. I was intrigued.
I started to go to the Sigmund Samuel library at my favourite place, the University of Toronto. I wanted to study everything there was written and researched about brain function. I had done a stint in neurosurgery at the University Hospital in Jamaica before coming to Canada, but this focused on technical actions within the brain structure. I wanted to know more about neuro-physiology and psychology of brain function. These are disciplines that are not taught in medical school. They did not fit into the real science of medicine. Therefore, I read voraciously because I felt driven to understand this new concept of stress as a harbinger of a real disease state.
Life is tough. Why?
If God created man and placed man in a world of continuous change and disruption, it could not conceivably to give us a place of peace and tranquillity in which to live with him. And more so, it could not be a place that would require him to constantly save and protect us from its challenges.
Ch 2. The Quest
From the very first time we have emerged from the jungles to transform ourselves into communities of urban tribes, man has searched for a way to define our nature and our purpose. The mere fact that we have had the desire to search must suggest that we have a nature that is not bestial. Bestial nature is fairly reactive with a varied and complex range of responses depending on the sophistication of that species. We examine our nature, that is, our disposition. We do not just merge with nature, that is, the reality we occupy. We are above that state. We use it, learn from it, and keep it external to us. True, some ancient tribes have expressed a lifestyle of bonding with nature. This, however, is a show of respect, a different way of revealing that significant difference. Somehow, both of these perspectives do seem to consider man to be distinct from nature. There is an observed and an observer. We do not just function. That is, we are not just sophisticated fungi staled to just live and die. That curiosity, that desire to examine both ourselves as a sentient species and our world as being distinct from us makes us unique, something that is much greater than can be explained as a sophisticated responder.
Theism is a belief system that has been embraced by man as a means of attempting to grapple with this problem. Lt us examine why and then let us make sense of how this can either help us or perhaps free us to deal with life more rationally.
Each tribe will have attempted to secure its survival and security against both the elements and the natural interference from a different tribe with different definitions of their survival needs. In the absence of any realistic protector and with the evidence of the relentless power of the elements that had the indisputable right to unleash unexpected force at its own whim or fancy, it would have been necessary to recognize this power as being under the control of a supreme and established presence. Or as Voltaire put it, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” (or her, or it?).
No one has any factual evidence for what may have transpired in the early stages of man’s emergence into these more refined groups that focused on cultivation rather than existing as random “hunters and gatherers”. Those early beliefs or suppositions would have been passed on through oral traditions that may have become distorted as societies became more populated or even sophisticated. Hieroglyphics may have given us some insights into some early civilizations but these were still later evolutions, not products of the truly early settlers. Current scientific examinations of DNA may give us insights into the era of their existences and the physical compositions or structures of their bodies but they do not and cannot offer insight into beliefs and behaviours. We can only deduce from the way we think now. We still have that fear of the unknown. Whatever conclusions we can deduce logically using the information available to us from scientific studies and observations will allow us to feel less threatened or perhaps more able to influence those forces we can understand. Nonetheless, there will be other sources of disturbance or threats from the unknown that are beyond our understanding and will evoke our fears and reveal our limitations. Even Albert Einstein, recognized as one of the more prolific scientific minds of the twentieth century, stated that “the more I know, the more I know I don’t know”. So, there is always a significant depth of unknown we will always have to endure.
Theism, therefore, was initially concocted as a means of understanding our own nature as sentient beings. We knew we were different from all other species in that capacity of analysis and creative thinking. We just didn’t know how that unique quality could be defined or how we should use and apply it. That same capacity for analysis and creative thinking also allowed us to conclude that, if we had that invisible quality independent of each other or were that definition of self, there could easily be other similar forces, some at a higher state of evolution than us. We imagined, saw, or created such existences, from aliens to angels, to gods and titans. From that assumption, it would have been easy to extrapolate that one or a group of such existences could have an authority to protect and perhaps even reject or punish us depending on how we show respect to them and need for them.
We may not have examined or expressed ourselves in such logical order, but that order did influence and drive our curiosity. Then, by having a God or many gods who had that authority over us, it was then easier or less confusing to define what that God or gods require of us and so create a code of ethical behaviour that will allow us to use that sentient authority in a rational or intelligent manner. Then, religion, a custodian of those devised codes emerged to maintain man’s intelligent application of that invisible but powerful sentient authority.
Today, we have reached a stage of self-realization that allows us to accept more firmly that we are different from, not only the other living creatures, but also our world. Our world functions. We seem to have evolved from its function, but we have evolved a sentient nature. We still do not know how to define that but we have reached a stage where we have started to reject the idea of God who has set up a set of rules for us to follow and to consider that we are capable of expanding ourselves at that level of sentient authority to be able to create logical decisions on the fly. We do not need God to tell us what to do or to hold us in fear or punish us because we have responded erroneously to a condition we didn’t really fully understand.
Let’s face it; we now know that an earthquake is a natural movement of the tectonic plates that form the structure of our planet. They move because they are not stagnant. They may move slowly and precipitate a great adjustment at a particular point. And it will happen again and again because the earth is built up of moving elements. Everything moves. In fact, we have discovered that the earth is just a huge sphere that rotates around the sun at an astounding pace of 78000 miles per hour. It also rotates a full cycle every day so different areas are heated and then cooled and then heated again. It is easy for us to use our analytic and creative thinking to deduce that the combination of that perpetual cooling/heating shift that occurs daily added to the speed of rotation will cause significant change, not only on the surface, but deep within the structure of the planet. It is impossible for the earth to exist, therefore, without having to undergo perpetual change and, with that, perpetual imposition of new conditions on anything that lives or exists within its confines.
The same can now be stated to explain a whole host of other activities of our physical reality and thus expiate us from feeling guilty or feeling punished when these things occur. So an earthquake is not the wrath of God. Neither is a hurricane, or a volcano, or any condition that disturbs the tranquillity we would prefer to have. We have to conclude that God does not interfere with our world. Therefore, it is possible that God does not even exist.
The point I am making here is that, as Voltaire proposed, we may have invented God as a means of recognizing ourselves as sentient beings with a capacity to analyze and think creatively. We needed to know why and how to identify and build that capacity and how to keep it in check so we can all benefit from having to live in such a challenging world and from each person’s unique interpretation of his or her observations. So the idea of God may have been the result of the effort to build a self-realization and the need to build the power of self by attaching its definition to the desire to please an almighty power we may have invented.
If that is the case, we do not need to have God as our beacon in order to build the power of self, even if we hold that God is so far ahead having reached an infinite state of self-realization and creativity. We have reached the stage of knowing that the purpose of having that beacon was to have a motive to build self through wanting to be closer or more acceptable to that infinite being. Now that we know that it is our duty to stimulate and build self as more than an upright mammal with muscles and toward the recognition that we are sentient beings with the capacity of analysis and creative thinking, we can create our own ethical and moral standards logically. After all, isn’t that the logical goal from our efforts to reach God? Or stated differently, wasn’t that what God would have wanted of us? Therefore, we can now lead ourselves toward that same goal of self-realization and self-development without having to adhere to the codes that were devised by religion and perhaps distorted through the various interpretations of different religions to encourage us to stimulate that action.
Atheists use this modern stage of our understanding to argue against the existence of God. They cite scientific data that disproved much of the arguments various theistic religions use to prove the existence of God. They even cite examples of how various theistic religions both differ in their interpretations and emphasize or insist on diverse displays of behaviour to show their acceptance of that religion’s teaching.
The problem is that they are right on both counts. They can correctly argue that many of the rituals or even requirements are rooted in conjecture rather than specific direction from God. These rituals can be shown to be compilations of deduced actions that were established to ensure compliance or social balance in early societies. On the scientific examination, however, they may unwittingly use the same inferences for their arguments on the impossibility of existence of God as do the religions they critique for using them to prove the existence of God.
Let us face it. No one has ever seen or experienced the physical presence of God. Even the bible is not the word of God. Rather it represents the words of certain people who told us that they were the words of God. Since no one has ever seen God, no one can conclude that God exists and no one can also conclude that God does not exist.
So the real question is, “Do we need to know that God exists”? To analyze and respond to this question, we have to consider why it can be necessary for that to be. That is, we should first examine the question, “Should God exist?” We contend that God should exist because the universe had to have a creator. A reasonable suggestion until we then ask, “Who would have created God?”.
Does it matter, therefore, if we build ourselves so we can satisfy God and receive God’s welcoming acceptance, or if we obtain God’s welcoming acceptance because we have focused on building ourselves? This can satisfy both the condition if God exists and also if God does not exist. In other words, with the agreeable objective of individual self-development, there is no argument that suggests we should just sit and be, for if God exists and we constantly express a desire for God without building self, we will not have done what God wants of us. If, on the other hand, God does not exist and we sit around without building the recognition of self as sentient beings, we are not very different from any of the other life forms whose purpose seems to be limited to mere existence – that of getting food and not being food, a passive existence. So, with that objective of self-realization and self-development as our primary purpose, we will naturally be doing what ancient thinkers suggested about our conduct – of ourselves for ourselves and of our interaction with others who must also think along these lines. In other words, as we develop our thinking capacity and build a depth of understanding of ourselves and our purpose, we will not need to follow codes. We can and will create our own codes,. And those codes will naturally give similar consideration to ourselves as to others. Then it will become a natural conclusion that it is far better to encourage another to seek to build self and so to naturally interact with understanding, consideration, and creative exploration than to try to attain the same goal by conscripting them to adhere to a strict or rigid code.
On the other hand, if God exists and we wish to include it in our management of ourselves, we will naturally grow or build self with insight, understanding, and the ability to use that to relate compatibly with others. In short, whether we are theists or atheists, we must recognize that we are sentient beings, existences with a particular capacity that is not easily defined. Yet it is a capacity that we cannot use until we build it. We do have a choice and it is not about theism or atheism. It is about self, building it to be the best we can be.
Yet, we can miss the opportunity to build self if we choose passive existence or existence as a sophisticated organic structure with a primary need to survive. Therefore, if we focus on seeing ourselves as physical specimen with physical capacity and simply present or rely on those physical attributes, we may lose the opportunity to build self because our focus is on self as a physical entity. Because we see only that physical existent we do not see the value of the sentient self. As a result we may allow it to fade away and continue living at the level of our bestial qualities. The same can result if we just indulge our physical senses by choosing to participate in activities that stimulate them either naturally or artificially. Then life is the simple and repetitive pursuit of sensory pleasure through activities that challenge us at the surface level. We may even attempt to augment that physical stimulation through the use of chemicals, from alcohol to hard drugs. The result is that, as life continues to challenge us, we become intellectually or rationally further behind making it more and more difficult to catch up. Some will call it an addiction to the chosen substance or activity. Regardless, it can and should also be seen as the fading of self into a state of progressive nothingness. In other words, it all comes down to how we define and see ourselves and from that, what we hold as our sense of purpose.
Ch 3. The Adversary
Ch 4. The participants
There are two types of people in this world.
There are those who see themselves as sophisticated organic bodies with a sense for survival and for surviving well. Then there are those who see themselves as spiritual beings with a need to build that self with insight and understanding using a sophisticated organic body as an instrument for examination and expression. The first will focus on protecting themselves and forming the space around them to facilitate that safety. They will do it at the expense of any other person outside of their chosen circle. The problem is that they are not alone in this quest. Other people with the same definition of self will occupy the same space and will form it to their liking, thus disturbing the tranquillity of the other. This can initiate a defensive reaction from the other or many others leading to conflict and the opposite effect that what is desired. Their actions will also interfere with the survival of the second group who see themselves as spiritual beings. Such interference will introduce undesirable conditions. These people, however, will simply see it as another opportunity to use the challenge to build self, from a different experience. Yes, it may interfere with their physical survival, but that does not sway them as they see physical survival as a transient condition. Their focus is to build self as much as they can during the unpredictable period during which they have the body as an instrument to examine conditions and express their opinions.