When it comes to religion, people often have more questions than answers. In A Beginner's Guide to God, author Eric Neal hopes to eliminate some confusion surrounding religion and provide a clear and universal pathway to the creator.
In this guide, Neal addresses some of life's biggest questions: Does God exist? What happens when we die? Is this our only life? Who created the universe? How was the universe created? Why was it created? What is the spiritual realm? Why do people believe in a higher power? In addition to addressing the large questions, A Beginner's Guide to God explores the origins, history, and leadership of some of the world's major religions and provides a synopsis of their teachings.
A Beginner's Guide to God offers a general guide to spark interest and clarify aspects of mankind's most important questions. Its goal is to help us make sense of religion, its progression, and the existence of a higher power.
This is Eric Neal's first book, produced after many years of contemplation on the plight of religion in the modern age.
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A Beginner's Guide to God(And We're All Beginners)
By Eric Neal
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Eric Neal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Big Questions
What happens to me when I die?
There can be no more important question than this.
We are on this earth for maybe seventy to eighty years—a bit longer in some cases—but unless we have the right combination of good genes, a healthy lifestyle, and a few other things going for us, we're not likely to be around much after we turn one hundred. Nobody has invented a magic potion yet to allow our human bodies to last forever, and it's not likely that this will happen before we leave for good.
So, seeing we won't be around here forever, what happens after that, and how do we find out? This is where our journey begins.
You likely fall into one of three categories:
Let's look at these three categories and what they mean.
If you fall into this category, it means that you believe that there is a higher form of thought than human thought. And by this we don't mean superior beings from another planet, if they exist. Because even if they existed, they would be asking the same question: Is there yet a higher form of thought?
If you fall into this category, you are not likely to be reading this book, unless you have curiosity as to why people might think differently from you. An atheist doesn't believe in a higher thought than human thought, except for the possibility of extraterrestrial beings. This line of thought is understandable. It is a very clinical thought process that won't entertain anything that can't be scientifically proven.
However, let us examine this a bit further. Because we have thought processes, it is assumed that we can figure out anything. But this is not necessarily the case. If there is something that is beyond human comprehension, it is just that—beyond our comprehension.
Look at that table in front of you. Okay, so maybe there isn't a table, but just pretend there is. Yes, we have the ability to imagine something that we know exists even though we may struggle to imagine something that we haven't seen in some form or another.
Who made that table? A man or maybe a woman? We know that, but does the table know that? Of course not, because the table does not have the capacity to know that and never will.
What if the power that created the universe is as far above our Understanding as the human mind is above that table's understanding? We would never be able to understand that power. So it's a matter of leaving ourselves open to the possibility that such an intelligent power exists. Generally, an atheist would not do that.
If you are confused as to whether you are a believer or an atheist, then maybe you fall into the agnostic category: you believe in the possibility of some intelligent power beyond our comprehension, but you are not sufficiently convinced to say you are a believer.
This book is really aimed at you.
However, the book is also for believers who need some clarification or additional perspective about what they have learned through various other media.
In addition to our initial question—"What happens to me when I die?"—an inquisitive mind would likely wonder about other questions, such as the following:
a. Who or what created the universe?
b. How was it created?
c. Why was it created?
d. Is it really infinite in size?
e. If not, what's at the end of the universe? Empty space? And isn't that also part of the universe?
f. Is some invisible force in control of my life in one way or another?
Will science ever discover the answers to these questions, or do the answers lie outside the realm of human comprehension, regardless of scientific advancement? Maybe the answers lie in the spiritual realm.
What does the spiritual realm mean?
There are many different levels of existence, often referred to as "kingdoms."
There is the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, and the human kingdom. The inhabitants of each kingdom generally have an appreciation of the kingdoms below their own and make use of the properties of these kingdoms to advance within their own kingdom. For example, humans fully utilize the mineral kingdom (e.g. the properties of soil and water), the plant kingdom (vegetables, fruits, grains, etc.), and the animal kingdom, but the lower kingdoms have little or no understanding of the higher kingdoms. The illustration of the table and its maker is an example of this.
Is the human kingdom the highest level of existence? The purpose of this book is to seriously consider the existence of a higher form of existence, generally referred to as the spiritual kingdom or spiritual realm. As the term infers, it relates to things of the spirit. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "spirit" as the vital animating essence of a person or the intelligent, non-physical part of a person. This higher kingdom (and there may be more than one) is beyond our comprehension, so the extent to which we recognize the existence of the spiritual kingdom is a matter of faith. The level of such faith often depends upon our study of and reflection on the teachings relating to the many religions that have been revealed to mankind throughout the centuries.
Why do believers believe in a higher power or a higher form of thought? Probably for one or more of the following reasons:
a. They have had some experience in their life that is too amazing to be a sheer coincidence. Such events can happen time and time again, which makes the chance of them being just coincidences an impossibility, leaving people with the feeling that their lives are being led in a certain direction by an external power.
b. They have studied or been exposed to some religious teachings explaining the existence of a higher power, and these teachings have made sense to them.
c. They figure that the things we experience in nature are so amazingly balanced, controlled, and awesome that they couldn't possibly just happen by chance. If that balance wasn't there, human life and, in fact, all forms of life would have become extinct soon after it came into existence. We need the right amount of sunlight, the right amount of heat, the right amount of rain, the process that causes the distribution of water via rain, the right mixture of gases in our atmosphere, and the whole process of regeneration. This balance and these amazing processes have continued for millions, if not billions, of years, along with many other factors necessary for ongoing life. So, if it isn't just a chance in a billion that these conditions continue to sustain us, there must be some thought behind the process.
The watch on your wrist is an example of wonderful human design and engineering. It didn't just all fall into place by chance. How much more wonderful are the things of nature? Surely these could not have just happened by chance either. But what do we know of their creator?
Once you mention the word "God," a person often forms an impression in his or her mind of what God is and then bases his or her belief or disbelief on this perception.
So let's initially focus on that feeling that there may be some amazing power that we can't comprehend, which is the guiding force behind creation. Many people think of this force as "nature," and that is probably as close as we can get to visualizing what this force is, because we can experience the forces of nature all around us. But it falls a long way short of explaining everything, because the question remains: What drives nature?
Throughout history, great spiritual leaders have provided us with insight into these matters. Who are these spiritual leaders, and what motivated them? Here are some of them. (Timeframes for the earlier religions are approximate only.)
Krishna—Introduced the Hindu teachings around 3200 BCE.
Abraham—Introduced the concept of monotheism (one god), probably around 1750 BCE.
Moses—Introduced the Jewish teachings (Judaism) around 1370 BCE.
Zoroaster—Introduced the Zoroastrian teachings around 640 BCE.
Buddha—Introduced the Buddhist teachings around 540 BCE.
Jesus Christ—Introduced the Christian teachings around 27 CE.
Muhammad—Introduced the Islamic teachings around 610 CE.
The Bab—Introduced the Babi teachings from 1844 CE.
Baha'u'llah—Introduced the Baha'i teachings from 1853 CE.
There have been many others, perhaps not so well-known, and we have little in the way of recorded history relating to many of them.
Let us look at what these spiritual leaders have in common.
a. They provided spiritual teachings that have given strong guidance and have been adhered to by large numbers of followers.
b. In many cases strong civilizations have been built based on their teachings.
c. They all refer to a life after the physical life that we are currently experiencing.
d. Their spiritual teachings have been very similar.
Perhaps the best example of the similarity of their teachings is what has become commonly known as the "Golden Rule" regarding how we should treat others. Here are some examples of the various religious teachings on this subject.
Hindu—"This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you" (Mahabharata 5:1517).
Jewish—"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary" (Talmud, Shabbat 31a; Tobit 4:15).
Buddhism—"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful" (Udana-Varga 5.18).
Christianity—"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31).
Islam—"None of you (truly) believe until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself" (Fourth Hadith of an-Nawawi 13).
Baha'i faith—"Blessed is he who prefereth his brother before himself" (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, LXVI:8).
What motivated these spiritual leaders to introduce these and other teachings?
If we judge by their own words, they had no choice. Most claim to have been appointed by God and say their teachings come from God.
In part 2 of this book, we look at these religions in more detail.
Why do people tend to follow one religion as opposed to another? Historically, this has been based on where they were born, what was the predominant religion in that country or area, and what religion their parents followed. Regardless of what that religion happened to be, the quality of their teachings, their inspiration, and their moral guidance usually provide no reason to question the validity of their religion, and therefore it is extremely rare that a person would renounce their religion to follow another.
It is more common for people to choose to follow another religion but still believe in the teachings of the religion in which they were raised, seeing no conflict in doing so, as the spiritual teachings of the different religions are very similar.
Chapter ThreeProgressive Revelation
When we consider the nature and the similarity of the teachings of each religion, it is not difficult to conclude that they come from the same source.
We have referred to those who have introduced the world's great religions as spiritual leaders; however, they are also referred to by other titles, such as messengers, manifestations, or prophets. The title "manifestations" comes from their claims to be manifestations of God on earth, inasmuch as they are the means by which the guidance or teachings from God is made manifest or clear. They are more commonly referred to as prophets, as much of their teachings are of a prophetic nature. As such, they provide us with an indication of what we can expect in the future. They may also provide prophecies relating to one or more future prophets, often referred to as their own return. In particular, the teachings of Jesus Christ were abundant with such prophecies, and Christians have long speculated on the true meanings of these prophecies and the anticipated return of Christ.
Because of the fact that "prophet" is a more commonly recognized term for these spiritual messengers, we will use that term for the duration of this book, but we hasten to add that prophecy is by no means the most important aspect of their teachings, and that the divine guidance that they have given to their followers is their predominant mission.
We cannot comprehend the reality or power of a "Being" who has the thought processes to create everything we see around us. In fact, we don't even know if they are thought processes, but we can appreciate or expect that this Being whom we call God would want to provide guidance to His creation. Why would He create human beings, with the powers that we have, and not provide us with some insights into the purpose of our existence? To use a modern analogy, it would be like us creating a computer and installing programs without providing any manual or help facilities. So it is logical to expect that He would want to provide us with important guidance.
You will notice that, as in the preceding paragraph, God is usually referred to as "He." We should not get hung up on this. In many languages there is no equivalent of "he" or "she," so in these cases the issue does not exist. We could use the word "It," but that would seem too impersonal.
We need to consider that until recently, let's say just two hundred years ago, the world was a much different place than it is today. Improved means of travel and communication have dramatically changed mankind's thinking and view of the planet. In fact, it was less than six hundred years ago that it was recognized that the earth is not flat and that we wouldn't fall off if we walked too far. Mankind's thinking, even in the last fifty years, has undergone a massive shift, and it is now easy to see the earth as one global village, despite the multitude of languages and cultures that it comprises. With television and the internet, people are now embracing these differences, seeing them as adding variety and color to our lives.
In the time of Jesus, mankind's understanding and thinking was primitive in comparison to how we think today. There was no comprehension of the size of the planet, the fact that there were people living twelve thousand miles (19,300 km) away, and certainly no comprehension of the variety of different cultures that existed. Had Jesus foretold some of the things we take for granted today, people would not have taken Him seriously. Science needed to advance to enable such developments.
We know that the prophets we have referred to have lived at different times in history and have appeared to different civilizations. The world's population is fragmented, and has therefore resulted in a multitude of different ethnicities and cultures that speak different languages, live in quite different climates, undergo quite different challenges, and develop at very different rates of progress physically, mentally, and scientifically. The guidance required for each civilization has been quite different. Nevertheless, as previously discussed, we find that the spiritual guidance provided was basically the same, probably tempered only by the capacity of the respective peoples to receive and understand it.
An example of where teachings appear to differ would be Moses's teaching of "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24), whereas twelve hundred years later, Jesus taught, "But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38). Does this mean that one was right and one was wrong? Not at all. Moses needed to encourage His people to be brave and not be walked over, whereas twelve hundred years later, mankind had progressed to the extent that Jesus could provide an alternative and less aggressive solution. It doesn't mean that Moses was wrong, and in fact the exercising of justice may well require different responses to different situations.
Records show that the whole history of the human race has been permeated by wars and division. In fact, it took until the middle of the twentieth century and the development of a weapon that could destroy millions of people at one time for us to wake up and recognize the potential dangers of continuing to try and resolve disputes by means of armed conflict. Unfortunately, there are still many pockets of the world where fighting continues. How many more lives will be unnecessarily lost in futile armed conflicts before common sense prevails on a global scale?
Excerpted from A Beginner's Guide to God by Eric Neal Copyright © 2012 by Eric Neal. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART 1 THE BIG PICTURE....................1
1. The Big Questions....................3
3. Progressive Revelation....................13
5. The Spiritual Side....................21
Barriers to Belief....................22
Life after Death; Heaven and Hell....................24
6. Where to from Here?....................27
PART 2 REVELATION....................29
7. The Prophets....................31
8. The Enigma of the Fulfilment of Prophecy....................47
9. Focus on the Positive....................49