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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

For religiously inclined individuals, this is a question that instantly incites exclamations of “Blasphemy!”, and for Muslims, “Astagfirullah!” For atheists and agnostics it is a “philosophically reasoned question,” but also a question with which to challenge those who believe in a higher “Creator.” However, despite the fact that believers usually have an instant reaction of eschewing these kinds of questions as soon as they are raised, (“You shouldn’t be asking questions like that!”), the reality is that when someone challenges them with that question, of course there’s at least a split second in which they wonder too. This is one of the reasons, in fact, why Muslim and Christian theology admonishes against asking these kinds of questions – because of course they are dangerous to faith.

But the reality is that this question does not even have any actual basis. The term of being “Created” implies that there is a definitive time frame in which the created thing exists – that there is a Beginning and an End for the existence of the thing. When man asks about God being created, he does so because the only kind of reality and world that he knows is one in which everything has a beginning and an end. Man is born, and then dies. Flowers and leaves bloom from trees in the spring, and then slowly wither away into nothingness by winter. Civilizations are built from the ground up, and then destroyed by another. In the galaxies, stars are born, and then die out. Even technology, the very great “feat” of man itself, is not capable of subsisting on itself without an energy source and “dies” without it sooner or later (phones, etc). And because this world that we live in functions on a system in which there is a beginning and an end for everything, because this is the only reality that we know, the only way in which we can think is through a time-constructed frame. Thus, the question of the “creation” of God. When man asks “Who created God,” he assumes that God’s existence functions the way that everything in our world does – that God, like everything else, also must have had a beginning. Otherwise, where did God come from? Our brains and our thinking are limited to the reality that we know, so we can’t even begin to comprehend the notion of something existing outside of time and space. (This hearkens to the question of how the Big Bang could have occurred from nothing). So because we can’t imagine anything being able to exist beyond a beginning or an end, we can’t fathom how it would be possible for God to exist without being “created.” And there lies the very illogical flaw in asking this question – the limitations of our own world and thus our thinking. Let’s halt over here for a bit for those who will declare, “But that’s an empty answer meant to pacify religious people!” But is it really? Does this limitation of our thinking apply only to concepts of God?

Let’s think about the incredible advances we have in science currently that allow us to further this analysis. The most important scientific advance of our time right now is that of string theory – more relevant to this discussion, how research on string theory  implies the existence of more than three dimensions. But we cannot even fathom what in the world a fourth or fifth or sixth dimension could be like, because we simply do not live in it, and thus do not know it. To illustrate, semi-sci-fi author Edwin Abbott wrote a novella in 1884 called “Flatland” about a world of two-dimensional characters – flat shapes without any volume, who can only see things in 2D – for example, a flat character such as a square looking at another flat square would only be able to see the side of the square, only as mere line like this: | , because obviously they have no volume. When a 3D figure lands in Flatland, the 2D figures cannot see the whole 3D figure (let’s say a sphere) except for a cross-section from their view; the sphere for example would appear as a dot. Because the squares cannot see beyond their 2D view or 2D reality, they cannot even comprehend the notion of a 3D world in which something with volume like a sphere could exist. Its not just that it seems impossible, but that it is literally beyond the reality that they know and live in. Historically renowned scientist Carl Sagan perfectly and easily illustrates this concept in this YouTube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnURElCzGc0.

So although string theory posits that additional dimensions must exist beyond the third, we can’t even begin to imagine how such a world could exist or function, in the same way that Flatlanders in Abbott’s novel are unable to see or understand the 3D world. Here’s a virtual simulation of what a 4th dimension would be like:

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If something as simple as one more dimension beyond our own is so insanely, mind-bogglingly difficult to grasp due to our own limited perceptions of reality, is it logically flawed to say that this is also the reason that we are unable to perceive the functioning existence of God in a whole different reality in which God did not have to be created to exist? Thus, when man asks that ever-so-blasphemous question, what that reveals is that he does not comprehend the NATURE of God.

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“Know ye all, that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying (in rivalry) amongst yourselves, riches and children…” (Surah Al-Hadid, 57:20)

Although I’ve read this verse numerous times, I recently encountered a slightly different translation that caused me to think about the insight it provides into the nature of humanity, particularly the bolded words.

So, yes, we have heard numerous times the comparison/description of this current world as a place of mere indulgence in the follies of life. But the “mutual boasting” and “in rivalry amongst yourselves” part exhibits something much more insightful about the human condition in this world. One of the most significant contradictions and problems of the notion of a Utopia on earth has always been that, if everyone is equal, then there is nothing for humans to strive towards (I don’t mean spiritually, but sociologically) – the world would be stripped of all sense of any necessity for ambition. There are two ways this could happen:

1. If everyone is simply equal in socioeconomic status and is given the same position in occupation – (which is realistically impossible anyway)

2. If an Utopian world runs on technology that does everything for us and abolishes the need for jobs altogether (which would also create the problem of sheer boredom with idleness).

This is where the verse sheds more light. Humans are innately ingrained with 1. the necessity for some form of occupation 2. the desire to strive higher, to reach further, the ambition to be better than others. Especially when considering the modern world, we are always striving socioeconomically or personally. You might say the latter is not necessarily always true, for example, serfs in Medieval Europe who did not have any semblance of an opportunity to strive higher, or for people who are content with a simple life and means of living, like farmers – but the point is, they still had/have an occupation – they still have some form of meaning, some work by which they are occupying their lives. Without either of these two factors, society itself would become listless and feel meaningless (again, I’m not talking about spiritually, I’m talking about sociologically, the natural structures by which the society of this world functions). This is also of course where such ideologies of Capitalism and Socialism comes into factor, but that’s a whole other long conversation.

Thus, in such a supposedly Utopian society, we could never truly be happy (not on earth anyway) – which is of course why the concept of Utopia becomes paradoxically and ironically a “Dystopia.” This is why in verse 57:20 Allah equates the “the life of this world” to the ambitious nature of humanity – we are always “in rivalry among ourselves,” and that is the very nature of the life we live, because without it, the earthly life would not truly exist. This gives us a mere glimpse into the sheer understanding and knowledge Allah has of the nature of humanity, since he is the One who created us – and thus this provides a whole different understanding of how and why Allah knows what is better for us than we do ourselves. This is further exhibited through the next part of the verse:

“Here is a similitude (to this life): The rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight the hearts of the tillers; soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away…And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception?” (57:20)

Ultimately, Allah reminds us that the the ambitions of this world will not matter – all of it will, eventually, some day, “crumble away” – because this is not the world to which we truly belong. The natural structures by which this world functions will never enable it to be where we truly belong, for the same reason why a Utopia on earth could never exist. It will never be where we truly belong because no matter what we have, where we are in life, we will always want more, strive for more, crave for more – and it will never be enough until we reach the very world for which we were created.

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From the moment of its first publication, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was hurled into a barrage of criticism aimed not merely against its unconventionality, but also to its supposedly vehement “anti-Christianity.” This latter criticism seems, at first glance, to possess credibility, considering the following undeniable facts: firstly, Jane’s own insistent inquiries and initial doubts about the rationality behind the Christian doctrine of forgiveness; secondly, that the figures most associated with Christianity and religiosity in Bronte’s novel are indeed depicted in quite an unfavorable light from the perspective of the protagonist; and lastly, her devotion and love to a human being almost to the point of “idolatry,” as she herself terms – to the extent where, according to Dr. Sally Minogue, Jane “chooses happiness in this world and…rejects any possible world beyond.”[1] However, despite these ostensibly irreligious aspects of the novel, the religious theme of divinity is actually precisely what ultimately renders the fateful course of the novel to come to be possible.

Jane’s initial inability to grasp the reasoning behind the Christian doctrine of forgiveness can be directly attributed to her headstrong, defiant nature even as a young girl. However, as a bildungsroman, the work of Jane Eyre is the development of Jane’s psychological, moral, and spiritual development, and is evident in the significant distinction between Jane’s philosophy of life as a girl – at the point in which such a Christian doctrine seemed out of her grasp of understanding – to that of a matured young woman. The image most descriptive of Jane as a young girl is undoubtedly that of her outright defiance and animosity towards her perpetrators of injustice. This was the moral philosophy that reigned her childhood, and her belief in it was so strong that an opposing view – portrayed by that of Helen Burns’ – was one she simply could not begin to comprehend: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you” (49). This is the Christian philosophy which Helen attempts to make Jane comprehend, and which the latter at the time still cannot do. It is upon this seeming irreligiosity that vehement critic Elizabeth Rigby attacks Bronte: “The autobiography of Jane Eyre is preeminently an anti-Christian composition. There is throughout it…a murmuring against God’s appointment…there is that pervading tone of ungodly discontent which is at once the most prominent and the most subtle evil…”[2] However, Bronte, in actuality, refers Jane’s inability to believe in the Christian philosophy to that of her undeveloped, immature mind – meaning that Bronte did not truly condone the rejection of such a Christian doctrine. This is evident due to Jane’s distinctive difference in reaction and approach towards the Reeds when she again returns to Gateshead as a matured young woman. Instead of exhibiting bitterness and antagonism towards those who had previously wronged her for years, on the contrary she actually says to her aunt: “Love me, then, or hate me, as you will…You have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God’s, and be at peace” (211). This mentality of forgiving her torturer is not one readers can ever have imagined Jane’s character to possess as a child; but the mature Jane now refers to her previous mentality of hard-hearted vengeance as merely something of a childhood disposition: “Forgive me for my passionate language; I was a child then; eight, nine years have passed since then” (210). Therefore, by the end of those eight, nine years, Jane has come to gradually believe in, understand, and adopt Helen’s perspective of Christianity as her model.

Contrary to Dr. Sally Minogue’s subtle insinuation that Jane chooses the earthly world specifically because she scorns the belief of “any possible world beyond,” – or in other words, religion – it is actually due to the development of her Christian moral principles that Jane forms the decision to leave Rochester and to leave Thornfield instead of becoming his mistress after the appalling discovery that he already has a wife living. If not for the belief in the law of a higher power, or “any possible world beyond,” why would Jane make the instant decision to flee a man whom she can’t bear to leave? Her decision to make this sacrifice of love cannot possibly be based on mere “earthly” concerns for man-made social standards of women, because Jane’s character is evidently not one that acquiesces to society’s mere standards. It is, instead, her sense of morality that commands her actions in denying being a mistress; it is her cognizance and recognition that the role of a mistress is one that would defy the moral standards of God.

The character first presented as the epitome of a Christian figure is that of Mr. Brocklehurst, depicted as a despicable, ruthless misogynist who, in his supposed religious fervor and “mission to serve his Lord,” wishes to instill in his pupils “spiritual edification” to an extent bordering on mistreatment and abuse, denying them adequate food and clothing, ordering their hair cut off, and establishing a rigorous structure in an unhealthy site and conditions leading to numerous deaths. The second character depicted as a representation of Christianity is St. John, whose excessively zealous love for God ironically renders him to be a man of impassive, cold and distant demeanor to everything else, to the point where he is insistent upon marrying Jane not out of love, but out of sheer duty – therefore portraying his character of excessive religiosity in an unfavorable perspective. Thus, whereas Bronte portrays the representations of religious figures such as Mr. Brocklehurst and St John in a negative light, she portrays the seemingly irreligious and sinful in an idealistic light – such as Rochester.

However, it is through the evidence and analysis of a particularly under-appreciated moment of the novel that anything contrary could be said otherwise, of both Bronte’s supposed irreligiosity and Rochester’s: the instance in the novel at which Bronte’s ideals of God are most highly evident is in Rochester’s dialogue of euphoric happiness after Jane’s return to him:

“Jane, you think me, I daresay, an irreligious dog:  but my heart swells with gratitude to the beneficent God…He sees not as man sees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely…I would have sullied my innocent flower…the Omnipotent snatched it from me…[but yet again] Divine justice pursued its course…I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I begin to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.” (395).

Here is the evident contradiction in Rigby’s criticism; how can the work of Jane Eyre possibly be a “murmuring against God’s appointment” and “ungodly discontent,” when, through this passage, Bronte conveys that even when brought to the point of the most severe circumstances of anguish and suffering, even if it seems that God has condemned us to misery by denying us that which we desire and love, we should indeed be “content” with “God’s appointment,” because, as Bronte illustrates through the very fatefully aligned story of Jane and Rochester’s love, whatever happens, happens according to God’s decree, and that we mere mortals cannot comprehend God’s plan and fate. It was, after all, a higher power which therefore aligned fate for Robert Mason to hear of Jane’s letter to John Eyre, thus halting the union which Jane would have undertaken without knowledge of the truth of Rochester’s existing wife; it was fate which rendered her on her knees at the home of the very people who would come to be her remaining loving family and the source to her inheritance; it was fate which finally eradicated the one real obstacle separating her from the one being who provided the essence of her happiness, and it was fate that enabled two hearts to be connected in such a supernatural way that they were capable of hearing each other’s anguished eruption of emotion across miles. It was due to a higher power that Jane and Rochester were again ultimately reunited, and Rochester himself – Bronte’s own idealistic figure – acknowledges this. Additionally, the contradiction against Rigby’s argument goes further as Bronte seems to imply that merely because Rochester’s character was not the fervently religious of St John’s, does not necessarily mean that he was a man completely deprived of any sense of acknowledgement of God, or even that he was doomed to the depths of hell. The mere fact that he was a man of sin – and yet his prayers to be reunited with his love were still answered despite it – exemplifies the fundamental doctrine upon which the Christian faith is based: that God is merciful and forgiving even to those who are sinners; that humans need not be perfect in order to be granted God’s mercy. Therefore, in portraying negative Christian figures, Bronte is not declaring any anti-Christian sentiment, but simply signifying various facets of Christianity and religion – the extent of extremism in the form of Brocklehurst and St John; the quietly and perseveringly devoted in the face of oppression and suffering – in the form of Helen; and the more moderate, yet sincere, continuous awareness of and gratitude towards God.

Considering the fact that St John is one of the negatively depicted figures of religion, it seems curious as to why Bronte would thus make him the last subject of Jane’s words and of the novel. Even as a figure of an overzealous Christian, however, there remains a sense of awed respect in Jane’s words in describing him and his unrelenting dedication to faith. Whereas Mr. Brocklehurst’s extreme deliberation of Christian faith seems to stem from the real intent of maintaining an image of status and social respect – therefore making his “faith” a façade of hypocrisy – St John’s religiosity sincerely stems from a more than genuine devotion to God. Therefore, although St John’s excessively zealous faith is portrayed in an unfavorable manner, through Jane’s words it is evident that she – and Bronte, for that matter – still holds a certain level of respect for such a character nonetheless: “Firm, faithful, and devoted, full of energy, and zeal and truth, he labours for his race; he clears their painful way to improvement…He may be stern…but his is the sternness of the great warrior Greatheart, who guards his pilgrim convoy from the onslaught of Apollyon…” (400). Thus, Jane nevertheless recognizes and renders St John as almost something of a heroic figure for humanity, who strives for the sake of his race, in “guarding” them from “Apollyon”, or the depths of hell, and by ending the novel with the last words of his death, she also emphasizes the personal sacrifices he has made of his own life, literally, in order to save that of others from the next life. Thus, by ending the novel with the imagery of his dedicated purpose and his submission to God as he breaths his last, Bronte affirms that all existence is in the hands of a Higher Power, and invokes a final reminder of humanity’s devotion to God.

Works Cited

 Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre, Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 1992

Minogue, Sally. “Introduction and Notes,” Jane Eyre, Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 1999

Nemesvari, Richard. Jane Eyre Broadview Introduction, Canada: Broadview Press, 2000, pp. 16-19

Rigby, Elizabeth. The Christian Remembrancer XV, 1848. Pp. 173-74

Sally Minogue. “Introduction and Notes,” Jane Eyre, (Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 1999), p. xxii

Elizabeth Rigby. The Christian Remembrancer XV, 1848. Pp. 173-74

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