By Alexander Maistrovoy
When I wrote my book Gnosticism through the Prism of the Third Millennium, trying to rethink Gnostic ideas from a rationalistic point of view, I didn’t think that would find a lot of like-minded people. The big surprise for me was the acquaintance with the book of Scott Smith – God Reconsidered: Searching for Truth in the Battle Between Atheism and Religion.
Scott S. Smith, an internationally-known business writer, tries to give an independent answer to the questions that worried and will worry humanity: Why are we here on earth? Why is there so much seemingly meaningless suffering? Why do religions disagree so much if God cares about us? Is there evidence for God?
His book is best example of classical critical thought and a challenge to traditional beliefs that dominate the vast majority of people. Through logical reasoning and analytical approach, he shatters the arguments of atheists and militant materialists on the one hand, and traditional religions on the other.
Scott’s approach is logical, clear and simple. The language of his book is easy to understand, accessible and convincing. The name of book itself God Reconsidered very accurately defines its content.
How material and cognizable is our world? The first part of the book is devoted to the failure of militant materialism, which a priori arrogantly rejects all anomalous and inexplicable phenomena.
Each of the chapters in the first section constitutes a powerful refutation of aggressive atheism:
– Is there Extra-Sensory Perception?
– Have Extra-terrestrials visited the Earth?
– Is there life after death?
Scott scrupulously collects evidence and eyewitness accounts of phenomena that are inexplicable from a materialistic point of view. He cites numerous researchers who, despite their initial skepticism, could not find an answer to the anomalous phenomena that were taking place before their eyes. In chapter The Conversion of a Skeptic Scott tells a story of Dean Radin, who started out as a staunch skeptic and materialist. Calling Uri Geller a fraud, Radin viewed him as “the most dangerous man in 50 years.”
But long and objective study of paranormal phenomena made him change his views in the most radical way. “‘My initial skepticism had been beaten down and left me either having to accept the some of this was real, or just reject the whole thing as too uncomfortable.’ He found researches in the field to be ‘accomplished, critical-minded people with impressive credentials who were thinking the unthinkable – and only because the cloak of security protected their reputations,'” – he quotes Radin.
In the Chapter Have Extra-terrestrials visited the Earth? Scott cites an impressive body of evidence from people with a technical, scientific and mathematical mindset, not prone to exaltation and far from mysticism, such as, for example, J.Allen Hynek, Northwestern University astronomer; James McDonald, a University of Arizona astrophysicist, who claimed to have seem a UFO himself in the 1950s; Bruce Maccabee, an optical scientist for US Navy; Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist.
“Furthermore, Thomas Bullard notes in Myth and Mystery of UFOs: ‘Far from being eccentric and marginal people, UFO witnesses register normal scores on psychological tests and come from all walks of life. Among the observers are trustworthy, high-functioning, people like airline pilots and aviation crews, police officers, military personnel, business executives, college professors and astronomers'”.
Scott cites eyewitness accounts that did not fit the materialistic and atheistic picture of the world, such as testimonies Helicopter crew, Mansfield, Ohio 1973; Airplane crews, New Zealand; 1978, Mass sighting in Hudson Valley, New York/Connecticut 1982-86.
In Chapter Is there life after death? he cites numerous testimonies from people who have experienced clinical death, which lead us back to the question of life after death. “Skeptics’ close-mindedness, even to the point of distorting the evidence in their arguments, is worth remembering when they denounce phenomena more difficult to examine,” – he wrote.
In this regard I want to share my own experience in this issue.
My mother was a doctor in large Moscow hospital, where a teenage girl, the daughter of our friends, was hospitalized. Not clear, what exactly occurred with her, but no matter. She was in state of clinical death. My mom participated in her saving.
Later, talking with my mother, this girl confessed that she saw everything that was happening, as if she was somewhere above. She described in details the operating room, doctors, nurses, her family and friends. She told my mother how one of the medical staff was looking for a broom, and could not find it, because the broom was behind the closet. A person who was in a state of clinical death surely could not see or know such details. She told also that that she saw the dead grandmother and grandmother told her to return to earth.
I must say that the girl and her family, like my mother too, grew up as atheists in the completely materialist skeptical Soviet society. A girl, by definition, could not know anything about the issues of life after death. There were no any psychological, cultural or religious factors of influence at all a-priori.
This fact, in my opinion, confirms the phenomena described by Scott. Skeptics and atheists can’t explain such unique phenomenon.
Just as Scott refutes the dogma of materialistic atheism, he shows the flaw and vulnerability of religious dogmas about “a good and merciful God” and the very idea of “divine justice.” The second chapter of his book is called: Belief in a good God reconsidered.
But before criticizing the religions themselves, he subjects atheists to a merciless analysis – the overthrowers of God, in whose opinion it is the religions that are to blame for all the troubles and sufferings of mankind. Scott reminds that greatest monsters oh history, Hitler, Stalin and Mao, were atheists. “So what is the ground of the new atheist’s sense of rightness? Is it simply a social, cultural and historic consensus? Nazism and anti-Semitism draw their authority also from a social consensus.” – he rightly notes.
His judgments are very close to me. Like me, he sees the main cause of human misery in the very nature of man – cruel, contradictory and imperfect. A person easily turns into a slave to an idea, whatever it may be, and is ready for any madness for its sake. “There is no more fanatically devoted to their new crusade than a convert that believes the idealistic end always justifies the means – regards of whether they believe in God or not. Atheists and antireligious are, in turn out, human after all.”
Defeating atheists with their narrow-mindedness, he returns to the question of the “good God” created by religions. Good and just God? “Death statistics provide one indirect way to assess the misery of our ancestors. Although suffering can’t be measured directly, mortality statistic from disease, genocide wars, starvation, natural disasters, and accidence make us aware of the mass suffering that many of us turn a blind eye to,” – reminds Scott.
The statistics he cites are appalling. Here is a bountiful harvest of death, harvested only by pandemics:
- Bubonic plaque (third of Europe died in 14th) – 200 mln.
- Black Death caused 40 t0 100 mln death in 6th century;
- Smallpox killed 300-500 mln during 20th century;
- Malaria caused as many as 250 mln death just in 20th century.
- Measles may have killed 200 mln in the past 150 years. Tuberculosis caused the death 40 to 400 mln just in 20th century. The worldwide Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20 killed 75 mln.
“A loving Heavenly Father could have either intervene to alleviate pain, or provided treatments that would have made it more possible for those positive to be gained from suffering.” But our All-good Father indifferently watches the suffering of his children from heaven. Why?
“…If we argue that diseases are built into nature, than the Almighty is neither not all-good for allowing them, not all-powerful because he is unable to eliminate them, or not all-knowing because he should have foreseen the consequence of putting souls into material creation… “.
His thoughts echo my own exactly: “Why would a good, virtuous, and just God first tempt his children by means of devious tricks and afterwards punish them for the wrongdoing in a cruel and merciless way? Why would such a God kill defenceless children from generation to generation and torture and torment his own offspring? … Either God is not all-powerful or not virtuous at all”.
Like me, Scott wonders about true free will. “Theft, murder, adultery, and taking drugs would already be in the hands of cards that God dealt you and no amount of your own effort could avoid your fate.
It (free will) appears to very limited, so why hold man fully accountable for his actions?, – he asked. – The increasing evidence that our behavior the largely product of DNA and our environment raises the question as to why God would create us to largely be automation. Religious theories that assert that individual suffering, that there is no evil if properly understood in the context of the divine big picture…, are insults to the memories of those who have been slaughter or tortured.”
Exactly! What kind of “free will” has a young man or girl who was born in family of alcoholics and drug addicts, has inherited the genes of his/her parents, and living in a criminal environment? To choose between to steal pouches or cars? Does a peasant from Indonesia, who can be washed away at any moment like ant by tsunami, as was the case in 2004, have a real choice? Does a North Korean who has to eat insects to survive and worship “Great leader”, have ‘free will’? In reality, his choice is nothing more than a fiction, and if Almighty God gives him such a choice, then it’s a bad joke.
In my book I came to same conclusion:
“Free will is often no more than illusion. The embittered believe, as Spinoza wrote sarcastically about humans’ freedom of will: humans ‘freely strive for revenge, cowards— for a flight whilst drunkards, lunatics and blabbers are convinced that they freely speak of something they subsequently often regret.’ human choice and free will are very limited. The cruel play of DNA and circumstances is what eventually determines our life, and the rarest exceptions to this rule only confirm it…
‘If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise,’ great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, and isn’t this question the quintessence of the relationship between God and his creation?”.
Scott consistently and impartially, in the best traditions of the Western rationalist school, analyzes all religions with their inconsistencies and absurdities. “It makes God o the karmic process seem engaged in a pointless games whose outcome is fixed,” – he writes about karmic ideas of Hindus. – …But a lot of karma playing out through our lives isn’t personal, it’s group karma… Companies may feel free to pollute the environment. A child who developed in utero in the toxic neighborhood may be born handicapped”.
Scott talks about countless differences and contradictions in Buddhist beliefs; rightly recalls that “…Hebrew Bible’s earliest present an unflattering picture of God”; reveals obvious cognitive dissonance in Christianity. “According to Revelation 17:8, the names of the “elect” “were written in the book of life from the foundation of the world”. In other words, God created each man, so he knows how each will act in advance. If most are destined for eternal fires of hell, what was the point of their being sent to earth to begin with and why is God not responsible for this outcome?“.
From the point of view of our usual views, his conclusions are disappointing: “Because of immense suffering that earth life involves, with no proportionality of pain to benefit, putting spirits into bodies could not have been the idea of a good, personal God. It seems more likely to be either the doing of the impersonal being, a process driven by individual spirits attachment to the material world, or due to a cosmic accident that is ongoing”. His words resonate with my thoughts when I write that our world is more like a system error or a researcher’s laboratory than a carefully thought out and all the more humane project.
Simultaneously, Scott stresses: “…Yet enough mystics from all traditions, even ordinary believers, have claimed to have direct contact with a divine presence that God has to be taken seriously, even if the concept should take an untraditional form to account for the points we have raised”.
About which ‘nontraditional form’ Scott speaks? “In 2005, I took my leap of faith after I found one path that had what I felt were the best answers: Gnostic Christianity”.
In the last chapters of the book, he introduces the principles of Gnostic philosophy and narrates about the numerous Gnostic movements that have existed from Simon Magus and Alexandria to our days, including the teachings of Bishop Hoeller.
Scott takes a critical approach with Gnosticism as he does with other religions. “Valentinians thought the Demiurge was merely ignorant. While the end result is same, it seems to me morally timid to say that the real problem with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao was that they were ignorant”, he wrote.
Gnosticism is also full of shortcomings and inconsistencies, but at the same time it has undoubted advantages over both atheism and traditional religions.
“The Gnostic myth of our earthly dilemma has several advantages over alternatives. …Atheists have to disregard both the massive number of human encounters with the paranormal. …On the other hand, traditional religion is based on interpretations imposed on scriptures late in their history, which also contradict each other and common sense. There is no way to reconcile the notion that God is good with an intentional creation.
Neither the “illusion” of Eastern religions or “the bad is actually good” theory of Western ones makes any sense.
One fair criticism of Gnosticism might be why divine forces are not sufficient to liberate all spirits immediately. Perhaps the Manicheans were right, that evil has a tremendous power in this dimension.”
This is very close to my understanding of the world. It seems amazing to me that people who grew up in absolutely different conditions, in countries that laid on both sides of the Iron Curtain, in completely different value systems, ultimately come to similar conclusions. Perhaps this is a reflection of the inevitability of a new, rationalistic, awareness of Gnosticism and its future rise?
In any case I strictly recommend reading his book to everybody who is trying to find a foothold in our unbalanced world.
Author of “Gnosticism through the Prism of the Third Millennium: Or between God and the Creator” Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.