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The Collected Works of J. N. Coppock

“And the simplest and friendliest of questions: ‘What is your name?’ put to you by Moses, You would not say, and said instead, ‘I am who I am.’  Like Popeye?  I Yam What I Yam?”

-       Toni Morrison

                                     Soaphead in The Bluest Eye

The following articles/text were formerly featured on my Home Page.  They have been archived as my life and ideas have changed so as to keep my Home Page current:

My Faith
God is not dead because we have killed him as Nietzsche once asserted - "it" never existed in the first place. The personal events in my life have only affirmed what I had inwardly feared for a long, long time. 
 
If God and Heaven is so good and the World so evil, why don't monotheistic followers willingly give their lives to be with their God?  Why do they cling to hope and cures, delaying the progress of death itself, if their reward of eternal happiness and freedom from pain looms just over the horizon?  It is because, inwardly, these believers fear that there is nothing after this life.  Nothing.  I imagine that the most fervent of all believers - the suicide bomber, the radical fundamentalist, the speaker-in-tongues - possess the greatest fear of all: that the universe is meaningless.  Therefore, to perform penance for their inward, unspoken doubts which they consider to be sin, they immerse themselves fully into the river of radicalism and the valley of false vision. 
 
God - as we have had him described to us in monotheistic terminology - does not exist.  I am as certain of this.  How can an all-good, all-powerful diety exist?  If a parent sees its tiny child playing in a busy street, does that parent rush to get the child to safety, intervening out of love, or does the parent simply say, "You chose to walk out there. Now, because I love you, you must learn to find your own way."  If that child is struck, lying there, bloodied, broken, and that child cries out to its parent for help, would a parent simply stand there, listening, but doing nothing?  What do you think? 
 
What I mean is that if morality is black and white, if ethics are intrinsic and not subjective as myriad religious believers tell us, then any parent who willingly left its own child to this fate would be imprisoned for decades in a legal system that equates such behavior with immorality.  Still, when our monotheistic God does this very same thing with us - His children - we are nonetheless apt to excuse this behavior as "divine" or "mysterious" and, ultimately, good.  Yet what "good" does it do to deny your children even the comfort they long for after you have let them injure themselves?  Is it just to "teach them a moral lesson?"  If this is morally reprehensible behavior in a human parent, why to we give "God" a free pass? 
 
God would have to either be all-good yet powerless, all-powerful yet indifferent, or altogether malevolent.  Otherwise, "God" never existed prima facia.

An E-mail Sent to a Friend Tuesday, March 30, 2004
To: Fr. Sebastian C. Naslund
Greetings and Salutations my Dearest Friend!
I was pleased to see you reply so quickly.  I have been or'whelm'd (like the Miltonian phrase? Ha Ha) with school work in this my final semester before graduation and wanted to tell you, still, that you are my friend.  With school, work, and family life, I am busy!  Yet I wanted to share with you what I have been curious about lately (these past few month, actually) and see what input you can offer...
 
I have been surveying some real theological issues, mulling over my religious and spiritual knowledge yet finding myself ever more entrenched in confusion the further I read and study and question.  I am indeed hanging onto Paschal's "proof," so to speak, yet as I continue to read the works of great thinkers like John Milton, I find myself not a shred closer to a unified Christian cosmology that integrates the reality of evolution and logic while maintaining a semblance of orthodox Christianity. 
 
To sum it up in one phrase, it seems ludicrous to me that humanity - by evolving from animals to sentience and self-awareness - could have sinned simply because it sought to be like God (as Genesis says).  I can accept that evolution must be the mechanism God used to create us and our original parents, but how could our original progenitor have actually sinned, or fallen?   It seems to me that self-awareness, or sentience, breeds questions and dilemnas for those who possess it and that by possessing it alone (sentience) we automatically fall prey to sin almost by definition of what it means to be human. 
 
Help me to understand, Father Seb, in terms that I can understand: Our first parents evolved; God gave them an eternal soul; this soul is what causes us to become sentient - different from the animals we evolved from; these mitochondrial Adam and Eve were without sin because they had not yet aspired to be like God; then one day they were tempted and chose to become like God by seeking to know the knowledge of Good and Evil.  Granted, this seems to be a very, very rough and vulgar outline of what an evolved Adam and Eve must have undergone, yet it seems to me, Father, that humanity's search for knowledge is, by definition, exactly what it means to be human.  How could these humans - who must have logically (unless I repudiate natural selection) hid from predators, have hunted and foraged with stone/bone weapons, and not yet have even created fire have possibly disobeyed God's will since their every move in life would have involved survival and avoiding death?  
 
I know the simple answer is faith, that I must believe in a literal creation and an Adam and Eve who never hunted or lacked for anything because they lived in a special place where God provided for all their needs and carnivores never had sharp teeth.  Yet this is the heart of my dilemna, because how can everything fit the rationale of scientific explanation up to the point of our evolution, when suddenly God - who passively lets the earth evolve through evolution and the laws of physics for 4 billion years - grabs this homonid and endows it magically with some essence no other creature before it ever possessed; on top of that, God gives it all the knowledge of the Universe and of God that it needs, puts it somewhere where carnivores don't exist and everything always blooms, then tells it to be happy, have offspring, and don't disobey Me by seeking any more knowledge than I gave you.  Father, this just seems incredulous to me.  When was the moment of first sin?  How did it really occur?  What were the circumstances around it?  Could this first act of rebellion really have been Adam and Eve striving to know as much as God?  Being the first humans to have evolved, how could they have possibly know anything more than us, let alone aspire to surpass a Creator when for the very first time a sentient creature had evolved who could actually even contemplate the notion?  Do my questions bring down condemnation upon me, or do you see - or at least empathize with - the crux of my reasoning, the questions I have had to face in order to resolve our near-surrealistic religious dogma with the scientific facts which we have come to know over the centuries?
 
And, since I have these fundamental doubts concerning the very act of humanity's fall, this throws into direct question for me the notion of what the Son's purpose really was.  I mean, what's the need for a Redeemer if "sin" as we know it (the garden, Satan, the temptation, the fall, etc) is not rationally a single "event" but rather just another word to describe the human, universal experience of sentient, free-will choice and curiosity to know, the ability to distinguish between what we do and what we ought to do (since we, not the animals, possess knowledge; one never sees a chimp contemplate his/her creation!).
 
I have difficulty believing all the doctrine of the Church which exists today and have discovered that in early Christianity (2nd through 4th century) there existed more doctrines on Christ and Christianity than even exist since the schism of 1054 or Martin Luther's reformation.  I need to find these sources, once I have more leisure after college, and read them for myself.  I need to understand what others here long before me have written about our religion to see if there is some more thorough explanation for Christ and for his purpose.  And, by extrapolation, if I can gain a broader understanding beyond the sole "atonement for my original sin" argument, then perhaps I can see a place for myself in my religion that doesn't have to compromise either the rational (science, evolution, logic, knowledge) side of me or the spiritual (faith, baptism, confession, original sin) side. 
 
Well, fret not for me, my friend, for I am beginning to see clearer now that I need to pursue my graduate degree not so much in English but rather theology.  I need to explore deeply the origin of myth and faith in human cultures and try to connect the dots, because right now I feel as though I am futilely painting lines between two separate pictures.  There MUST be a way for me to maintain the integrity of my scientific, rational, and just plain ol' common sense understanding of humanity and our Darwinian origin while adhering to a structure of spiritual thought that is at once both sensibly dogmatic and able to mesh absolutely with the physical laws of the universe.
 
Ah, there is the rub.  I hope you will pray for our Father in Heaven to enlighten my mind and soul on my search for Truth and a unification for my faith and my love of scientific truth.  If you have any suggestions, I am open to study.  We have committed ourselves to moving back to Nebraska this summer, Father, and although I have carefully considered our conversations of last year on this matter, I find that my heart, too, is calling me there.  I have a mission to fulfill in Nebraska which I cannot quantify further than to say that it is indeed calling me and I need to heed its call.  I am very at peace with the notion and feel it is where my bones belong!  I am exploring the graduate programs at the UN-L and will choose one which willl further my intellectual progress as a human being. 
 
Give my sincerest love to your mother and Betty and know you are always in my prayers.  I am sorry to hear that your mom's condition is deteriorating, yet I have the joy of fondly recalling our time together there in Florida and will cherish every memory of her love and acceptance of me!

 
Reinventing Myself

An Old Faith
Blaise Pascal, a famous 17th century French philosopher and mathematician, once hypothesized that belief in a Christian God and Savior was the surest way to ensure a winning bet.  The notion of Eternity, he agreed, was far too important to dismiss lightly because the consequences of so doing can be irrevocable and lead to no good end. 
 
Faith in God, he reasoned (forgive the pun), was a win-win situation.  Even if God does not exist, if one believes in God, he or she is likely to have lived a happy, fruitful life anyway; and if God does indeed exist, the believer's reward is eternal life.  Thus, having faith even in the face of doubt, is a cannot lose endeavor.
 
Lack of faith in God, however, was a no-win situation for Pascal.  If God exists, then non-believers are doomed for eternal damnation alongside Satan in Pandemonium.  Yet if God does not exist, the non-believer still gains nothing, for likely there was no false hope of redemption that would have guided their lives and compelled them to face adversity and suffering with faith and trust; their lives were more miserable.
 
Though I have lived by this philosophy - among others - for quite a few years now, this bulwork of reason that has buffered my agnosticism has a flaw: its logic may be applied to almost anything.  Thus, by replacing Pascal's Christian God with the Islamic Allah or the Hindi Brahman.  Using this logic all "gods," then, are worthy of belief in the context of Pascal's cost-benefit-style analysis. 
 
So where does that leave me?  Do I put my trust, therefore, in all of the religions that say to me "Believe in the One True God or die?" or do I pick one most familiar to me and take a risk at suffering the no-win fate of non-believers in rejecting the other "gods?"  It remains a quandary of logic that I have yet to fully resolve.
 
For reasons I will share further one day, I can summarize the foundation of my faith in a few words: existentialism, panentheism, christianity, darwinism, unitarianism.  These, though not all religions, contain various aspects of my belief system that synthesize to become greater than the sum of the individual pieces.  I hold to the belief that everything in the universe is a part of one God and that Jesus Christ was the son of God, not God Himself.  Through God, the universe evolved, giving rise to a sentient creature that can explore and surmise its own existance.  It is a system of belief no less complicated than that of any other's, as full of contradictions and paradoxes as any religion we have today.

The Reunification of My Soul
 For countless generations, humans have strived to discover the intrinsic meaning of life.  Philosophers have written hundreds, thousands, of volumes on this subject, and religious visionaries have delved into the deepest questions of existence.  Attempts to understand everything – hope and suffering, beauty and evil, love and meaning – have seemingly driven the thinkers of our species to go to no ends to explain the human condition.  I, too, have pondered long and hard on these and many more things, and I have come to the conclusion that the nature of humanity comes down to two fundamental, elementary, polar forces: choice and the lack thereof.

            Tonight, all across the globe, human beings lie suffering in squalor, the product of the inability or the unwillingness of those who possess the power to choose to make things better.  From world leaders to the everyday “man,” humans either exercise the ability to choose or to have the choices of others thrust upon them.  Victims of murder, child abuse, violence, starvation, and many, many more evils are impacted by the choices that others make.  Whether it is the petty dictator who imposes genocide upon entire populations or the individual who steals from another, choices drive human ambition, for good or for ill.  Yet whether the affected humans make choices themselves or have choices thrust upon them, everything finally comes down to one common denominator: choice.

            For my own life, I have come to the epiphany that I will not allow others to choose for me where I, instead, have the power to choose.  I choose choice.  And where I lack the ability to have a choice in the matter, I will choose to do what I live by: seek my bliss and harm no one.  I, as well as the rest of my fellow humans, possess the power to choose to do harm or to do no ill, to choose to bliss or to reject it.  I choose, then, to first do no harm, and secondly, follow my bliss.  When others over me have the power to choose events in my life, I will accept my powerless as long as those choices being made for me are not tyrannical or unethical.  Moreover, in my own ability to affect such power over others, whether it is whole groups of people or a single individual, I will choose wisely, bringing no harm to others.

            With this said, I have finally realized my power as a human: the power to choose.  I choose happiness over misery, companionship over loneliness, success over self-pity.  In essence, I have discovered, for me, that through the mere human capacity to choose my state of heart and mind, I have decided to choose bliss.  I am finally at greater peace with myself and others.  This reinvention, this awakening of higher consciousness, has allowed me to begin to break loose from all cares and concerns that I have been carrying with me for so long.  I have discovered reunification with my essence, my very soul.

            As I write this, I am at perfect peace.  I have chosen choice, and through this reawakening, I have finally come to terms with everything in my life.

            I am whole.

Courtesy of vintage-views.com
abdielsatan.jpg
Abdiel and Satan by Gustave Dore
Courtesy of vintage-views.com
adameveraphael.jpg
Adam and Eve in Conference with Angel Raphael by Gustave Dore
Photo compliments of Wikipedia
satan1.jpg
Lucifer as drawn by Gustave Dore

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