A Buddhist guide to Valentine's Day
The Buddha has some sage advice for lovers looking forward to Valentine's Day.
February 13th, 2014
05:32 PM ET

A Buddhist guide to Valentine's Day

Opinion by Janet Nima Taylor, special to CNN

(CNN) - Valentine’s Day can conjure up the whole spectrum of human emotion, from the ecstasy of new love to the intense pain of loneliness.

It seems the day reeks of the expectation that we need a perfect relationship in order to be happy. But what do we really want?

Some of you might know that the Buddha left his wife and young child to pursue enlightenment, so maybe he’s not the best person to give advice about your love life. On the other hand, his teachings on love, relationships and suffering have a lot to say about our harried modern lives.

The Buddha’s first teaching,  known as the Four Noble Truths,  was about the connection between expectations and suffering.

He taught that life includes suffering because we seek happiness in inherently dissatisfying ways. If things are going great, we think they'll never change. (They always do.) If things are going poorly, we think it's because the world has failed us.

In short, we often expect others to make us happy. When they don’t live up to our expectations, we suffer.

While loving another person and being loved are some of life’s greatest joys, it can be painful when you think your happiness is another person’s responsibility. Valentine’s Day feeds suffering when it becomes about expecting anyone else, whether it's your spouse or an attractive stranger on a train, to satisfy your desires.

Instead, Buddhists learn to cultivate positive mental states, regardless of their external circumstances, and February 14 can be the perfect day to practice cultivating happiness and love, regardless of whether your boyfriend just proposed to you or dumped you, or even if you haven’t had a relationship since the Ice Age.

It’s all about letting go of longing and taking charge of our own happiness. Right now, in this moment, imagine what it feels like to experience love and happiness and joy.

You have the power of your imagination to create the experience without anything changing in the external world. When we set our intention to be happy, we no longer require the world to meet any preconceived notion about what we need to be happy.

Quit waiting for the perfect mate or piece of jewelry, and take charge of your own positive experience. An added bonus: When we become happier and more inspired, we attract more happiness all around us.

One last thought: Try radiating love toward everyone (or at least send out some loving kindness), regardless of whether they make you happy.

At the very least it makes you feel better, and it might even get you a date for next Valentine’s Day.

Janet Nima Taylor is an American Buddhist nun based in Kansas City and the author "Buddhism for Non-Buddhists," and "Meditation for Non-Meditators." The views expressed in this column belong to Taylor. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Buddhism • Holidays • Opinion • Sexuality • Spirituality

soundoff (215 Responses)
  1. joeyy1


    February 19, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
    • igaftr

      no matter how many times you spam post this, it is still boring music, sounds like computer generated garbage.

      February 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
    • Doris

      Just awful. Maybe if you got a new person to play the keys and a new person to write it and a new person to record it and ask them to add tempo changes, more dynamics you might then at least have something.

      February 21, 2014 at 10:54 pm |
  2. joeyy1


    February 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
    • peter strange yumi

      Love is the grand illusion we are not alone.

      February 17, 2014 at 10:09 pm |
  3. hearthetruthonline


    February 16, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
  4. hearthetruthonline


    February 16, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
  5. Salero21

    Whaaat!!! More proof on top of the mountains of proofs that Idolatry/atheism/evolutinism are all Total stupidity. Who in the world could ask for more? Only atheists, evolutionists and idolaters!! 😀

    February 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm |
    • Dalahäst

      What parable or lesson did Jesus teach showing that resorting to name calling and insults was a good way to get people to understand God?

      February 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
      • Salero21

        What do you call someone who practices idolatry? What does the Bible calls those who practice idolatry? What did Paul call those who practiced idolatry? What did Jesus call those who would not believe? What did Jesus call Herod? How did Jesus send his disciples into the world? 😉

        February 17, 2014 at 1:54 pm |
        • Akira

          Why do you feel you can ask questions of people when you never answer even the most direct ones?

          Answer Dalahast's question, Salero.

          February 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm |
    • evolveddna

      Sallero21,, you obviously have a new meaning of the word "proof " which was previously unknown by the rest of humanity

      February 16, 2014 at 8:43 pm |
    • Reality

      Again for the new members:

      Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e. the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      February 16, 2014 at 11:31 pm |
      • Salero21

        Religion, even those that are misguided and idolatrous is a human endeavor. Is one of those many, many things that set us humans apart from animals. See... animals have customs rituals and routines but they can't and don't have, believe of practice religions.

        You atheists adopt a posture similar to the 4 legged animals, in pretending to deny that all other people who don't share the Total stupidity of atheism with you; do have a right to their religions. God himself allows mankind to belong, have or practice a religion, even those who are deceitful, idolatrous, misguided and wrong. There is no absence of Evidence for God, but refusal and rejection on the part of both the atheists (unbelievers) and the idolaters. Atheists and idolaters do walk hand in hand along the same path to the other place that IS NOT Heaven.

        February 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm |
        • TruthPrevails1

          The pope rules above you and is better mannered, so if a heaven exists (hahahahaha) he has said Atheists get in...I'll take his word over yours any day-he isn't hateful.

          February 17, 2014 at 2:08 pm |
        • Salero21

          NO the roman-catholic pope does NOT rules over me or over anyone else who is not roman-catholic, he rules over Catholics only. Saying that is Totally stupid!! 😉 Yours is another piece of Evidence of the Total stupidity of atheism, and proof unequivocal that atheists are pathologically dishonest and compulsive liars.

          February 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm |
        • Reality

          Obviously, Salero21 fits somewhere in the following:

          .Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

          Current problems: (and more circ-umstantial evidence that there is no god)

          Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

          February 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm |
    • Yoda

      Mmmm. The trolling only grows weaker with this one.

      February 17, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Does being an ASS ever get boring?

      February 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
  6. Dalahäst

    "The New Commandment of Jesus is to 'love one another'. Buddhism allows me a way to do this." – a Christian/Buddhist

    Is that kosher?

    February 15, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
    • derado8

      Do you have any idea how miserable it is to love one another? You are talking about people, man, people. Have you seen them? I am a people and I can't even stand myself half the time.

      February 16, 2014 at 11:02 am |
      • Dalahäst

        I think not loving people actually creates more misery. It is hard to love difficult people, but I have to try to.

        February 16, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
        • derado8

          Life is like forty three people sitting down to a enjoy a pizza that serves eight.

          February 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I think the pizza serves 40, but somebody took too much leaving the 39 to divvy up the remaining 8 servings.

          February 16, 2014 at 4:28 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Have you heard the long spo.on story?

          February 16, 2014 at 4:39 pm |
        • derado8

          No I sure haven't. I don't know what it is.

          February 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm |
        • derado8

          True about the pizza, that's exactly it too.

          February 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm |
        • Dalahäst


          spo~ons is a banned word so take the ~ out, or just google allegory of the long spo~ons.

          February 16, 2014 at 5:15 pm |
        • derado8

          Ah, barter town. It works to a point. If humanity could get past itself then it may even work to all points. That won't happen in our life time but such as it is.

          February 16, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
        • derado8

          Dala, I hope you'll read this post even though it is off topic (save for eating and feeding topics) but I noticed in another thread you posted about a concern with diabetes and high blood pressure. I can relate to your concerns. I just wanted to share this link with you that talks about the horrors of sugar. Sugar is really bad stuff. I've been clean from it for three months (with a few set backs) and ironically I crave things like Saur Kraut and olives since giving it up. I didn't know about my artificial sweetener though. FYI sugar is similar in chemical compound to cocaine. I thought this video was interesting.


          February 16, 2014 at 6:36 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I actually don't have diabetes or high blood pressure (I can't remember... but I think I was trying to make an analogy, or else it was a bad joke).

          BUT, I am trying to cut back on sweets (high cholesterol), especially Coke. And, yes, it is addictive and I have weird cravings. I'll check that out.

          February 16, 2014 at 8:43 pm |
    • bootyfunk

      you can love without christianity or buddhism. try it and see. i dare you.

      February 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm |
      • Dalahäst

        Can you demonstrate that, or just talk about it?

        February 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
        • derado8

          I'm sure a lot of skeptics keep quiet about their non belief to avoid upsetting people. Not on these blogs of course, but in real life it happens all the time. I think that counts.

          February 16, 2014 at 4:11 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          For most it is a private manner. So, yes, they are respectful in regards to their differing beliefs. As long as no blatant harm is being committed.

          February 16, 2014 at 4:42 pm |
    • igaftr

      the new commandment of Jesus?...

      Most of what Jesus allegedly taught, was taught by the Buddha 400 years earlier, yet Jesus never gives any credit.....

      February 16, 2014 at 1:02 pm |
      • Dalahäst

        I don't think Buddha ever gave a commandment to love one another.

        It seems like he would teach that loving an individual is a form of attachment, and attachment leads to suffering. Buddha taught suffering avoidance. Jesus taught to accept suffering.

        February 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
        • igaftr

          That is not true. Buddha taught love for others, to give of ones self for community, to put the needs of others ahead of one's own needs. same speil...different packaging.

          Also, the word for suffering is not the same in translation...it more means discontentment more than suffering, and all things can lead to discontentment.

          February 16, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          The context of Jesus giving a "new" commandment was to people who happen to be living under different commandments.

          Jesus may have been influenced by Buddhism. Or the truths it revealed. I don't think he needed to credit Buddha for anything, though. It is not like either of them were totally creating something new, they were just describing something that already existed.

          February 16, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
    • evolveddna

      Dalahast.. To love one another was exercised long before any gods came in to the minds of humans. Early societies depended on each other to survive, individually and as group. they had to be altruistic to survive. If the central message of the bible is to love one another and get along.. that was hardly news to humanity..

      February 16, 2014 at 9:45 pm |
      • Dalahäst

        Yes. Just because he wasn't the first to say or suggest a notion, does not mean it isn't relevant.

        The people he was working with (the Jews) were failing to live up to that ideal.

        February 16, 2014 at 9:55 pm |
  7. Creationists say the darndest things


    February 15, 2014 at 3:51 pm |
  8. joeyy1


    February 14, 2014 at 11:06 pm |
  9. lunchbreaker

    Who has plans for the holiday weekend?

    February 14, 2014 at 4:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      You have a holiday weekend?

      Lucky you.

      This year my day off for the President's Day Federal Holiday is December 26. Not a bad trade all things considered.

      February 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      Yeah, I'm one of them thar federal employees. That is a good trade though for the 26th.

      February 14, 2014 at 5:08 pm |
    • Vic

      Presidents' Day is a Federal Holiday.

      Many businesses in the private sector set it as a floating holiday.

      February 14, 2014 at 6:23 pm |
  10. Doc Vestibule

    How do you define love?

    For me, love is the subjective condition in which another person's happiness is necessary for your own.

    February 14, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Doc: your definition sounds like love is merely a manipulative foil for selfishness.

      as you might expect, i'll go with two classics:
      "greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends" (Jn.15:13).
      "God is love." (1 Jn.4:8)

      February 14, 2014 at 3:10 pm |
      • evolveddna

        Russ..God is love...in what way? would you have come to that conclusion if you had not been told that? and which god are you talking about?

        February 14, 2014 at 6:12 pm |
        • Russ

          @ evolveddna:
          1) i cited the reference, so you know my source: the Bible.
          so yes, i am making a revelatory appeal to Jesus Christ.

          2) to answer your second question (would i have known that if not told?): on the one hand, it would be impossible to know if it had not been told. but on the other, as a product of multiple secular insti.tutions of higher learning wherein that conclusion is eschewed, it is safe to say i am not merely the product of my environment.

          and regarding that argument in general, Alvin Plantinga notes that argument is flawed:
          “Suppose we concede that if I had been born of Muslim parents in Morocco rather than Christian parents in Michigan, my beliefs would be quite different. [But] the same goes for the pluralist...If the pluralist had been born in [Morocco] he probably wouldn't be a pluralist. Does it follow that...his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process?”

          February 14, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
        • evolveddna

          Russ.. I appreciate your answers and i am sure that to you it all makes sense.. however it appears to me that your god exists purely in a philosophical realm. It is to convoluted to be real. I cannot for the life of me think that a person in a third word country, or even in North America for that matter, being given a bible to read would ever get that understanding from the words they would read. If there was an omnipotent being who was leaving a message to his creation why would he leave such and obscure message. Many religions have their own take on the philosophy and I assume that yours would be a Catholic perspective... none of which have any basis in fact. I fail to see why Jesus would have to put to death for our supposed "sins" how has that proven any "love". Out side of any philosophical meaning I would hazard a guess no one knows or even has a clue..

          February 15, 2014 at 12:05 am |
        • Russ

          @ evolveddna:
          1) that's a seemingly very ethnocentric remark.
          2) it's demonstrably untrue. Christianity is BOOMING in the third world (especially Africa, Latin America & rural China).
          3) and the central, simple concept is not merely philosophical: it's that tangible. a God who is Love & defines Love means life is all about that same sort of Love.

          February 15, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
        • Russ

          @ evolveddna:
          also, i'm not Catholic.

          regarding love: Jesus sacrificed his life for his enemies to demonstrate his love for us & save us (Rom.5:8). if you don't regard that as loving, what does it *cost* you to love someone? how does it *cost* you (or your god/s) anything to love? if love doesn't *cost*, how would you begin to assess any level of devotion to another? that's tangible.

          February 15, 2014 at 5:09 pm |
        • evolveddna

          Russ ..lets hope that the Christians in Africa . especially Nigeria,understand the concept of love before they kill more gay folks because they get the impression god does not like them.
          Jesus sacrificed his life for his enemies to demonstrate his love for us & save us (Rom.5:8). if you don't regard that as loving, what does it *cost* you to love someone? how does it *cost* you (or your god/s) anything to love? if love doesn't *cost*, how would you begin to assess any level of devotion to another? that's tangible. except that Jesus did not die so how did that work..he came back to life as he knew he would all along.. he is expected back any time now as he has for the last 2000yrs.
          Love is borne out of respect..being told as, you believe. we are all sinners from birth is not respect... Any god that demands

          February 15, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
        • Russ

          @ evolveddna:
          1) the cross tells me that i deserve death as much as anyone. if God can redeem a loser like me, there's hope for anyone. so yes, it's unfortunate when people – especially in the name of Christ – scapegoat one group as worse than another.

          at the same time, we are all called to repent. Jesus stands between the adulterous woman & her accusers (Jn.8), but once he's run them all off, he says "go and leave your life of sin."

          2) you said "love is borne out of respect." you seem to think being told you are in a bad way is not respectful.

          an analogy: a drug addict (after all, Jesus said anyone who sins is a slave to sin: Jn.8:34). is it respectful to allow the addict to continue unimpeded? or does love compel an intervention? certainly you don't think it's loving to enable the addict, right? there will NOT be mutual respect in such a situation. if anything, the addict will regard you as evil even if you are attempting to show them love.

          again, what does it *cost* you to love someone? are you willing to have them LOSE respect for you?

          3) your comment about Jesus not really dying appears to misunderstand the incarnation and/or the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus really died a fully human death. he was fully human (as well as being fully divine). as one theologian put it: "whatever wasn't assumed, wasn't healed." he took death in my place. if he didn't, whatever he didn't do is left on me.

          the old "it was only a bad weekend/Jesus didn't really suffer/he knew better" type argument fails to understand the other side of the equation: Jesus' divinity (as a member of the Trinity). Jesus has an infinitely valuable, eternal relationship with the Father – the MOST valuable thing in existence, something impossible for us to fully appreciate. that is the cost – that is what he gave up on the cross. for him to say (quoting a 1000 year old prophecy), "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" is virtually breaking all the theological categories for Christianity. it's the only place Jesus doesn't speak directly to him as "Father." God is saying that we – though we are mere creatures – are worth that to him. he is giving up what is most precious to reclaim us.

          since you are not a Christian, i don't expect you to fully comprehend that – but i would expect you to garner that saying "it was just a bad weekend" (as you imply in your remarks) is incredibly disingenuous for what Christianity is claiming. an infinite & eternal relationship was 'fractured' (for lack of a better term) in order to heal what was broken in finite creatures like us. God has declared us who were not worthy as infinitely valuable to Him.

          February 15, 2014 at 9:12 pm |
      • evolveddna

        Russ.. still wondering how you extract "God is Love" from your study of the bible. And what does that really mean in practical terms to the rest of humanity and those who do not subscribe to your particular god.

        February 14, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
        • Russ

          @ evolveddna:
          1) "extract"? it is not something i extract from it. it is one of the primary teachings of the Bible. the verse i cited doesn't imply it; it states it explicitly – but even if it didn't, that thought permeates the NT (and – for the careful eye – the OT as well).

          2) if you were asking how i apply it...

          a) philosophically – God defines love. it does not define him (as if there is a concept to which God answers – thereby negating the concept of self-determining, omnipotent being).

          b) theologically – as a Christian, Trinitarian monotheism is unlike any other conception of divinity. 3 distinct persons in one God (not three masks/modes, not 3 gods) – all of which are continually giving glory to one another from all eternity. why does that matter? traditional, 'pure' monotheism envisions a singular god from beyond time. such a god could not be primarily "love" since that would require "others" to which he/she/it could give love. that's why islam does NOT believe Allah's primary trait is love (Islam means 'submit', which makes sense when the primary way such a god relates to others from all eternity would be power, not love). alternatively, whereas a polytheistic conception of loving gods requires a loss of power or power struggle, Trinitarian monotheism represents a stark contrast: purposeful unity in love.

          furthermore: God created out of love – not necessity. he did not "need" us, so love isn't about a deficiency in God. instead, it is an overflow of his character. which implies a LOT about us...

          c) personally – since humanity bears the image of God, we were created for relationship (which makes sense since the Triune God is a God of relationships). Love is inherent to God's being, and he places that same mark on us. we were made for love. no other religion can make quite the same sort of claim (as I've tried to show above, this understanding of Love flows from the unique concept of the Trinity). Love is only ancillary in the divine character(s). as such, love is primary in our lives as well.

          d) practically – Jesus gave his life to show love to the world. Christians should do the same – figuratively and literally, socially and personally, etc.

          SUM: Christ – the coming of Christ most clearly demonstrated this love, not just for God himself, but extending it to us and demonstrating the sort of love humanity has the capacity to have and give.

          3) what does this mean for those who don't "subscribe" to the Christian view (as you put it)? it is as blunt as it seems. if Christ is who he said he was, then that defines & reveals love. to reject the definition of Love means one doesn't understand it.

          we can dance with semantics here, but Jesus didn't: any other definition of love fails to get what is most intrinsic to love. implication: such definitions are not love. it would be unloving to say that it is – especially when real Love is a living being who self-defines and is offering the genuine article: himself.

          February 14, 2014 at 9:42 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Good evening, Russ. I'm beginning to envision a Euthyphro dilemma of love. Is there a standard of love such that love can exist and we can know what it is without God? If God is love, then is any arbitrary thing about God, or that comes from God, love?

          February 14, 2014 at 9:51 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO: good to talk with you again.

          per the Euthyphro dilemma, God defines himself & the good (otherwise, how could the 'good' be defined? it requires another authority). i side with Calvin & company on that one. but i recognize that brings other questions. in an attempt to address them (and especially he implications of your final question)... as one of my mentors said: does that mean even wrath is a function of his love? yes. yes it does. Paul probably comes closest to saying that in Rom.9:21-22.

          February 14, 2014 at 10:05 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Gödel tried to detail the properties of God through a handful of definitions and axioms – this is one definition he used: x is God-like if and only if x has as essential properties those and only those properties which are positive. Gödel doesn't really ever address what positive means. We can say that "the good" or love are positive, but only because, if well defined, they can be shown to fit all the requirements for things to be positive while other, arbitrary, things do as well.

          The verses from Romans leave me wondering if God loves clay, or if God only loves the good and lovable things he makes with it.

          February 14, 2014 at 10:29 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO:
          1) yes, i'd say the term 'positive' does beg the question here. again, i am arguing that God defines what is & is not positive – over & against the idea that he somehow submits or appeals to otherwise independent notions of those concepts.

          as a Christian, God has uniquely chosen certain concepts to more closely identify his character. so, the real issue is not love vs. good vs. positive vs. God, but rather God's self-defintiion of said concepts vs. my false preconceived notions of those same concepts. it is the subjective vs. the objective definition.

          in such a situation, i'd press the term 'arbitrary' back to its root: "arbiter." it is not random for God since he IS the Arbiter / Objective. it is only seemingly random for us.

          2) yes, Rom.9:21-22 presses the issue that God's glory is the greater concern. but note well what he does with that concern in vv.25-26 (which point to the broader theme here): God's plan includes bringing in those that Israel would not have thought of as 'noble clay.'

          does God 'love' the clay, you ask? in the case of Adam & Eve, God doesn't just 'love' the dirt into which he breathed life, he *becomes* the clay in the person of Jesus Christ to do what they failed to do. he lives the life they couldn't, dies the death they deserved and raises dead clay to permanent life. he does all that to make 'clay' into his family.

          and it flips the discussion of 'good.' in virtually every other religion (and even secularism), only the 'good' people get in (however such groups define 'good'). in Christianity, one begins with an admission that we are bad. we needed such a savior. in fact, you could say only those who admit they are bad 'get in.' (but note: that admission doesn't MAKE one 'good' by any means.) I don't deserve this. it is precisely because i am clay that should have been rejected that makes the Gospel literally "good news." i am a moral failure (clay that has ruined itself) – but i am a completely loved moral failure.

          February 14, 2014 at 10:51 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          There are several things we are asked to accept. God exists necessarily. God is love. God is the objective moral standard. We can't be God-like. We must rely on God to exemplify love, moral values, and "the good." If God were apparent and accessible, then these things would be easier to accept.

          Regarding "(in) Christianity, one begins with an admission that we are bad", it is easy to see that we are not God-like, but does that mean we are bad? The negation of a positive property is not necessarily evil, I would think.

          February 14, 2014 at 11:20 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO:

          1) "asked to accept"? i think you mean something by this language that does not match my sentiment here. when reality hits, i'm not 'asked to accept' it. we may live in denial of it, though. as Jesus said in Jn.8, anyone who sins is a slave to sin. that sounds a lot like addiction. the addict RARELY will admit his condition – because he recognizes an imminent threat. spiritually, this is the reason conversations about God are *always* loaded. one can't be neutral when recognizing that – if the matter at hand proves true – there are broad sweeping implications for every facet of one's life.

          so, to press here: the reality of one's addiction may be VERY apparent & accessible, but the addict still has a vested interest in denying that reality – including a readily available solution. 'rescue' in such a case ironically sounds more like H.ell to the addict.

          2) you said "we can't be God-like." while certainly that is true of the fallen human condition *apart* from God, it was neither the design nor is it true of one who is in a relationship *with* God (in which God is actively making us like him).

          or to use biblical references:
          "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." (Php.1:6)
          "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor.3:18)

          3) you said "does that mean that we are bad?" to go straight to the source for Christians, Jesus certainly said so. he even called his own disciples "evil" (Lk.11:13) in passing – as though it were a given. and Rom.3:10-20 (which is simply a string of OT quotes) rather dramatically illustrates that point from the rest of Scripture.

          in sum, it's not a philosophical inference, but a direct claim from God himself. we have rendered ourselves evil. we need the good. again, that's the paradigm breaking message of the Gospel: "God made him who knew no sin to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor.5:21). put in the vernacular: God treated the only truly good person in history as if he were evil so that i might be treated like only that singular good person deserves. it's a trade.

          February 14, 2014 at 11:41 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Regarding what's apparent and accessible, the God of the Bible appears only to come from the pages of a book. Absent the book, no one would know about it. God is apparent only in the Bible.
          It's claimed that God is accessible through prayer, but some of the most devout people come to believe that God is unchanging and mysterious, and that the only effect of prayer is to change the one who prays. Others simply learn to pray that God's will be done. How does anyone know that God hears anything we say?

          February 15, 2014 at 11:54 am |
        • fortheloveofellipsis

          Tagging myself in, for once...

          "3) you said "does that mean that we are bad?" to go straight to the source for Christians, Jesus certainly said so. he even called his own disciples "evil" (Lk.11:13) in passing – as though it were a given. and Rom.3:10-20 (which is simply a string of OT quotes) rather dramatically illustrates that point from the rest of Scripture."

          I can't leave this one alone. It implies that every person is inherently evil–including newborns. When does any infant choose evil? I cannot accept that an infant is inherently evil.

          February 15, 2014 at 2:39 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO:

          1) you said: "the God of the Bible appears only to come from the pages of a book."

          a) where did the book come from? there are many historical events we only know about through writing. you don't discount those. your objection has merit – but not on the basis that certain information is only found in a book. is that actually the basis of your objection?

          b) the Bible is not the only place God's presence is seen. existence itself presses the question. you exist. you didn't make yourself. most who claim existence is fundamentally random feel hard-pressed to explain how there could be order (especially for a system which claims randomness as its essential form). why would order even arise? Hawking et al have been seeking hard to find a response (i.e., "Grand Design", etc.) because they recognize how devastating of a critique that is for their position.

          in theological circles, we call that 'natural revelation.' but you appear to be delineating that from the other category of 'special revelation' – which would be the Bible. most Christians do affirm what i think you are saying: natural revelation is *not enough* for salvation, though it is enough to warrant knowledge that there is a God (as Rom.1 affirms). without hearing from God directly (hence the term "God's Word"), particular knowledge of his character and person would be unknowable.

          but revelation is not contingent on our efforts to reach God. while the finite may not be capable of reaching or understanding the Infinite, certainly the Infinite (if he/she/it so desires) can bridge that gap & communicate in a readily intelligible fashion. Calvin called that "accommodation" (or 'baby talk'). God bridges the "infinite, qualitative difference between God and humanity" (as Kierkegaard put it).

          the form and fashion of that bridge is entirely his prerogative. it seems your objection is to the particular form God has chosen.

          2) your question on prayer somewhat begs the larger question here. having said that, openly assuming my answer (as you seem to be doing in posing your question)...

          a) God is unchanging & mysterious. but he has spoken and acted in history. he has revealed himself. as one theologian said: "only God can speak of himself." that doesn't mean we can't say anything, but if you want to know God reliably, you look to *His* Word. the Bible doesn't tell us everything we *want* to know (for instance, Gen.1 clearly opens with a pre-existing 'host' of angels, etc. – where'd they come from? it's never explained), but it does tell us everything we *need* to know (redemptive history, etc.).

          b) you said: "the only effect of prayer is to change the one who prays."

          again, it's begging the question – but as a Christian i appeal to God's Word. all we know about the *effects* of prayer are what God tells us. does it change him? no. but has he planned to include it sovereignly in history? do our prayers actually participate in accomplishing the plan he laid out before our history began? yes. we are told our prayers are "powerful and effective" (Jas.5) – not just to change us, but actually to work change in others' lives (which is the direct context of that statement in Jas.5).

          we not only pray for "God's will to be done" & "HIS kingdom to come" (i.e., not *mine* – that's where prayer is changing me), but we have the audacity to ask God to actually act in history. prayer is that ridiculous: God is telling us we can talk to him – the heart of Being, the Lord of Existence, the Maker of everything – that we have free, unfettered access to him because of what he did in Jesus. it's preposterous – and incredible – and most of us Christians just ignore it or misuse it or toss it around thoughtlessly. in reality, if the Bible is true (and you know i think it is), could there be a greater gift to humanity?

          c) you said: "How does anyone know that God hears anything we say?"

          again, as the song goes "for the Bible tells me so." that circular logic will raise the ire of some – but a) most who are honest recognize that at some point *everyone* begins with circular logic, and b) if that is where & how God has chosen to speak, where else would we go to learn what prayer is?

          d) now, returning to my original comment (how did we get this book?), i would press a little here. Jesus is the act of God that changed history – God coming in person into the time & space he created. Jesus (God in the flesh) was asked the same sort of question by his own disciples – "Lord, teach us how to pray." notably, he gave them a formula but told them NOT to speak in formulas. and thru the rest of the NT (Acts, epistles, etc.), we never hear them repeat the formula exactly, but the content is reflected everywhere.

          point being: the primary goal of prayer is relationship. it's not "Hey God, give me some stuff. i need it." God's main response is: "you need me. come to me. in Christ, I'm your Father. come experience my love." it's all about relationship. it's why the Lord's Supper is not some ritual, but, for Christians, it's sitting down to eat with your Father. it's entirely relational.

          in overly simplistic terms:
          Bible = hearing from God
          prayer = talking to God
          Communion = eating with God (being reminded of his love & grace)

          and if your question is: "how can i really know?" i would again appeal to the Bible – 1 Cor.2:6-16... but in particular, note v.14 (or similarly, Jn.14:17). the point is, without God's Spirit in us, we won't comprehend these things. this is the same Spirit who Jesus tells us is "the Spirit of Truth... who will guide you into truth" (Jn.16:13 – and note well: Jesus said He is the Truth; Jn.14:6). He is "the Advocate" – of what? what or whom does the HS advocate? Jesus. Acts calls the Holy Spirit "the Spirit of Jesus" (Acts 16:6-7).

          as one theologian said: the Holy Spirit is like a spotlight. you may not see where the light is coming from, but you can clearly see what it illuminates. The Holy Spirit is the purposefully anonymous member of the Trinity who floods the light on Jesus – and it is this person that Jesus promises he will send once he ascends (Jn.14:15-31; Acts 1:1-8) and who comes and lives in us (1 Cor.3:15; 6:19). it is the Holy Spirit who makes this real to us – in the sense that i think you are asking "how does anyone *know*?".

          February 15, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
        • Russ

          @ fortheloveofellipsis:
          1) having not talked with you before (at least to my knowledge), i'm not sure how familiar you are with the Bible – and that entirely sets the context for my answer here.

          are you aware of the import of the "Fall" (Gen.3) to Christians? we do not believe God designed us as evil. in that regard we certainly are not "inherently evil" by design. but we corrupted ourselves by our actions. as such, we are in bondage to sin (read Martin Luther's "bondage of the will" for a classic piece on this). our choices will *only* be evil, even & especially if they appear good – they will actually be for evil reasons.

          "why?! how can you say that?" is the response I think i'm hearing from you. because we were made for relationship with God. it is our *fundamental* identi.ty. no matter how well we do everything else, if we have abandoned our most fundamental relationship, everything else will be affected by that divide.

          two examples:
          a) a 'living' lamp chooses to unplug itself. it may still stand. it may still have form and serve a purpose. but a fundamental rift has occurred that affects *every* aspect of the thing for which it was created. and the lamp itself is responsible for its condition.

          b) you're a teenager with a loving father whom you've come to believe is actually keeping you from all the wonderful things in life – when in actuality, he's loving you by not letting you do self-destructive things. you come to dinner, you live under his roof, you might even do *all* your 'duties' outwardly in the home. but under no circ.umstances do you reciprocate the love and care for him that he is giving to you. as far as you're concerned, you can't wait to get out from under his clammy hand so you can really live. so, in some sense of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency, you decide you'll show him by being and doing everything 'right' but purposefully choosing not to have any semblance of a relationship with him. are the things you are doing "good"?

          Jesus really comes after religious people in Lk.15 with the "elder brother" in the so-called "Parable of the Prodigal Son." note well: at the end of the story, the "good son" is refusing to come into the house BECAUSE OF HIS GOODNESS. it's not his badness that's keeping him from the Father, but his goodness. as one theologian has said: "the biggest barrier between us and God is our dam.nable good works." we think it's karma: "God, you owe me." but we're so much worse off than that. we have no basis for leverage through good works. it was merely our duty.

          i like how Flannery O'Connor puts it with the main character in "Wiseblood" – "there was a deep, black, wordless conviction in him that they way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sinning."

          everyone 'repents' of being bad. but Christianity calls us to repent of the reason we ever did anything 'good' in the first place (MOTIVES). no, it is not our good works that will 'get us in' with God. that is to think we can save ourselves. and we are not our own savior. to think / live as one's own savior is the primary divide between us and God.

          to put it as bluntly as the cross does:
          i) we are worse off than we want to admit (we ALL deserve a death like that)
          ii) we are much more loved than we ever dared hope (he was willing to die in our place)

          2) to be direct on your second question (infants).

          a) do you have children? do you find them to be innocent from birth? (that's not the same as asking: are they a wonderful gift? certainly they are.) but even note this sociological article making headlines lately (even 3 month olds know right from wrong... and yet they do both...):

          b) you seem to readily admit infants "choose to do evil" but you want to separate their actions from their identi.ty/motives. why?

          c) David – which the Bible calls a "man after God's own heart" – also admits "surely i was sinful from birth, sinful even from the time my mother conceived me" (Ps.51:5).

          February 15, 2014 at 4:43 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          I appreciate the time you must spend on your replies, Russ. They are interesting and informative.

          Regarding natural revelation, you do come to the crux of things when you point out that no one has an explanation for the order that seems to underlie reality. I've wondered if there is order in all worlds.
          Frequently believers have said that the Universe is, or has been, fine-tuned for our kind of life, and claimed that as evidence that an intelligent agent must be behind the Universe for this to have come about. They don't seem to realize that being part of one Universe in which we are possible may only make our Universe seem singular (as in odd in some way). It may or may not be. Even if our Universe is singular, other Universes might seem similarly so to anything that might live in them that is able to wonder about such things.
          Something similar may apply to the kind of reality we are in. We live in a reality in which we are possible. That requires order of certain kinds. We are here to see it because it is here. It does not exist so that we can. It could just as easily not exist.
          Perhaps that's more than you wanted to hear on that, but the problem of order has been as compelling to me as it has been to Hawking, Penrose and many other people.

          February 15, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO:
          1) thanks for the compliment. it could just as easily be laborious reading. i'm glad you find it informative. hopefully more like conversing with a colleague with whom you disagree than studying a lab rat...

          2) you said: "Perhaps that's more than you wanted to hear on that." absolutely not. your response let's me know you heard the point i was making.

          3) i've always found the "multiverse" response somewhat weak. it seems to fail to hear the critique. let me explain if i can.

          a) philosophically, the 'multiverse' defense seems to miss the critique being pressed.

          for naturalism to semantically create a new category within the material universe and consider that 'transcendent' of the current scientific norms seems both ironic and shallow.

          "ironic" because naturalists don't believe in the transcendent – and yet they have created a quasi-transcendent set of realities (notably unproven & without any scientific reason to speculate in favor of such a reality) to explain something otherwise inexplicable within their system. it IS the 'god of the gaps' for a naturalist. (and maybe that's why they so often think theists are advancing similarly flawed arguments if they are actually only hearing the response in this limited vein).

          "shallow" because it fails to hear the critique. other philosophies are actually addressing the *principles* underlying physics (which would apply across *all* known multiverses, should they exist – including why & if such realities relate). the issue is not WITHIN the material realm, but transcendent of (or underlying) it.

          let me see if i can cast further light on that...
          i find it ironic for a philosophical naturalist to dodge the critique by appealing to a 'higher order' (for lack of a better term) or transcendent possibilities. first of all, naturalists don't believe in the transcendent in the same way that other philosophies do. secondly, these other philosophies are pressing naturalists within their own categories (i.e., if there is nothing transcendent, why are there over-arching principles [beyond the 'laws' of nature]? etc.). the critique levied by other philosophies (which actually *do* believe there is something transcendent) is an attempt to press that enormous weakness into the materialist. so, in order to deal with a clear problem INTRINSIC to naturalism, the naturalist concocts a semi-transcendent, speculative set of realities? really? this is a SEVERE leap of faith – one of much greater magnitude than any of the theists which naturalists so often mock. and it certainly appears to run contrary to their central litmus test (i.e., only believing in what is empirically verifiable).

          philosophical SUM: to be as clear as i can – the critique is that the principles underlying physics/science/etc. (INCLUDING anything that would be 'relative' in another 'multiverse'), whatever makes material reality 'reality' according to the naturalist, draws out the question. why are there underlying principles at all? one must presume that in order for there to be ANY sense of 'reality' to which we can know & relate (again, are these 'naturalists' claiming something so speculative?), there must be SOME point of contact in reality, some shared principle of existence to consider it an 'alternative' to this reality.

          but if i can be so blunt, this certainly sounds like naturalists appealing to transcendent philosophical realities while claiming (as their self-definition) that there are no such things. it's self-refuting.

          b) mathematically speaking, the multiverses idea is logically untenable.

          alvin plantinga has a rather devastating critique (IMO) here...
          [Alvin Plantinga's illustration of a poker game in which the dealer deals himself twenty straight hands of four aces. As the other players are about to pound him for cheating, the dealer says, "wait, you can't prove I'm cheating; there are a trillion parallel universes and we just happen to be in one where the chances of dealing twenty straight hands of four aces has been realized." He is strictly right - it is possible that there are trillions of universes and this is the one universe in which all those aces are dealt. But it's a lot more plausible to believe that he is cheating - the other players will still slug him! No one lives their life the way the dealer suggests. In the same way, the existence of all those fine-tuned constants is strong evidence that God exists.]

          and that's the point. the multiverse answer feels more like a cover for 'cheating' in naturalism. Ockham's razor pushes hard against that answer ("we just happen to be in one in a trillion universes...").

          c) theologically, the naturalist is failing to address the theist/spiritualist on his own terms.

          while i recognize that not all naturalists do this, i have heard many speak of how "multiverses" would disprove God. that simply fails to hear what 'transcendence' means (both philosophically and theologically). IF (and as i said above, that's an *enormous* if) there were multiverses, God would simply be over them all. that's the nature of transcendence. and IF there were multiverses, many of the same arguments would still apply (e.g., why are there material multiverses in the first place? why isn't there simply nothing? etc.). to assume otherwise is begging the question (because such a god would fail to be god, and such 'transcendence' would fail its own definition).

          overall SUM: the endgame for the naturalist seems to fail in every major way here. they've created a speculative, transcendent response (selling out in a self-contradictory way: both in appealing to something 'transcendent' & something utterly non-empirical) that ultimately doesn't even address their critics' positions with integrity.

          but to show at least a little humility, the scientific claims here are (scientifically speaking) beyond my wheelhouse. by analogy: where hawking has taken a beating for failing basic philosophy even though he is an incredible scientist ("Grand Design"), i need to be ready to make the same concessions from the opposite end. that said, it's not so much the science as the philosophical, mathematical & theological objections that certainly make this 'answer' seem so preposterous.

          February 15, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Alvin Plantinga's joke would fall a bit flat if it turned out that there are infinitely many coexisting Universes, but they all have him being dealt the same hand of cards. But, I didn't intend to argue about fine-tuning of this Universe, or the possible existence of others. In fact, I set out to leave science altogether and visit with you in the world of metaphysics, or at least doxastics. You said that order is a particular feature of reality that natural scientists like Stephen Hawking ( followers of scientific realism?) don't address very well. I said "I wonder if there is order in all worlds." Put another way, is order necessary?

          February 15, 2014 at 10:04 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO:
          so, if i'm hearing you correctly (now): i misunderstood your question & wrote a largely irrelevant tome. let's not repeat that feat.

          clarification, then:
          "is order necessary?" for what? existence? life? logic? metaphysical reality?
          and what do *you* mean by 'order'?

          February 15, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Metaphysical necessity – an essential feature of reality. And by order I mean several things (a necessarily incomplete list): Why does something like Brouwer, Heyting, Kolmogorov formulation of logic work? Why is there anything like causality? Why do movies not represent reality when run backward?

          February 16, 2014 at 3:13 am |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO: sorry i've been off the grid for a few days.
          i'm not familiar with the "Brouwer, Heyting, Kolmogorov formulation of logic."

          i did wonder, however, if you saw this piece that ran last week in the NY Times. it seems to be along similar lines to our conversation here:

          as far as causality & the question of movies: one of my personal favorites is Memento. that does not run in natural order (for good reason), though on the DVD release you can make it run in order – which is a convoluted way of saying: are you sure movies in reverse don't represent reality (especially if the interpreter uses the grid of causality to deduce precisely that it is happening in reverse)? or did you mean something else by that?

          February 19, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
      • evolveddna

        Russ "Does it follow that...his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process?” this sound like postmodern baffle gab. can you explain that?

        February 14, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
        • Russ

          @ evolveddna: plantinga is anything but postmodern, but he is engaging that sort of existentialist claim on its own grounds.

          that jargon ("belief-forming faculties") may be foreign to you, but it is common in certain philosophical circles. here is a video which (though on a different topic) explains that concept a little more thoroughly. (note well beginning about the 1:00 mark.)


          February 14, 2014 at 9:47 pm |
      • evolveddna

        Russ opps some of my post went weird.. the CCN blog can work in more mysterious ways than god at times !

        February 15, 2014 at 8:05 pm |
    • theophileo

      I always defined love as that rattling feeling you get in your teeth while holding down the trigger of a belt-fed weapon. 😀

      February 14, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
    • Dalahäst

      Somebody today defined it to me as a strictly chemical reaction. Probably the most depressing and nihilistic understanding I've ever heard of love.

      Love is beautiful and the light of the world.

      February 14, 2014 at 3:32 pm |
      • Alias

        So you think it is love that causes the chemicals to be produced, and not a reaction to them?

        February 14, 2014 at 4:24 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I don't think love is a chemical reaction. After all the chemicals perish, love will live on.

          February 14, 2014 at 4:27 pm |
        • Alias

          I'm starting to think your inability to answer a question is not really your fault.
          I think the heathen christian sect that has been corrupting you since early childhood has taught you to think like you do.

          February 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Good one! 🙂 You see the absurdity in such illogical notions, too.

          OK, I don't think love causes chemicals to be produced, nor reacts to it.

          I don't think love is a chemical reaction. After all the chemicals perish, love will live on.

          February 14, 2014 at 4:38 pm |
        • derado8

          Love is a choice, a horrible, exhausting choice but it keeps you from becoming a greasy tallow-catch.

          February 14, 2014 at 6:51 pm |
      • evolveddna

        Dalahast..As most,if not all, of the processes with in our body are driven by chemical secretions, hormones etc..why would you think that love would be a separate process? and why is that so depressing to you? I think it a beautiful thing that atoms generated in the heart of long dead stars have found their way into life forms that can experience such emotions. We are made billion year old stuff . so enjoy love and allow the atoms to enjoy themselves before you give them back!

        February 14, 2014 at 6:31 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I'm not really depressed.

          I just know love is bigger than what science tells us about atoms.

          February 14, 2014 at 6:37 pm |
    • Alias

      'Love' is more than one thing, and should have more than one word.
      It is different to love a parent, your child, a restaurant, sunsets, or your job.

      I'm assuming on Valentines day that you mean love of your SO.

      February 14, 2014 at 4:28 pm |
    • derado8

      Love = the decision to make yourself miserable on someone else's behalf. (If you don't feel it you can always fake it).

      February 14, 2014 at 6:10 pm |
  11. theophileo

    So.... What's everyone doing for Valentine's Day? Personally, I'm taking my wife out for a romantic evening at Buffalo Wild Wings... 😉 Hey, don't knock it, it's our favorite!

    February 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Becuase of our schedules, we did the Valentine's thing on tuesday – and I'm glad we did since she's got a nasty cold today.
      A few years ago, I got her one of those Pandora charm bracelets so that if I ever get stumped on what to give as a gift, I can always default to another bracelet bauble. Unfortunately, I think this year's contribution has effectively filled up all the available space.

      February 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I have to applaud your choice of establishment.

      No reservations.
      Less harrassed wait staff trying to squeeze in twice as many covers as a regular night.
      No worrying that next year you have to equal or exceed this year as a measure of your continued devotion.


      February 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
    • derado8

      My partner made dinner for me. I brought home candy. We're broke.

      February 14, 2014 at 6:11 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.