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Two Guys with Mutually Exclusive Monotheistic Belief Systems Learn How to Be Transparent and Cooperate

When Rabbi Leynor and I (Jim Myers) met, we never dreamed we were beginning the journey that has now lasted over a quarter of a century -- or that we would now be talking about realities, genes and memes. It is unbelievable that the most important things we now know about realities, genes and meme were not discovered until the 21st century. Our focus back then was on understanding belief systems and searching for ancient meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words of our Scriptures.

I had been engaged in research about the Jewish Jesus for about six years before I met Jeffrey. During that time I created two guidelines that helped me stay on track in my work and help members of my Bible study groups resolve conflicts that often involved differences in beliefs.

Belief Systems Guideline

My Belief System will be large enough to include all of the Facts, it will be open enough to be examined and questioned, and it will be flexible enough to change if errors or new facts are discovered.

Linguistic Guideline

A word or phrase consists of symbols or sounds with an attached bundle which is a product of the Source’s culture, time period, geographical location and personal experiences.

We did not realize it back then, but the above guidelines brought transparency to our discussions. Today we know that transparency is an essential requirement for cooperation and cooperation is an essential requirement for maintaining a healthy democracy.

One of our primary goals today at the TOV Center is teach as many people as possible the skills we learned about creating cooperation.

Two Guys with Mutually Exclusive Monotheistic Belief Systems

When Jeffrey and I first met, we both had congregations. He was a rabbi of a Conservative synagogue and I was pastor of a Protestant church. We both had mutually exclusive monotheistic belief systems. We both believed that only one God exists, but we didn’t agree on who that God was.

In Jewish belief systems, Yahweh is that God, but in Christian belief systems the Trinity and/or Jesus is that God. In Jeffrey’s religion Jesus cannot be God, while in my religion Jesus must be God. This is where the “mutually exclusive” part of our belief systems plays a major role. Unless one believes “the official version of the religion’s God” – that person cannot be a member of the religion.  

Without having agreed to follow the Belief Systems Guideline above, we would not have been able to engage in the transparent discussions that we have had from the beginning. By agreeing to follow the guideline, “we gave each other permission to examine and question each other’s beliefs.”

We always respected each other and treated each other civilly, especially when we asked the real questions that were on our minds without the usual ecumenical filters. We had both participated in interfaith meetings, in which clergy from different faiths explained things about their religions. However, everyone usually avoids addressing the issues that separate them.

We had permission in our discussions to ask the “other” questions – questions that only people with polar opposite Belief Systems can ask. Why? Our brains automatically spot things that are different – especially skin color, gender and conflicting beliefs. One question that repeatedly popped up was this – Where did you guys come up with that? One of those occasions involved the Trinity. Have you ever tried to explain the Trinity to anyone – especially a rabbi! During discussions like these, another often repeated question popped up – Are you talking about a belief or a fact?

In discussions about religious beliefs, discussions always lead back to the same place – authority. In Protestant Christianity that authority is always “the Bible.” For my nondenominational denomination, a foundational doctrine was about the Bible: “The Bible is the inerrant infallible word of God.” A very simple question forced me to rethink not only the doctrine, but how I had been reading my Bible. That question was -- “Which Bible?

There are literally hundreds of English translations and thousands of ancient manuscripts of the books found in Bibles – and they differ in many different ways. However, for people with the belief above, everything in “the Bible” had to agree. Things written in Genesis had to agree with things written in Revelation. I think members of our churches probably subconsciously learned not ask questions that disagreed with the church’s doctrines and beliefs. My religion didn’t give members permission to “examine and question” official doctrines.

It is by having permission to examine and question each other’s beliefs and doctrines that transparency emerged in our relationship. Everything was on the table for examination and questioning – including the basis of religious authority of a group or religion. We understood the consequences of a religious leader “acknowledging being wrong” – job security, salaries, pensions, status, power, etc. This is the challenge that transparency brings to the table too. We believe that as members of religions learn to “value transparency,” they will come to not only value leaders that acknowledge errors they discover, but their congregations will reward them for sharing that information with them!

What we believed over twenty-five years ago is very different from what we know today. Jeffrey and I have helped each other discover errors and new facts so many times that changing our belief systems has become like updating security programs on our phones and computers.

About five years ago we became aware of the role that the human brain plays in our belief systems. As a matter of fact, we discovered that “belief systems” was the wrong name. We discovered that “Religious Beliefs” were not stored in a separate compartment in the brain under “religion.” All beliefs -- religious, political, economic, etc. -- are memes (electrochemical information stored in huge complex neural networks as parts of memory). Instead of changing beliefs, we were actually changing our realities – the ways we sensory perceive our worlds and give meanings to what we perceive.

I will share more about our journey in the next blog. We will also be discussing this topic soon on Facebook Live. Be sure to “Like” our “Lives 1st Facebook Page” so you can watch our discussions live. I will also provide a link to it so you can share it and watch it again later.  

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