Main difference: jellyfish are real.
I'm so certain of this, today I sat for two hours on Maui's Napili Beach, watching terrific large boogie boardable waves from the sand, passing them by because of jellyfish warning signs that had been posted.
Having just invested a lot of time in pondering jellyfish, much more than I've ever done before, I've been trying to fathom what cosmic significance this dangerous sea creature (whose sting toxin supposedly is seventy-five percent as powerful as cobra venom) has for my spiritual development.
Assuming it has any at all. But it's no fun to go the nada route, so I'll assume my frustrating perch on the beach contains some sort of message for me.
What struck me, watching the waves crash into Napili Bay, is how virtually every beachgoer respected the warning signs – and, likely, word of mouth "jellyfish" messages.
Big waves usually bring out big wave players. Boogie boarders. Surfers. Bobbers. But today there were very few; none out where the waves were breaking; some close to shore. A big difference from other large wave days.
Lots of people consider science to be an unreliable way of knowing truth, compared with religion. However, when it comes to assessing the risk of venturing into water where jellyfish warnings have been posted, almost everybody uses the scientific method.
Including me. Sitting on the beach, desperately wanting to paddle out and catch some waves, I ran through the costs and benefits of taking a chance on the warning being spurious.
I pondered what little I knew about jellyfish. I talked the situation over with another man whose boogie board was sitting high and dry.
I remembered the Hawaiian adage, "If you don't see locals playing in the waves, usually there's a good reason why; don't be the first person out surfing or boogie boarding unless you're sure you know what the conditions in the water are."
In the physical world, by and large there are good reasons to go with the factual crowd. Studies have shown that group assessments of a situation are more accurate than the average person's (this is why the stock market is a decent predictor of the economic outlook).
So there I was, someone with a blog whose tagline is "Preaching the gospel of spiritual independence," sitting on the sand – going with the jellyfish warning-believing crowd.
Because material isn't spiritual.
When I know something is dangerous, and I've been told that this something has been sighted nearby, it makes sense to avoid it. If I see almost everyone else around me doing just that – staying away from it – my concern tends to be confirmed.
On the other hand, belief in God or other supernatural beings is a lot different. The beach could be plastered with "Warning: Devil in the water" signs, and I'd laugh right by them on my way into the ocean.
Yet the strange thing is, so many people believe them. Like, the Bible. Whereas they'll use logic, reason, and common sense when it comes to deciding whether to venture into a Maui bay, when it comes to religion blind faith rules.
Why don't believers go in the water even though a jellyfish warning is posted? Won't Jesus protect them? Supposedly he's going to save their souls after they die. Can't he save them from a jellyfish sting while they're alive?
Seeking answers to these questions, I checked out www.God.com this evening. I was curious to see which of the world's religions had the rights to this primo domain name. As I could have guessed, it was Christian evangelicals.
There's only six Q and A's on the web site, way less than the questions in my mind. One was germane to my jellyfish situation, though.
I am going through countless problems in my life. It seems to be one thing after the other. I pray every day that God will help me, but He doesn't seem to listen or do anything. Why doesn't God answer my prayers?
My problem precisely. Why the hell did God combine beautiful waves in Napili Bay with a jellyfish warning, when I've been praying for another day of good boogie boarding all week?
The answer started off in an discouraging fashion.
Sometimes when you pick up the telephone receiver to call someone, you find the line is dead. If you ignore this and just talk into the telephone anyway, will the person at the other end hear you and respond?
No, they won't. Because the line is dead and I'm talking to myself. If the God.com web site had ended its answer on this note, that would have been cool – a verification of my churchless leanings.
But it went on to explain why we don't get a response.
It is not that God cannot hear your prayers or that He does not want to listen; the problem lies in the individual: "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you."
Well, I'd consider this possibility if someone could show me God's face so I'd know what I'm separated from.
When I got back to our room I turned on my laptop, fired up Google, and found lots of images of jellyfish. Shouldn't God be at least as well-known as the Portuguese Man of War?
I found an earlier jellyfish warning that blamed the West Maui problem on southerly winds, which is the meteorological situation today. That's a reasonable explanation for why I was separated from the waves.
However, God.com didn't do nearly as well in explaining what I have to do to get together with God. Supposedly He won't listen to me until the barrier of my sins is broken down. Until that happens, my prayers are useless.
I need a relationship with God. Then He will pay attention to me. And how do I get our relating going?
To establish that relationship, you must first believe without any doubt that God exists.
Oh, come on, dude! The Bible says you created jellyfish, but I know way more about their existence than yours. That's crazy. How about showing me some skin (or whatever form you have)? Then I'll start believing in you.
At least a little bit.