Ok! Ok! Maybe I never believed…

October 22, 2007 at 11:13 pm 26 comments

Doubt Cartoon

According to Webster’s Dictionary, faith is a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” I’ve always had issues with this definition of faith. How can one be “firm” in their beliefs when there is no proof? Isn’t this a bit naive? This definition encourages Christians to turn their brains off when it comes to what they believe and to simply accept it. There came a point in my journey when I could no longer “firmly” accept things I could not prove. As long as there was reasonable doubt, I may have still chosen to believe it, but it was not with a “firm belief.” According to James this made me a “double-minded man” and as a result I was “unstable in all my ways.”

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways ( James 1:6-8 )

Lately I’ve been reflecting on some of the beliefs which consumed my doubts, and I wonder if I ever really believed them. If you want to solicit a passionate response from an ex-Christian, tell them that if they walked away from God, they never believed in the first place. I’ve seen this comment set off the meekest of individuals. However for me, it’s a question I continually ask myself. I have to admit that from my current world-view, I am many times astounded that I could actually hold to certain beliefs. I now search for clues to support the conclusion that maybe I never really believed.

For example, there are certain concepts that I never recall preaching such as the rapture, hell, the Garden of Eden & curse of the woman, Noah’s flood & the origin of the rainbow, the Tower of Babel & the origin of languages, the Exodus, the sin of homosexuality & the bigotry against gays, and a variety of other “truths.” Did I ever really believe these concepts? I am not so sure right now.

The line between doubt, faith, and beliefs is getting blurry, but I’m discovering that James was wrong – I am more stable now than I’ve ever been.

- The de-Convert

Entry filed under: The de-Convert. Tags: , , , , , , , .

A Mixed Marriage – Agnostic and Catholic Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman

26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. hughstan  |  October 22, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    There is nothing wrong with the dictionary definition, nor with your enquiring mind. The challenge concerns what comes next.

    As humans with intelligent minds, we should test ideas for ourself, though many do not. And in the forefront of ideas there is the notion of a superior being, known by most as God.

    God is a mind blowing concept that can only be accessed by faith that it might be true, not by proof in the initial stages that it is true. The proof comes when obeying the two commandments of Christ. Forget all the traditions and conjectures of others. Read the gospels, make a sincere wish, aloud if necessary, that if it is true you wish to be part of it, and the grace that is offered to you by God will become yours by faith.

    If it does not, you have proved it wrong, but entered into with sincerity, it will prove to be true. Your life will change and your faith will grow. Daily you will have proofs in your life of how true it all is.

    Wonderful to have doubts. That is the only true path to proving your faith, as opposed to being caught up in so much of the hoo-ha that masquerades as religion.

  • 2. The de-Convert  |  October 22, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    hughstan,

    Thanks for your comments. Actually, you accurately described one of my steps in my journey – clinging to the “teachings of Christ” as summarized in the two commandments you mentioned. However, I was very disappointed to find out that there is a lot more the the gospels than those two commandments – such as Jesus’ view of what we consider “family values” today:

    http://de-conversion.com/2007/03/27/wwjd-series-jesus-and-family-values/

    Paul

  • 3. hughstan  |  October 23, 2007 at 12:14 am

    Not sure if I understand that point about ‘family values’

    Taking the principal ones on that subject that Jesus talked about, they seem to be, honour your father and mother, about divorce and adultery, becoming like a little child, how to act when finding a fault in a brother,the disruptions and betrayals that will happen within families under pressure at some time in the future and a claim that the real family of Jesus was not his physical family but consisted of all those who loved the Heavenly Father.

    They might not be relevant to what you are saying.

  • 4. The de-Convert  |  October 23, 2007 at 8:42 am

    I guess that brings up another point…. there are things I believed that I still do but have since found out that the Bible does NOT always support those beliefs. The scriptures on “family values” may not have been concerning for you but they helped shatter my view of how Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels.

  • 5. ESVA  |  October 23, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Hughstan said:

    Read the gospels, make a sincere wish, aloud if necessary, that if it is true you wish to be part of it, and the grace that is offered to you by God will become yours by faith.

    With all due respect, these steps, and many more, are precisely what many deconverts go through when they begin the deconversion process. When I began seriously examining my faith, I said, “If the claims of Christianity are true, they should be able to withstand my searching and questioning. I’ve heard over and over that God answers the sincere seeker. I have to test those beliefs now and trust that God, if he really is there, will honor my need for truth and reveal himself to me.”

    It turned out that deeper reading in Christian literature and scriptures raised more serious and more numerous questions about Christianity specifically and religion generally than I’d ever considered before. In contrast, as I dove more deeply into atheistic literature, I found it to be more coherent, intellectually satisfying and spiritually refreshing than the Christian lit.

    There’s still a whole universe of stuff I don’t know, but I’m having a blast exploring it with eyes and ears wide open, able to accept it just as it is, and not having to twist it to fit a theological mold that kept changing shape so that it could more or less accommodate all the new info. I cannot conceive ever returning to any sort of theistic worldview now.

  • 6. Anonymous  |  October 23, 2007 at 10:00 am

    With due respect, I disagree with both Webster’s definition and the title of the post. To begin with, defining ‘faith’ as ‘firm belief’, besides being tautologous, misses the point, that faith is rational assent actuated by will. Our cognitive adherence is conditioned by our volition; or, better, we are certain of something if we choose as though it were certain. I “know” c’s value in a vacuum, but I “believe” it if I’ll bet my life on it.

    M. de-Convert, therefore, I think you did “believe”, propositionally speaking, at one point–enough, at least, to act as though there was belief. It only ceased when difficulty (“nagging doubt”) became disbelief; that is, when the old faith ceased to inform choices. It was at that point that you shifted to another faith (in the Tillichian sense)–from which, I pray, you will return.

    God bless you all, or (if you won’t accept that) may the noosphere be good to you.

  • 7. ESVA  |  October 23, 2007 at 11:54 am

    I’m having difficulty getting my head around the ideas of “rational assent actuated by will” and “cognitive adherence . . . conditioned by our volition.” These comments appear to mean that one chooses what to believe before considering the evidence for that belief.

    That simply is not the way rational adult human beings function in other areas of our lives. I don’t decide to buy a Ford Mustang before checking whether that car will meet my needs, fit my budget, etc. I don’t decide to move from one end of the country to another without finding out that I will have a job there, that I can afford a house there, etc. Only in matters of faith are people expected to choose what to believe, then find evidence that fits their belief package. This is a backwards process. We should, and in most aspects of life we do, gather evidence before selecting an action or belief. When I applied that same process to Christian belief, I discovered, to my horror, that the belief was unfounded.

  • 8. LeoPardus  |  October 23, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    The definition of ‘faith’ that you chose is not one I’d agree with. I’ve always taken ‘faith’ to be that which bridges the gap between incomplete evidence and a conclusion. Maybe that’s an odd definition, I dunno. But then ‘odd’ is not a label I ever had trouble wearing.

    As for my former belief, I have no doubts at all that I did believe, and most firmly. But one thing you said really resonated with me:
    I have to admit that from my current world-view, I am many times astounded that I could actually hold to certain beliefs.

    Yessir. How did I push things aside for so long?

  • 9. karen  |  October 23, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Read the gospels, make a sincere wish, aloud if necessary, that if it is true you wish to be part of it, and the grace that is offered to you by God will become yours by faith.

    Sorry to be annoying, but reading this made me think of something like: Click your heels three times, spin around and wish upon the evening star. It’s like a magical incantation, more than anything else.

    I often hear Christians say – and I’m sure I said it myself! – that you have to believe first, and then it’ll all make sense. Well, sure it will: Not because anything magical happened but because the human brain is very good at finding supporting reasoning for a belief it holds dear, and rejecting or ignoring reasoning that disproves the dearly held belief. There are studies proving this – one just recently came out regarding closely held political beliefs.

    Chucking objectivity and believing because I want something to be true is a recipe for disaster in finances, technology, science, romance – virtually every other arena. Why should it be useful in religion? Or, as Galileo said: ““I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

    With all due respect, these steps, and many more, are precisely what many deconverts go through when they begin the deconversion process. When I began seriously examining my faith, I said, “If the claims of Christianity are true, they should be able to withstand my searching and questioning. I’ve heard over and over that God answers the sincere seeker. I have to test those beliefs now and trust that God, if he really is there, will honor my need for truth and reveal himself to me.”

    Hoo, boy – that sounds familiar! It was the beginning of the end, for me. And – like Leo – I did believe, and most firmly. It never, ever occurred to me that I would test my beliefs and find them lacking. That would’ve shocked me a decade ago.

  • 10. The de-Convert  |  October 23, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Karen/Leo,

    Thanks for sharing. I go back and forth on this one. A decade ago I would have probably said I absolutely believed. However, I’ve always possessed a healthy dose of skepticism (could be personality driven) hence it’s easy for me to reflect now and question the strengths of my beliefs especially in light of the nagging question of how could I ever believe that. What was I thinking?

    Paul

  • 11. The de-Convert  |  October 23, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    ESVA,

    Ditto. The very mechanism that once increased my faith ended up distroying it when veiwed from a slightly different perspective. Interesting how the mind works.

    Paul

  • 12. karen  |  October 23, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    What indeed, Paul? I’ve thought about this a LOT, because that “What the HELL was I thinking?” question really nagged at me for a long time immediately after deconverting.

    The conclusion I reached is that I very effectively “walled off” the section of my brain that held my Christian faith beliefs. I always was a skeptic about everything else. I never fell for a dumb financial scam, or a miracle cure or anything.

    But religion got indoctrinated in me at such a young age, and by my mother – whose wisdom I didn’t dare question because I loved her dearly. Even after I grew up and realized that she wasn’t right about everything, I held those religious beliefs separate from the scrutiny I gave everything else because I was so cowed by fear and threats of hell.

    It was only after I had to allow myself to question everything, or go bonkers repressing it all, that the walls finally tumbled down and I started subjecting religion to the same critical analysis I’d given to other areas of my life.

  • 13. cragar  |  October 23, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Since I was never an all out theist, when I read posts (and the comments) like this it reminds me of old relationships. At the time I remember being in love, but I look back at them and go “was I really or was I just fooling myself?”

    At the time the euphoria let me look past all of the faults of the person or our relationship. And then later I go “OK, OK, maybe I was never in love….”
    :)

  • 14. Lorena  |  October 23, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    Hughstan said:
    “Read the gospels, make a sincere wish, aloud if necessary, that if it is true you wish to be part of it, and the grace that is offered to you by God will become yours by faith.”

    Lorena rephrases Hughstan’s statement:
    Read the gospel, make a sincere wish, aloud if necessary, that YOU WILL find true and you WILL WANT to be part of it, and magically, you will start seeing everything from the newly adopted point of view.

    Things that you saw before as normal will now become miracles. Menial, everyday live circumstances will become gifts from a powerful God to a wretched sinner deserving of nothing. Blessings that all human beings consider normal, independent of religious beliefs, will now be to you god-crafted proofs of his existence.

    ———————–
    It all depends on the eye of the beholder. God does not need to be all-powerful, all god-preachers need is for people to delude themselves into believing that personal accomplishments come from an external source called God and not from their personal effort.

  • 15. Lorena  |  October 23, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Karen said:
    “because the human brain is very good at finding supporting reasoning for a belief it holds dear, and rejecting or ignoring reasoning that disproves the dearly held belief.”

    Lorena responds:
    Karen, sorry I didn’t read your post before posting my previous one. You have nicely summarized my point.

  • 16. lostgirlfound  |  October 23, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    The de-Convert… I’ve been trying to figure this out, because the Bible’s definition of “faith” includes, “being sure of what you hope for.” That’s where I’m at. What, if not for heaven or eternal life or “whatever” do I hope for? And if I have no hope, according to the Bible, I can’t have faith.

    Some days, my loss of faith walks hand in hand with loss of hope. Others, I can “have faith” in something outside myself, but struggle with hope of any kind. Then, there are the days that hope is strong, but only in the here and now … my kids are OK, etc. So the continuing dilemma for me is not “did I have it and lose it,” but “what the hell is it all about?”

    I can agree, somewhat, with what Lorena says. You could use religion, or “The Secret,” science or whatever you choose to use to define things that happen — good or bad. But faith — by its very nature — cannot have “rational” basis, right? Whenever we have “faith” in something or someone, there is an element of trust … that a spouse will be “faithful,” that if I get the proper education, I have “faith” my education will provide me a good job, etc.

    I, too, have always been a seeker, someone who asks a lot of questions … even in my most “religious” moments. I’ve found that Christian usually freak out at some point (and I pretty much know what I can say to get them there). But I still believe that “God” doesn’t care how much I question. If I hold the view of this “something” outisde myself, I cannot limit what “it” is, or assume that I can figure it all out.

    Naive, yes. But I appreciate the dialogue and cannot accept “non-belief” any quicker or blindly as I struggle with “belief”. Keep the discussion coming, friends!

  • 17. OneSmallStep  |  October 23, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    **I often hear Christians say – and I’m sure I said it myself! – that you have to believe first, and then it’ll all make sense. Well, sure it will**

    This nicely ties back to an earlier point that if you buy a Ford Mustang, you research it with an open mind to discover the pro/cons, and make a decision then. You don’t first believe that the car is the best choice: you investigate, and then believe/disbelieve based on what you find. Otherwise, aren’t you using the conclusion to distort all the facts? If Christianity is the absolute, ultimate truth, then shouldn’t it be that we’ll believe *because* it all makes sense, not believe and *then* it makes sense? That’s a very shaky if-then statement.

    (This is Heather — I’m not sure who knows about the name-change, so I’m saying this just in case).

  • 18. Lorena  |  October 24, 2007 at 1:40 am

    “But I still believe that “God” doesn’t care how much I question. If I hold the view of this “something” outisde myself, I cannot limit what “it” is, or assume that I can figure it all out.”

    In therapy, some psychologists make you imagine that someone you like a lot and died or moved away can come to help you, embrace you, and give you love. It is all an exercise to make you relax and feel that somebody loves you.

    And even though you, as a patient, know that you are imagining it all, it still helps. You, then, release long-held feelings of rejection and move to a better mental place.

    I believe that we can–and we do–make a god who helps us in our life troubles. I also believe that we still draw benefits, even if it is a construct of our imagination.

    As long as we know we are imagining it all, perhaps it isn’t so bad. We get into trouble when we start affirming that it is real and try to back it up with pseudo scholarship.

  • 19. Jon F  |  October 24, 2007 at 6:26 am

    Why do seemingly intelligent people believe? Because we are not rational creatures, we are emotional creatures.
    The mind justifies what the heart desires.

  • 20. noogatiger  |  October 24, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Religion is the only, and I mean only place where we are told to stop asking questions and just have faith.

    Do you want your Doctor to do that?
    Do you want the bridge builders to do that?
    Do you want scientists to do that?
    Do you want the guy running the nuclear plant to do that?
    Do you want your daughter to do that with her boyfriend in the back seat of his car one night?

    You simply cannot find truth through faith alone. Can’t be done.

  • 21. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Jon,

    Excellent point! When Christian scholars do apologetics, there is a certain denial process going on that denies evidence to the contrary. The same for atheists. We are so “wedded” to what our heart desires, that we cannot think straight. In love affairs, it’s evolution and procreative forces at work. In religion, who knows the purpose?

  • 22. karen  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Why do seemingly intelligent people believe? Because we are not rational creatures, we are emotional creatures.
    The mind justifies what the heart desires.

    Yup, that’s so true.

    It’s like the example of picking out the right car that Heather mentioned above. Yes, the best way to make any major purchase is to do the research, and get recommendations and make the best, dispassionate choice. If we’re smart, that’s how we’d do it every time.

    But if it were that easy, nobody would ever make a terrible purchase!

    How many people do you know who go car shopping, “fall in love” with a car that’s totally wrong for them, too expensive, or notoriously unreliable – and buy it anyway! Some will find a million reasons to justify a bad purchase, while others will admit they’ve been totally irrational and take their chances.

    Oftentimes, it comes down to pure emotion trumping logic and reason. Some people are more susceptible to that than others, even when the outcomes for them are negative time and time again. I have to wonder if personality type or temperament comes into play on this.

  • 23. LeoPardus  |  October 24, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    noogatiger:

    Religion is the only, and I mean only place where we are told to stop asking questions and just have faith.

    Politics?
    Ideology? (e.g. racism, feminism, …)
    Responding to ads on TV, radio, etc.?
    “Luv”?
    Classrooms around the world?
    .
    .
    .

  • 24. Richard M  |  October 26, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Another problem I find in Christian psychological theory, if you can call it that, is that there is also a really big philosophical question as to what extent belief is a function of will in the first place.

    Askyourself: could you, by any act of will, *make* yourself believe in the tooth fairy? You could of course *say* you believed, and even, perhaps, make decisions *as though* you believed, but could you make yourself, well, feel it? Even more, though you might really really be motivated to get that quarter for your tooth, is there any rationalization for the tooth fairy that would ever work for you?

    I agree with those who suggest that we begin by feeling, then rationalizing, and thus arrive at our belief systems. I suspect we all do this to *some* extent. But it seems to me that there, somewhere, comes a point at which post-hoc rationalizing ceases to work well. It would be interesting to have a model to suggest where that point might occur.

    And think of the implication: if belief is not a function of will, if will has nothing (or little) to do with cognitive assent, that means belief kind of *happens* to you, right? That it is non-volitional, and thereby potentially non-rational, factors that impel belief. You dont choose to believe, you discover what you do believe. This would, perhaps, explain the observed phenomenon in which more educated people tend to be less (conservatively) religous.

    Richard

  • 25. Quester  |  November 11, 2007 at 1:00 am

    For example, there are certain concepts that I never recall preaching such as the rapture, hell, the Garden of Eden & curse of the woman, Noah’s flood & the origin of the rainbow, the Tower of Babel & the origin of languages, the Exodus, the sin of homosexuality & the bigotry against gays, and a variety of other “truths.” Did I ever really believe these concepts? I am not so sure right now.

    I’ve touched on the rapture in my preaching, and mentioned it as a non-concern. Whether the rapture comes in my lifetime or not, my death will (in a manner of speaking), which will be the same thing as far as I, as an individual, am concerned. So we need to live this life ready for the end of our world, if not the world.

    I’ve touched on the Exodus, as a difficult journey to a Promised Land that ‘ended’ with the beginning of more struggle and hardship. I’ve so far left out that it also resulted in God-directed genocide.

    I’ve spoken against persecution of homosexuals, but have never gone so far as to say homosexuality is normal, or not sinful.

    I am preaching on these subjects, or at least touching on them as the scriptures I speak on refer to them. That is part of what has led me here. I am beginning to feel I spend more time defending and justifying God’s Word than I do preaching it. I can see myself bending and stretching my thoughts and words to try to teach that God is not evil, and does not want us to be destructive toward ourselves or others.

    I appreciate hearing others have similarly struggled, but being in the midst of it, I offer that belief vs. non-belief is not always a clear binary. It can be experienced as a spectrum. Standing at one end, you might not be able to imagine you were ever on the other, but there are many points on the spectrum where you can say you truly believed– and truly doubted. For example, I was recently at a point where I believed the Bible was God’s Word, but doubted I understood what that meant. That’s not a stance that can last for long, perhaps, but it can be a place where we pause for thought.

  • 26. Matt  |  December 26, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    God is defined by the people who believe in him, and they’ve made him almost by definition unprovable, so what’s the point? They believe in god because they believe in god and god wants you to believe in god… faith is an all-or-nothing thing. I lack it. If that makes certain people want to call me an atheist, so be it.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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