I tasted, and I saw that the Lord was good. At one point in my life, I did take refuge in God, the Almighty. However, my solid belief in the God of the Bible underwent severe trauma that severed my connection with him, or at least the concept of God I was led to believe from my exposure to Christian theology. When you remove absolute certainty that the words of the scriptures is divinely inspired, what do you have left to hold on to? Only experience.
So the question had to be asked: was my experience of God merely emotional excitement and fervour that is part and parcel of Christian ritual and celebration? When I face most Christians with the question on how we can be sure that the Bible is the Word of God, given that it is a collection of books that a group of men decided was divinely inspired, they merely point back to faith. They suggest a simple trust in God that he did guide this group, and the widespread acceptance of the Bible as ultimate truth attests to God’s intervention. I would concur that such trust exists in large portions of the world population – not just amongst Christians, but also Jews and Muslims, who all sharply disagree on this point of their particular perspective being the only true one (not all adherents do hold this position, but the majority do very much outweigh the progressives).
It seems to me to be supreme arrogance to assert that God has chosen a certain portion of the population, and a small one at that compared with the vast portion of the other major faiths. To those who would suggest that God does not choose, but the matter of faith is of free will, I would remind them that those born into strict Muslim families will never have the opportunity to exercise such free will to choose another path. This idea of free will is a fantasy very much restricted to democratic western societies…
God, as a personal deity, is expected to be trusted no matter what. Doubt and disbelief in such a God is mostly seen as an anomaly, as a kind of sickness that requires healing. Fortunately, there are voices that consider doubt a virtue, such as Peter Rollins. He is a rare breed in an arena crowded with voices claiming with all certainty that God is this and God is that.
I once thought that I had God pinned down, and that I had a vital relationship with him. Now, I wonder whether that was just wishful thinking. I really don’t think religion or atheism are right-and-wrong positions (Rollins delves into this beautifully); they are simply conceptual frameworks for identifying with certain positions. Anything – and I mean anything – that is said about God is no more than language, no more than a signifier. If you are experienced with philosophy at all, you may begin to suspect that I am delving into the subjective-objective domain here, and you are correct. But regardless of how technical I get at describing faith and belief (or lack thereof), it does all come back to ideas.
The concept of God is not static. It is a construction over thousands of years involving the mental projections of men and women (primarily men, given the most common gender-typing of God as He). Does the projection accurately reflect the reality of that which it points to?..
There are a few points that I would like to summarize in relation to my objection to religion. These are becoming highlighted as I read through numerous books, such as God Without Religion, What’s So Great About Christianity, and The Diamond in your Pocket.
Religion is delusional as it supposes to name the unnameable and objectify the subjective
Whatever can be said of that which is beyond our perception and beyond our understanding will always fall short. Language can only deal with what is; supposed supernatural events can only be explained in natural terms. All of religion is explained through the mediation of particular individuals, often regarded as prophets or sages, who have been said to have received a unique revelation. The substance of this message is then adhered to by followers, who find ways to verify the message through their own subjective experience. In the subjective, there is no right or wrong, there is only experience, which is quantified to be truth. This experience is then identified to be something that can be explained, bringing it into the realm of language. From this religion is created. In religion, truth is mediated from outer, rather than inner sources. This is delusion…
I have previously written about whether or not a reasonable faith exists. Today, I’d like to share a few thoughts inspired by the book Finding Faith by Brian McLaren.
In Chapter 1, titled Does It Really Matter What I Believe, McLaren distinguishes between good and bad faith. What I found interesting is that his descriptors for bad faith perfectly label my experience of faith in the churches I’ve attended, while his descriptors for good faith are the things I’ve desired but rarely found. The descriptors for bad faith are as follows:
- Bad faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.
A rather wicked use of scripture for this assertion is “touch not God’s anointed”.
- Bad faith is based on pressure or coercion.
If you’ve ever been to see the production of Heaven’s Gate Hell’s Flames, you’ll know about this one. That is a terrible dramatic presentation utilizing fear and guilt to coerce people to believe.
- Bad faith is often the result of a psychological need for belonging.
This is likely the primary reason why my family came to faith. Churches can be a wonderful place of friendship and potential courtship for singles, particularly given the individualism of our time…
A pristine second-hand copy of What’s So Great About Christianity? by Dinesh D’Souza became available to me recently. D’Souza tackles the current onslaught of atheistic attacks on Christianity by addressing the primary arguments within the framework of traditional Christianity or the kind of Christianity that takes the Bible to be the revealed word of God, the primary source of revelation.
The first two chapters are, for the most part, a sociological survey of the current success of Christianity as the world’s fastest growing religion. Vibrant Christianity, it seems, is an emerging force particularly in South America, Asia and Africa.
The third and forth chapters contain quite an informed characterization of the atheistic challenge to religion and Christianity in particular. D’Souza quotes a number of prominent figures to highlight their overtly negative views. Had I not read The End of Faith and listened to a portion of The God Delusion audiobook, I might have taken quite a dim view of Dawkins and Harris, considering them to be taking mere elitist positions in relation to science.
However, I now know that while their attacks on religion are strong, both men remain positive and mystically-oriented rather than negative and materialistic…
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris argues that faith is unreasonable, and the cause of much of our present world turmoil (bar natural disasters). I have struggled with my faith and my beliefs have undergone radical changes in a short period of time. Presently, I have been looking at the nature of consciousness and the purpose of myth, these being incredibly fascinating areas. It took a great deal of time to let go of ‘the God out there’, yet once gone I was not saddened. What I now consider an inferior idea was replaced with the notion of ‘the ground of our being’. I no longer care to seek to experience God in religion, for the experience of life is far more enriching. This means that faith in God is entirely unnecessary, and however I name my experience of life is an arbitrary construction.
As such, I am more and more coming to the position, like Sam Harris, that religion itself requires deconstruction. The whole system is flawed and really should just be pulled apart. Depth and meaning, or sacredness and spirituality, can still flow through the culture without the necessity for institutions to administer it. I was never really into institutional religion even through my Christian years. I viewed my simple faith and pentecostal experiences to be superior to the extra baggage that seemed to be carried in other traditions. Still, that did not make me irreligious, just skeptical of the validity of the other forms. As I moved through my deconstruction process, I have tried to remain as open-minded as possible to the potential good that could still exist in the religious traditions, particularly Christianity. Unfortunately, it seems the negatives far outweigh the positives when it comes to the contribution that religion makes today.
I guess the most pertinent question to ask is, how useful is religion?…
For my birthday I gave myself a HarperCollins Study Bible. It’s quite a tome of scholarly commentary running alongside the text of the Old and New Testaments. Yet I don’t actually enjoy reading the Bible; after about 16 years of intense grappling, I found the whole thing to be tiring, disjointed, and just downright difficult to grasp. Despite this, I’ve bought this thing, a book that is either highly revered or detested, considered to be either the Word of God or just another ancient religious text. So why am I choosing to torture myself in the confusing and sublime text of Christian scripture?
For me, the purpose is to unravel the text in the light of contemporary Christian and religious experience. I do this from a critical and skeptical viewpoint, taking nothing for granted. Doubt is probably the most beneficial tool here, for it seeks not merely an alternative understanding, but rather an understanding that is shaped by how I perceive and experience the world. This really puts me at odds with many Christians, who perceive that we must approach the Bible from a viewpoint of faith. It is only by faith, they say, that we can truly understand the words of scripture. By faith, we can hear the voice of God speaking through the words and directly to our heart.
It is that notion of faith that we must apply doubt first of all. For if God truly did speak through the words of the Bible to his faithful, why then do we have such multiplicity of interpretation?…