Posts tagged ‘faith’
It is common sentiment among Christians that “it’s ok to have doubts.” In fact, I have a friend who is a Presbyterian Minister who told me recently that he sees his faith as a form of agnosticism.
However, the question I’ve always pondered is – how much doubt is too much?
- I doubt that Jesus was born of a virgin. Is that ok? Am I still a Christian?
- I doubt that the bible is an accurate representation of events. Is that ok? Am I still a Christian?
- I doubt that we can really know exactly what Jesus did or said? Am I still a Christian?
I could pretend not to doubt, but I’m not sure that this is enough.
Christians tend to answer this by trying to convince me that I’m wrong. However, that completely misses the point. Is it ok to doubt or is it not?
If I doubt that Jesus is god, am I a Christian with doubts, or a non-Christian?…
When discussing religion with believers, I often encounter the accusation that science is just another religion, complete with dogma, blind faith, etc. This is a misguided idea. Science is set apart from religion in that it is verifiable by everyday experience. It is also fluid in the sense that scientific facts are falsifiable and theories are subject to change according to the most current observations. Religion, on the other hand is static and considered infallible. Believers are expected to have faith not just in the absence of supporting evidence, but also when the evidence blatantly contradicts the religious tenets.
Someone who considers the validity of any scientific principle has the benefit of being able to verify the claim to their satisfaction. Anyone can retrace the logical steps of any successful theory or repeat any successful experiment and see the results for themselves, but this is not always practical. Because scientific theories and experiments have the tendency to be too complicated and labor intensive for the average person to experience for themselves, many people do take scientific principles on faith alone.
But what is the nature of that faith? I have faith that if I jump off of the side of the cliff, I will fall down and probably be killed. This faith is not blind, it is established from prior evidence…
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?..
Fear is a powerful emotion. It can completely change the way our brain functions. When an animal is running for its life from a predator, it’s sympathetic nervous system takes over and changes the functioning of its body. The brain hopped up on fear shuts down regular functions such as digestion. It raises the heartbeat, dilates the pupils, and directs blood flow away from other organs and tissues and toward the lungs and limbs. Suffice it to say, it’s difficult to think clearly during fearful situations, let alone rationalize.
When we experience fear, we lean toward automatic reactions. That’s been programmed into our brains thanks to our instinct of self-preservation. Our brains tell us “Don’t think! Just be safe!” and that is why making decisions based on fear is not always a good idea. If your being chased by a mountain lion, then by all means, don’t think–just run away. But what if the thing causing your fear is less concrete, empirically speaking, than a charging cougar? In those instances we have to tell our sympathetic nerves to shut up for a second while we asses the situation. We have to examine the basis for fear before we give in to it.
Many of the arguments for putting faith in God are based on fear. Pascal’s Wager takes advantage of fear by claiming it is better to believe in God just in case, so that we can avoid the punishment of hell if, by some chance it exists…
“Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it.”
The above quote is by Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian who died about 30 years ago. He is revered among intellectual theologians and Popes alike. I love this Barthian quote. In fact, I find it self evident and quite enlightening.
I have a number of conspicuously un-read books on my shelf – most of which are there to make me look intelligent and learn-ed and to hide my Harry Potter books! One of these, which I bought a few of years ago during my “re evaluation,” is Twentieth-Century Western Philosophy of Religion. To be honest I no more than skimmed it, but I recently dug it out to look at this quote.
The writer expands Barth’s quote.
Religion is a matter of conversation, not argument, and there is no logical transition from unbelief to belief. Religious belief is not dependent on any philosophy it stands on its own terns. If the atheist claims that religious belief fails the test of rationality and then no rational person should accept it, religious belief can only confess its content and appeal to its authority…
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…