Friday, April 8, 2011

Why Do You Believe?

Before I get to my "real" post for the day, I feel I need a disclaimer. I wrote this post and then thought, hmm, this really doesn't fit on my blog. But then you, my dear readers, suggested that this is my blog, so I get to decide what goes on it or not. So I decided I'll go ahead and post it here. Who knows, maybe I'll spark so much discussion we'll have to create a separate blog for this topic. Probably not. Maybe I'm the only person who finds this fascinating and I'll go back to ranting about gas stations, dumb laws, and facebook.

The post below is about religion, God, faith, and the Bible. (All holy books really, but most of the people I know are Christian.) You should know that I used to be a Catholic who went to church every Sunday. Somewhere on life's journey, I became an atheist. It is from here that I wrote this post.

And now, without further ado, my ultra serious blog post...

I just found out that Bart Ehrman has a new book out; it's called Forged. I will be running out to my local Amazon to pick up a copy as soon as I'm done with this post. I can't wait until it gets here. Bart Ehrman also wrote Misquoting Jesus, which is one if my all time favorites. Long before I read this book, it was the idea of authorship of the Bible that I found most troubling with my personal faith. Everything I believed was based on the Holy Word of the Bible. But why the Bible? Why not the Koran? Why not believe just the Old Testament but not the New? And what reason did I have to believe that the Bible was any more divinely inspired than the writings of Plato? My only basis for my beliefs was that this is what I had been taught. And what did those people who taught me about the divinity of the Bible know that I didn't know? They weren't around when the Bible was written any more than I was. It suddenly felt like we were playing a 2,000 year old game of telephone and I was pretty sure that the message had been garbled over the years. Heck, children today are taught that George Washington cut down a cherry tree and that was only a couple hundred years ago. Imagine what a tenfold difference would make. Plus, the New Testament was written at a time when the Roman gods were still believed to be real. People at the time clearly needed to invent explanations for what they didn't understand. Why should I believe that the Bible isn't part of that? Basically, I found that I had absolutely no reason to believe that the Bible was any more divine than any other book ever written. I couldn't really come up with a single good reason to think otherwise. And without the Bible, the entire foundation for faith of any kind disappeared. It was tough to deal with for a long time. I had been a Catholic my whole life and now I was an ath... I could not even say the word out loud for years. I didn't really believe there was a God anymore, I guess that makes me an athe... Years.

I'm over it now. Now I can say that I am an atheist. And I'll tell you the hardest part (for me) in going from being a Catholic to an atheist: no more heaven. (I guess that's not surprising.) News stories about the tragedies in the world are so much harder to bear. Children dying of starvation is tragic for people of faith; it is that much harder to imagine for people without a belief in heaven. To believe that the suffering some people have known is all there is or will be for those people. I've sometimes heard people wonder out loud what motivates non-believers to do good in the world. For me, it is a greater motivator. If there is no God, then we are the only ones who can help our fellow man.

In the years since I lost my faith, I have been so curious how so many people remain true to their faith when I did not. As soon as I began thinking about my beliefs and their basis, I realized that I didn't really believe any of it. I remember often thinking, "Better to believe and be wrong, than not believe and be wrong." And then I realized that this attitude wasn't really a belief, it was going through the motions just in case. I didn't really believe it. How do so many people continue their faith in the face of, what I see as, the utter lack of evidence for the divine. But it is often hard to have such conversations these days without seeming disrespectful. For example, I understand that others believe in God's existence, but to me He is as real as Santa Claus. And for many people, making that comparison in itself is disrespectful to their beliefs. So it's a fine line. But there is so much about faith that impacts the way we look at the world. From abortion and women's rights, to same-sex marriage and public education. So it seems like something we should be talking about more.

So while I wait for my exciting new book to arrive, I thought I'd throw out a question and see if anyone's open to the discussion. To my faithful readers, and by that I mean my readers who are people of faith:

Do you believe that your holy book is the Word of God? If so, why?


Gilsner said...

my goodness... it's as though your post came straight out of my brain! Which is odd because, these days, not a lot of stuff finds its way out of there.

I, too, was raised Catholic. I believed. Fervently. I held on strong, despite my Science background and 'common sense' telling me not to. Then I read Sam Harris' End of Faith. And that was that. I mean, really, why would I believe something based on the only book in history that has never been edited, modernized, etc. We've proved the Earth is no longer flat, but we still take those written words as truth? Seemed odd to me.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to believe. I think it would make things SO much easier. It's so tempting to put my faith (literally) in someone else and go with the notion of "it's what God wants" or "whatever is meant to be will be" and not take any responsibility for the outcome of my life.

The downside (and yet it also seems to be an upside, too) is that, ironically, I've found my loss of faith makes the bad situations of the word easier without the question of "how could God let this happen". Because it's not his fault, it's solely mankind's. And, as for heaven? I find it much easier to think that once life is done it's done. There's no more thinking about how what I do will affect those looking down on me, or if it will affect my chances of getting 'in'. It makes me appreciate my life so much more. I celebrate the lives of others more because I don't just think "oh well, they're happy in heaven now". Gone is the notion of 'a better place' and, in it's place, is a promise that I will make my life better to compensate for what they no longer have.

The hardest part, in all of this, has been the reaction of others. I am the only one of 'non faith' in my circle of friends and family. I typically bite my tongue, although I do find it somewhat hypocritical that while I keep my opinions to myself (except on the odd blog or two, of course) those of faith are typically quite adamant to try to 'save' me, despite me not trying to do the same to them. It is to them like I like to point out that I'm probably more agnostic than atheist in that I just don't know. And I'm not willing to believe in something I'm not sure of.

I use the same argument for such things as American Idol, the Kardashians and deep fried chocolate bars.

Deep fried pickles, however, a different story. I believe in them all the way! But only when paired with a garlic aioli dip...

Bernadette said...

Technically I can't prove to you there is a God but you can't prove to me that there isn't one. I believe that anyone who has love in their heart believes in God. God is perfect love so loving makes you part of God.

That's my simple answer. To talk about more complex subjects like the bible, the church, why bad things happen etc we're going to have to have a slumber party.

Anonymous said...

To some extent, the Bible is like a game of "telephone." In the days of the time of the Bible, stories were passed verbally. Only few could scribe, and that task was unfortunately left to only those few. So the written book is a best effort to recount in one place the stories of the past and cultural philosophies. Whether it is, or is not, telling truth is left to the reader. That's the beauty of spiritual faith. ~Melonie

Anonymous said...

Oh and I should add another perspective...I believe "The Bible" is a product of many things including honorable efforts, personal perspectives, historical events, political agendas, and human spirit. To answer your question, is it the "word of God" ... don't know. My thesis is, because everyone in the world has an opinion or belief or question about "religion" and our origins (from stating "I believe in God" to "I don't", and from scientific to faithful supporting arguments), I think we should continue to give merit to our need to explore the answers and do so. If The Bible aids in that exploration, its a valuable tool in my opinion. ~Melonie

Taleb said...

Why is the resulting faith a product of the Ovarian Lottery? If I had been born in Saudi Arabia I would be Muslim and God would be Allah. But since I was born in the western world (sort of) now God is someone else. If god is real then why isn't he/she found everywhere consistently? Meh.

But I'll buy some of the god-surance in case I am wrong....can you buy that in EBAY?

Nicole Hewitt said...

Really, this does merit a slumber party as Bernadette said - This is my personal story and may not help anyone else, but here it is anyway.

As a teenager, I was an athiest. I was pretty darn sure that God was something that people made up to make themselves feel better. I believed in logic and things that you could prove and God just didn't fit that mold. But, life at home wasn't great and I was in the middle of all that teenage angst stuff. One day I was at the end of my rope over something dumb (a lost wallet) and I paced back and forth in my kitchen angrily talking to this God that I did not believe in - "If you're there, prove it! Give me my wallet back!" Well, guess what, the phone rang - it was someone calling to tell me that they had my wallet. I was a bit shaken, but still fairly convinced that this was coincidence. But not wholly convinced - so I started doing a series of little tests. And, each time God would come through, I would think "That's a coincidence, right?" I mean, I believed in logic, not supernatural mumbo-jumbo and certainly not in a God who knew me and actually answered when I called. Problem is, the coincidences started piling up and my logical mind was starting to calculate the odds and wonder - I had to decide whether I had faith in coincidence or faith in God and suddenly the God option was looking more and more likely. (This challenge method isn't the suggested way to become a believer in God, by the way - but that's how it was for me). Soon after, a friend invited me to church with her and the rest was history.

Years later, I now have no doubt in my mind that there is a God. He's spoken to me - yep, I've said it - spoken to me. He told me very clearly to adopt a child, and then, when I didn't act on that prompting immediately, he reminded me CONSTANTLY. Adoption was all I heard and saw everywhere. Strangers on the street would mention adoption to me. I've talked to countless Christians who will tell you that God has spoken to them as well. The stories of "coincidences" (many of them way more dramatic than mine) pile up into a mountain before me until my logical mind is boggled and I just can't help but see the face of God in them.

So, why do I believe in God? Well, it's a choice between believing in God or believing myself slightly insane, I suppose. Because I've heard him, I've felt him, I've known him. And since I haven't shown myself to be insane in any other ways, I'm going with God over crazy. God has changed my life in about a million ways, so to deny him now would be pretty crazy as far as I'm concerned.

That doesn't mean I never question anything - doesn't mean I understand it all or that I have a perfect relationship with God. As far as the religion side of things goes, I do believe that Jesus was who he said he was and I believe in the Bible. I do sometimes wonder about the details. I wonder if some of it could be lost in translation or if God sometimes spoke to us in ways we could understand. I don't sweat those details, though - to me it's not important, for example, whether or not God created everything in seven calendar days. Does it matter, really?

If you're interested and willing, there's a good book about the validity of the New Testament called The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel. He was an athiest too and set out to write a book about why Jesus wasn't real, but ended up being convinced otherwise in the process. (There's actually a whole series of "Case for" books that he's written, but I haven't read them all). In the end, it's a decision you'll have to come to yourself - being raised Catholic is often the best way to create an athiest, from what I'm told, because there's such a focus on religion and very little focus on God. So, I wouldn't blame you for giving up on Catholicism, but I wouldn't give up on God forever just yet. Keep an open mind and he may surprise you.

Nicole said...

Sorry my comments are almost always as long as your blog posts (I actually had to trim that one to get it to post). But, you can't ask these types of questions and expect quick answers. :-)

Nicole said...

Just went back to my email and this is the first message that greeted me (courtesy of KLove radio's encouraging word of the day) -

My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!

~ Psalm 57:7, NLT

Very apropos - Add that to my list of small coincidences. ;-)

RaRa said...

This post will challenges Nicole's in length, but support in spirit! So, in the spirit of discussion, here is my thread of thought.

I think your fundamental misinterpretation of faith is that it is or should be derived solely from The Bible or any other piece of writing. I consider myself a faithful catholic—I pray regularly, I try to live my life morally and lovingly, and I go to church weekly (albeit, a few absences here or there). I can tell you that I've never read the bible, outside of listening (or even half-listening) to readings in church. Maybe this makes me a bad catholic, but I believe The Bible is a tool for the faithful just like a hammer is a tool for a carpenter. For some people it creates clarity and provides guidance, and for some, you can get by without it. But what does it matter if you can drive the nail in the hole?

Faith is more about the understanding the human experience—our achievements and our vulnerabilities—and God's relationship with us. Faith is being inspired by our resilience and being awakened by our fragility. Faith is accepting human's failings but loving despite. Faith is forgiveness in dark places. You can still be faithful without the Bible if you are willing to look at humanity as a miracle to begin with, something awe-inspiring and beyond comprehension or explanation. Something beyond science and reason, no matter how intelligent our species becomes.

I don't think any mom would need a book to understand the miracle of life when her child is born (or when watching him/her grow up every day). And how do you explain that innate, unwavering, and sacrificial love that comes with motherhood/fatherhood? That love is intangible. Unexplainable. But yet, unquestionable to those who experience it.

Faith is easy to question. Faith is easy to disbelieve. It is easy to question and disbelief anything that can't be proven to be true. But there are so many things in life that defy all odds, that happen beyond explanation. Like you, I was raised Catholic, but I don't think I really started "believing" until I was out of college. I think believe comes for a lot of people when you are stuck in a hole, when everything in life is going wrong, or when you encounter a tragedy. When that happens you look for guidance, you look for comfort, you look for your prayers to come true. I am a firm believer in prayer and could note many multiple prayers of mine that came true. One could say that any one of those prayers had a likely outcome that would have happened despite the prayer, and maybe so, but not all of them. And if you want the more personal (against common odds) stories, I could share them in person.

But here are some questions back to you: So, if you don't believe in heaven, does that mean you think death is the end? If so, is it correct to assume you don't believe in a soul either? If no soul, do you believe the keystone of humanity is the mind? I'll wait for your answer on this one before I continue spouting my thoughts (of course, in the spirit of good debate and discussion.)

ps: You have the free will to believe or disbelieve and I am not one to judge. I believe ours is a loving and understanding God (yes, I said “ours,” even if you don’t believe in his existence) and I hope that he takes into account the way we all live our lives first and foremost when making his final judgment, rather than how strong our faith. So not to be morbid, but I’m pretty sure I’ll see you in heaven and we can talk more about this whole matter when we get there ;)

rubyspikes said...

Let me just say that I have been so moved by your very thoughtful responses. I have been thinking about my response. I could write a whole blog post about each of your comments. So I am going to put all my thoughts together and post them on Friday. In the meantime, thank you again. All of you.

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