A lot of eloquent, well-thought-out, heartfelt stories there; some bitterness &
rationalization also but not much. And an occasional implication that if one studies
“Holy Scripture” and religious history with the result that one actually believes, then one must be either morally degenerate or intellectually crippled…
so now I invite those decent intelligent people here who do have a religious or spiritual faith, who perhaps have veered close to but avoided apostasy in favor of an even stronger faith, to share our stories & reasons that we actually do believe.
My testimony will be down the line, right now I have to go to sleep but I wanted to get the ball rolling.
I don’t have time right now to give this as complete an answer as it deserves, even if I had one ready to give, but I’ll at least keep the thread alive for now by mentioning that, unlike many in the Apostates thread, I came from a background that was not fundamentalist or closed-minded. My family and the church I grew up in were, and are, both faithful, religious people and smart, well-educated, open-minded people. (For instance, I don’t remember when I first heard and understood that the “days” of creation in Genesis 1 weren’t necessarily literal days, but it was relatively early in childhood.) So, while my faith has grown and changed as it has been subjected to learning, thinking, argument, and experience, I’ve never seen the need to discard it completely.
There’s a lot more I could say. Maybe later, when I have more time…
I think I identify with Thudlow pretty well. I come from a similar background, and I imagine I may have a similar perspective.
I find it interesting, but not surprising (given the demographics of the people on this board, especially those that typically browse this forum) that this thread has had so few replies. Sometimes I wonder how I can hold onto my faith, as I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, and I’ve heard a number of situations like those described in the apostate thread, and I understand and respect many of them. My theological position has definitely changed since I was a kid, but it’s not like night and day or anything.
Several things have changed my perspective, including a personal battle with depression, and becoming involved with a theologically apathetic woman. I think that the main reason I’ve maintained my faith is, in keeping with the Straight Dope motto, fighting ignorance. Although I don’t consider myself particularly knowledgeable by most standards, I’m learning about theology and religion. I hope to be closer to knowing some day, but I imagine I may be even a bit skeptical all my life, yet I continue to learn in pursuit of knowledge. After all, aren’t we all after the same thing - the truth?
I realized a while ago that, as much as I wanted an answer to the God question, I would probably never receive an empirical one. And I’ve made peace with that. I suppose, to some, I may be considered agnostic, but I still profess to believe. Whenever I examine the evidence and look at the big picture, it seems more likely to me that God exists than the converse. I’d say it’s something I struggle with on a regular basis - though some times more than others, definitely - but there are other reasons for that, and it’s a bit of a tangent, so I won’t wander off on it just yet.
Good question. I am naturally, I suppose, a pretty skeptical person–or else my parents taught me to be. I am also quite religious–another gift they gave me. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that I believe all that I do (if you can parse that one).
However, I do believe all that stuff. For one thing, it makes some sense to me. The vision of the universe that my faith gives to me is the best, the neatest, the most interesting and the most inspiring one I have ever run into. It is not the easiest or the most comforting, but it is really cool. Many other things in my faith do not make sense to me at the moment, but I expect them to someday, after I’ve learned a lot.
The main reason, however, is that it has worked for me and continues to do so. I have felt and seen God working in my life, telling me to hang in there, helping me out in my decisions, and blessing me far beyond what I deserve or expect. (Not to say that my life is always easy or not full of unpleasant surprises or trials; but I am very blessed, too.) Time after time, I have made some small decision with the help of prayer and inspiration, and then watched in surprise as unforeseen circumstances make it into a major blessing in my life.
I frequently have to remind myself of what I already know perfectly well, because my natural skepticism wants to take over and forget about my actual experience. But I have no excuse for abandoning this faith, which continues to give me a vision of the world and of myself that requires so much more of me than anything else does, and which results in better things than I could come up with myself.
My beliefs have changed quite a bit since my brief tenure in the priesthood. As I discarded certain beliefs the results of my studies led me to a very simple conclusion. There is no ceremony, or rituals necessary for true spirituality although they can be useful for us as humans. The presence of love and truth as the eternal things of value that Jesus spoke of remained constant until they became the essentials and the rest just interesting details.
Add to that a few profound spiritual experiences and I can’t shake the sense of there being something more to us than these brief physical lifetimes.
Kind of skewing the poll there, aren’t you? Are you saying you don’t want to hear from any people of “religious or spiritual faith” who happen not to be decent or intelligent? Or do you just not think there are any of those here on the Dope?
I’m also curious about what you mean by “religious or spiritual faith”. Does it have to include a belief in a deity, or are you also accepting testimony from, say, atheists with strong spiritual convictions?
I have switched from the religion I was originally aligned with, but consider it the same inner faith throughout.
In the worst of times, when existence has seemed harder than I can bear, there’s always been an irreducible core of strength deep down that has somehow kept me going. The essence of faith is being in touch with this something in me that won’t quit being positive no matter what. That’s all I really know. The rest is stories I tell myself to account for what it’s doing there.
Okay, then, I can speak to that. I’m a lifelong atheist (well, since at least age 13 or so), but have always had a profound sense of, well, transcendence associated with spiritual concepts like goodness, truth, reality, and enlightenment. These ideas seem very meaningful to me, even though I don’t associate them with any kind of deity or supernatural being. There’s definitely something more in my perception of them than simple materialist or relativist interpretations.
How have I managed to hang onto those deep convictions, instead of being diverted into other forms of atheism (simple materialism, nihilism, etc.) or theism? Well, the concept of faith has always been very significant to me. I used to have problems with it sometimes when I questioned my atheism, because I took seriously the assertion by many believers that “you just have to have faith”, and I didn’t want to be stuck in a naive or ungrateful denial of God just because I wasn’t putting in the effort required to “have faith”. But it was always very frustrating, because I would try to make an effort to “have faith” in God, and I didn’t even know what muscle to flex, so to speak! It just made no sense at all, as far as I could tell.
But later it dawned on me that “you have to have faith” means that you have to be true to the faith that you have. I think that the ideas one has about reality and truth are in many respects built into one’s nature. And everybody, no matter what form those ideas take for them, is going to go through some periods of doubt and questioning and temptation to fall in with different beliefs. But you need to trust your own convictions—that is, to have faith—and the truth of them will come back to you. As Johanna said, it’s that something that in the long run just won’t quit being positive.
In fact, I sometimes describe my religious belief as “fideist atheism”. I’m an atheist, but I don’t use rationalism or reductionism to attempt to justify that conviction or to argue that it’s “better” somehow than belief in God. Strong convictions of spiritual meaning, without a personal deity, are what seems like the deepest truth to me, and faith is what holds me to that truth.
To really do this justice, I’m gonna have to wait till I’m off work, so I guess my own answer to my OP with be Wed or Thurs night.
So for a preview, it involves
the UFO flap of 1973
My own teenage search for Meaning
Jews surviving & thriving in spite of millenia of oppression
Daniel 9’s “Seventy Weeks to Messiah” prophecy
And certain How & Why Q’s, by way of G. K. Chesterton.
With detours into the tough issues of Evil, Biblical brutality & Hell.
Like FriarTed, I’ll have to wait for another time to post a more thorough response. In brief though, I was initially a skeptic. I left my former religious beliefs though and became an evangelical Christian. I have kept that faith because I concluded that the arguments against theism and Christianity may sound good, but do not hold up well under scrutiny. I also concluded that the totality of the evidence – historical, philosophical and so forth – pointed toward evangelical Christianity more than any other system of belief.
I’ve also had to endure several heartbreaking trials in which I questioned my beliefs. At times, I utterly despaired of life itself. However, just as Job emerged through his trials stronger and more resolute, I likewise emerged with a deeper understanding of God’s purposes. I saw how the sufferings that we endure can serve purposes that are not obvious and that we may never fully understand.
Oh, I can go into more excrutiating detail than anyone wants about the times I’ve seen (or been) the Divine, the times I’ve talked to the Goddess (and She’s talked back), the changes I’ve brought about in my life by magick. But the thing is, I’m not going to convince any skeptics. Those who believe believe and those who don’t can only find belief through their own experiences, if they so choose. "And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without."li Either that gives you “truth bumps”, or it doesn’t. Prostlytizing is worse than useless - it’s counter productive.[/li]
Other than that, I agree with everything already in this thread, including all the contradictory stuff. Particularly this post:
I’m curious how many of the faith-filled have NOT had a profound spontaneous religious experience of “feeling” god. Could you people please include whether you have had such an event? Its very important. I believe these experiences might be the foundation of everything.
Ted, I wanted to wait until you had some responses before asking this, but I think the thread’s nice & healthy now. Can you provide a cite to what you see as “rationalization” in the thread I started? By that, I mean point out the specific instances in my posts or others, along with an explanation of why you think the poster is rationalizing. I’d also appreciate cites as to your perception that persons in the other thread have called believers morally degenerate or intellectually crippled.
When you have time, JT, I’d appreciate your pointing out the anti-theist arguments that are sieve-like, along with the historical evidence that supports evangelical Christiianity. Also, could you define your terms–evangelical Christianity, to be particular? Because you could mean the teachings of certain specific churches, or you could mean a given approach to Xtian dogma.
That’s not meant to be a challenge, by the way–just a request.
I love how you explained it, and I’ve got to hand it to you, you have opened up a whole interesting dimension of atheism I didn’t know was there. I think your “strong convictions of spiritual meaning” accessed through the principles you believe in as a source of deep personal truth, may just be what’s shared at a minimum by all faiths—their raw material.
That opens the question of how do I explain how this works for me–I think the meaning is always open to exploration. Like I said, I tell stories to myself to account for this one constant that feels like the irreducible core of my existence. At the best of times, it expands into joy, love, ecstasy, and power to consciously shape my life. Through the worst of times, it sustains my will to exist. I like best to use the name Goddess for all this; just feels right for me, goes best with how I experience this.
Whether that’s also faith in myself, I don’t know, I don’t differentiate, the nondualist view of Advaita Vedanta explains how I experience it. The big Atman is not limited to the little atman, but they aren’t separate either. Like a wave of the sea isn’t the sea, but isn’t different from it either. Questions like these give rise to interesting metaphysics, but it’s been years since I studied that or thought about it much. I would rather feel the love than discuss metaphysics. My spiritual life works as WhyNot described so well–it just works for me that way. I don’t see the Goddess as separate from the universe or the beings like you and me that make up the universe.
WhyNot—All acts of love and pleasure are my ritual.
I want to say I really appreciate this and am glad to see it. Somewhere along the way in my own studies I came to a similar conclusion concerning spirituality. It’s not just about believing certain things and behaving in certain ways.
Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is within us and that the Holy Spirit would lead us to all truth and the truth would set us free. What dawned on me was the idea that we are called to be true to ourselves. If we seek truth then we have to act on whatever truth we perceive. We have to have the courage to look within and not accept the truth from any other place except what we truly think and feel. If we can do that and continue to do it we will be led to more.