Faith and Religion vs Belief and Spirituality

Faith is not religion.  It is a way of knowing that intersects with religion in a vital way.  Religion makes use of faith, one might say.

I bring this up after reading an illuminating post by Amanda at Pandagon:

Goddamn, this is tiresome, just this headline:

Why “new atheists” are ignorant about God

That’s like a headline that says, “Why ‘new skeptics’ are ignorant about unicorns.”

It’s an interview with theologian John Haught about how new atheists haven’t earned the right to be atheists or something, because I dunno, they didn’t martyr themselves by swimming in religion before deciding it’s crap. Which, to my mind, is a sign of progress. I shouldn’t have to sink myself neck-deep in nonsense to have the right to call it nonsense. Do I have to study unicorn lore up and down before I get to say unicorns don’t exist?

From the Salon piece:

They talk about the most fundamentalist and extremist versions of faith, and they hold these up as though they’re the normative, central core of faith. And they miss so many things. They miss the moral core of Judaism and Christianity — the theme of social justice, which takes those who are marginalized and brings them to the center of society. They give us an extreme caricature of faith and religion.

John Haught misses a central point and makes a rather embarrassing misstep for a theologian.  Faith is by definition belief sans proof.  As soon as you let proof into the equation, it transforms into belief.  Perhaps even justified belief, depending on the epistemic standard applied.  So in that sense the aggressive critique of faith is that it is very prone to abuse.  If you allow yourself to trust completely in something, that trust itself may be misplaced, but it may also be a vehicle for power.  The Catholic Church’s abuse scandal has illustrated this as clearly as the acts of terrorism the “new atheists” write about.  So faith is simply faith, and the moral core of the religions he brings up misses the sharpest point of the critique of the new atheists.

Religion, while it makes use of faith, does not necessarily require faith.  While the more fundamentalist groups might (Pandagon):

Fundamentalists are disgusted with liberal churches, who they see as a bunch of pussies who have given up what’s really important about religion (power) in a bid to continue existing. Which strikes the fundamentalists as no different than running up the white flag.  What’s the point of religion, if not to have an unquestionable, unproveable authority to invoke to force your will on everyone else? The great offense of the new atheists in focusing on fundamentalists is that they’re saying, in essence, the fundies have a point. The heavy fist of the great patriarchal god of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims ceases to make sense if you’re not willing to put it to use for political purposes.

Outside of that narrow world view of the fundamentalists, can you really see a Pastor, Rabbi or Imam turning someone away because they have substituted belief for faith?  The reason belief without faith is troubling even to more liberal organized religion is that it ends up cutting down the number of beliefs which survive the transition.  Some things, such as the particular events in the Bible, are not provable (no matter how much people of faith strain to do so).
Which brings us to religion vs spirituality and the eastern religions:

Now, I think there’s a reasonable criticism to be aimed at the “new atheists” for a failure of imagination. It’s possible, for instance, that some Eastern religions have been compatible with modern society in a way that the big monotheistic three have not. It doesn’t hurt that some of these traditions are basically atheistic or at least have a different view of gods and power.

At some point for those who transition from organized religion to spirituality, there is a shift in how one views one relationship with God.  You’ve rejected any sort of scripture or holy book.  You’ve been sadly exposed to books like Mere Christianity and The Case for Christ by college evangelicals, and found the arguments presented completely lacking.  The arguments of atheism, on the other hand, are very compelling, down to a sharp emotional level.

I am going to break with my usual silence on personal beliefs and delve a bit into my own.  Because I think it might provide a useful glimpse of belief without faith, some fun with philosophy, and an idea of how spiritual beliefs can be both compatible with secular society and encouraging of independent thought.

After determining I no longer believed in the Torah (or the additional books), I found I still had faith in God.  I also had a firm belief that one should be moral, and wasn’t frazzled by the idea of finding what morality was using reason rather than faith.  What started in high school bloomed in college as I was exposed to mysticism.  This idea that the point of religious practice was to approach God.  And that is my belief, that through meditation one can come to know one’s self, and the intrinsic relationship to the divine we all share.  Never having believed in original sin, this might have been easier for me than some.  But the essential idea is that humanity is divine in nature.  I mix that in with a some tempered observation, and would hazard a completely secular person would suspect people of being selfish (not good or bad inherently, just selfish).  All the same, all of this practice and reading led me to a rather intriguing meme.  I’ll introduce it by very briefly outlining the crux of a debate in the philosophy of mind.

Science is all about verification via repetition.  “Can you repeat my experiment, with the same variables, and get the same result?”.  In the philosophy of mind, two intelligent voices popped to the fore while I was in high school and college.  Daniel Dennet, and David Chalmers.  In Consciousness Explained (facetiously titled “Consciousness Explained Away” by some), Dennet argues that the personal experience of consciousness falls outside the realm of science.  It is never directly knowable by anyone other than the person experiencing it!  This is a compelling argument indeed, but I found myself gravitating more towards Chalmer’s take.  Essentially he argues (if I remember correctly) that consciousness is in the realm of science, and its experiences are repeatable.  In other words, if I do x y and z, and experience a, and you can do the precise same thing, then we have something of science at work.  This leads some, like the Dalai Lama, to consider Buddhist spirituality scientific in nature.  After all, meditation practice is about following prescribed steps to replicate desired results (even if those steps are as simple as turning off internal chatter and letting the mind relax).

From an epistemic viewpoint, none of this really gets us around the question of certainty.  I know I experience x, but do I ever know x is real?  To some extent one must allow for the validity of experience to avoid falling into solipsism (crafty philosophers may employ contextualism to achieve this).

So where does this leave me?  Barring an epistemic problem of significant proportions, my experiences in meditation align correctly with a belief system that suggests the existence of the divine.  The full nature of this divine principle is different than the conception of God I grew up with, but it feels deeply familiar to the way I always thought God should be.  And the only bit of faith I hold onto is the one that puts practicality ahead of absolute certainty.  I have faith that what we experience is real.  But that is a philosophical step nearly everyone on Earth takes instinctively, and so for all practical purposes I believe without faith.

What does this mean for how I interact with society, and how I view reality?  It means I am always open to new interpretations and evidence.  My beliefs are not set in stone.  They grow out of my experience and my ability to reason.  Perhaps meditation is all the cruel trick of neurology, and consciousness is nature’s greatest joke on itself.  Perhaps meditation is like a high level programming language, and the actual work of our meat machine is fundamentally different from the experiences it wraps itself in.  Then again, perhaps meditation does connect us to an essential truth in our nature and our relationship with each other.  I’m open minded, even if a bit hopeful for a particular conclusion.

So I am not inclined to blindly trust authority (Sara, Orcinus):

We’ve all come up against these people, and have been totally confounded with their “my leader can do no wrong” attitude. They believe outrageous lies, and forgive all manner of sins. Democratic strategists keep trying to run campaigns that will reach these people on the basis of evidence and fact — and are perplexed to find their attempts at education totally rebuffed. George Bush may have lied us into a war, wrecked our economy, saddled our great-grandchildren with debt, savaged the poor, and alienated the entire world; but he is Our Leader, and we will always take his word over anyone else’s. We do not accept you as a legitimate authority. We don’t care what you have to say, because you have no standing at all in our little world.

I watch, I listen, I think, and I reason.  If faith does find its way into my life I always sleep with one rational eye open.  Belief is to won by evidence, and the trust that is faith is to be handed out only in the most cautious and alert manner.

Which brings us back to Haught:

By the way, my point about how the atheists that Haught admires lived in a world where there were social pressures against atheism that have faded to a large extent makes this quote really creepy:

Yes, they did. And they thought it would take tremendous courage to be an atheist. Sartre himself said atheism is an extremely cruel affair. He was implying that most people wouldn’t be able to look it squarely in the face. And my own belief is they themselves didn’t either.

The longing for a time when atheism was scary is no joke. Haught’s trying to convince himself that atheists in the past were maybe a little more mealy-mouthed because they “knew” deep down in their colons that god is very pissy at the atheists, but I’d say that the more visceral understandings that people in the past had of church power and the way it could destroy—and their thorough understanding of the past penalties of death and torture for heresy—probably had a lot to do with it. It’s true that if you think long and hard about what would happen to heretics if the churches weren’t kept in check by secular society, it would put a little fear into your heart. I wouldn’t conflate that with fear of god, but more the fear of those who don’t like having their beliefs questioned. I bet if Haught wanted to find himself some modern atheists that express the proper levels of fear, he’d have some luck rooting around a theocratic nation like Iran.

That same fear and violence was turned against mystics.  Look at the Sufi matyrs, and how mysticism often hides within the auspices of larger religions.  St Teresa of Avila is an excellent example, who coated her experiences in the language of her host religion.  If she had lived today, would she have done so?

Today, that level of fear is drastically sharper when aimed at atheists, at least in the US.  One need only look at the criticism of the Golden Compass for reference.  We share a common goal:  moving beyond the stranglehold of fundamentalism on society.

In addition to the tension between reason and atheism vs faith and religion, there is another player.  Belief and Spirituality.  And this is where a lot of people are beginning to find themselves.  There are many people who still identify with their religion, and may even attend services, but who feel more inclined to limit the role of faith in their lives, while simultaneously expanding the role of belief.  And I think this is a profoundly hopeful thing.

I’d say religion is far more nihilistic than atheism. Atheists believe that humans are enough, that our lives are worth something by themselves and that we have the power and freedom to invest value in ourselves and others. Religious people think humans are fundamentally small and weak and have no ability to invest in themselves and others without making up a Sky Fairy to pass out those judgments. It’s clear that the latter view—that humans are inconsequential without a make believe third party to render value onto us—is by far the more nihilistic.

A mystic believes that humans are all connected and priceless.  That it is our birthright and our nature to recognize our own divinity.  Notice I say recognize.  Because one of the many things all mystical traditions share is the realization that we are already divine.  We have just to realize it.

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2 Responses

  1. Nature is the only divine force we should consider omnipotent. Without nature we cannot exist. All else is superfluous. As we are merely organisms on the planet, we can be stifled by nature in the wink of an eye and there is no remorse save by the ones that fail to understand nature or worse try to control it.

    As the balance of nature reacts to the forces we as human beings attempt to exert to tip the scale, we should not be surprised when natures diversity and ability to recover usurps our ability to exist. The Buddhists seem to get it right to you because there is consideration of all facets of life which equates to an understanding of nature not an ability to change it.

    My god is nature and that will prove to all in the end to be human nature. For when you die you are dead and recycled in whatever form to continue to be the mass you have always been as matter cannot be created or destroyed.

    Get it? When you’re dead , even if you come back in another life the life you had is expired. There’s a saying that life is too short but in all actuality life continues after your individually perceived existence ceases. So to make the best of the time we have would be to make the best of the gifts nature provides us.

    The ability to exist involves the responsibility to support nature not exploit it or rape it or own it or foolishly attempt to control it. Just deal with it. You get 80 to 100 or so years to live if you are fortunate, healthy and persistent. The first 10 years are to acquaint you to the rules and lessons of life. The rest of your time is to live your life and if living life by accepting natures rules and lessons then our species can exist through symbiosis. To do anything other is to attempt to manipulate nature and that is a fools errand.

    The state of mind that people exist in can be healthy and natural or stressed and tense. Guess which one is conducive to a long and happy life. I have a happy life though it isn’t an easy one. I work hard and I enjoy simple things. I don’t interfere with others affairs unless they directly affect me and I exist with morality and conscience in tact. I want good things for good people and karmic response for all. I can’t stand injustice and feel vigilante actions are justifiable in most cases but only to the point of the punishment fitting the crime. It’s an odd mix of sentiments I know, I call it militant Buddhism. I’m not exacting my religion or will on anyone or anything but I am smiling graciously when wrong is righted. That’s all there is to it (life) and being a good person that any living being needs to know.
    Thank you and have a good night.. Try the veal..

  2. THE MEANING OF LIFE

    1. THE PURPOSE OF MAN’S EXISTENCE
    Who we are? Why are we in this world? Where are we going?
    Have you ever asked yourself why this questions and what the meaning of the human life is? No matter what type of person you are or what your profession is, there are a few things which you, like most people, would agree with, that is:
    Money cannot satisfy man; neither can education satisfies man, nor can
    Pleasure do not satisfy man, Nor can success satisfy man.
    WHY?
    Because you have not yet realized:
    2. GOD’S PLAN

    God has a plan. Which is to deposit his life into man his plan has everything to do with man? In the bible there are tree different words in Greek to designated the word “life”
    1. Bios referring to the biological life our body
    2. Psycho referring to the soul logical means study. The word Psychology means the study of the soul, emotions, mind and will.
    3. There is another word for life that is Zoe the highest life. Whenever the bible speaks of eternal life speak of Zoe. In a Greek dictionary you will find the distinction.
    This is the reason why, Gods plan with the man he created, in first place is not to bring him to heaven, neither to save Him from hell. But to receive the life that was not created. God’s life.
    His plan with man is complete, from creation, while living in earth, and the future.
    This is the reason why God created man different than the rest of his creation
    1. MAN HAS GOD’S IMAGE
    Please read the following verse:
    “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….”Genesis 1:26a
    God’s creation of man is different from His creation of all other things. He created man in His own image. A glove is created according to the likeness of a hand with the purpose of containing the hand.Likewise, man was created in the image of God with the purpose of containing God.
    2. MAN IS A VESSEL
    Now read the next verse:
    God “should make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy…even us.”Romans 9:23-24
    We are vessels of God. God wants to be our content. As bottles are made to contain water, we are made to contain God.
    It is no wonder that knowledge, wealth, pleasure, and accomplishment can never satisfy you, for you were created to contain God!
    3. THE PARTS OF MAN
    Please continue by reading the next verse:
    “May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete?”1 Thessalonians 5:23
    Man is God’s vessel. The Bible divides this vessel into three parts—the spirit, the soul, and the body. See diagram below:

    The BODY is simply the physical body, belonging to the physiological level, contacting the things of the material realm, and is the most superficial part.
    The SOUL is the mental faculty, belonging to the psychological level, contacting the things of the mental realm, and is a deeper part.
    The SPIRIT is the deepest part of man, belonging to the spiritual level, and contacts the things of God.
    For problems of the body one may see a doctor. For problems of the mind one may visit a psychiatrist. Yet only God can solve the problems of the spirit.
    4. THE MEANING OF LIFE
    God wants to enter into man’s spirit, to become his content and his satisfaction.
    This is the purpose of human existence! You are not merely created to contain food in your stomach, or to contain knowledge in your mind, but you are created to contain God in your spirit.
    1. THE TWO NATURES OF MAN
    Since man was made in the image of God, he possesses a good nature that matches God’s nature, with virtues such as truthfulness, goodness, loveliness, wisdom, kindness, and valor.
    However, there is also an evil nature in man which wars against his good nature. The Chinese met physicists refer to this war as a battle between reason and lust. Throughout history, both in the East and West, those who understand human nature acknowledge the existence of this evil nature which the Bible calls:
    2. SIN
    Because sin is in man, he is unable to carry out his good intentions.No one likes to be greedy, jealous, or murderous. No one likes to be boastful, arrogant, or deceitful. No one likes to be irritable, licentious, or lustful. No one likes to murmur, complain, or curse.
    Nevertheless, man cannot escape his evil nature. Please read the following verses:
    “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but to do the good is not.”Romans 7:18
    “But if what I do not will, this I do, it is no longer I that do it but sin that dwells in me.”Romans 7:20
    This is a portrait of man.
    3. THE FALL OF MAN
    Sin entered into man and caused him to fall. See diagram below:
    (1) Sin caused man’s spirit to be deadened:
    “And you, being dead in your offenses and sins.”Ephesians 2:1
    (2) Sin caused man’s mind to rebel:
    “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by evil works.”Colossians 1:21
    (3) Sin caused man’s body to sin:
    “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts.”Romans 6:12
    The fallen man is like: A damaged and untunable radio which cannot receive and play music, but rather meaningless noise. He is also like:A cup that has fallen into the gutter still having its original fine form but now covered with mud.
    4. MAN CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF
    Throughout history, man has tried every possible way to escape sin, but he has found that:
    Good works cannot save him from sin. Education cannot save him from sin. Ethics cannot save him from sin. Chanting cannot save him from sin.Religion cannot save him from sin.
    This picture of man simply depicts the battle between his good nature and his evil nature.
    1. WHO IS CHRIST?
    Christ is the Savior sent from God to the world to solve the problems of human life.
    He is the embodiment of the Triune God.
    “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”Colossians 2:9
    He is also God incarnated:
    “The Word was God…the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us…full of grace and reality.”John 1:1, 14
    Therefore, He is both the complete God and the perfect man. See the following diagram:

    He is more than a good man! He is more than a great man! He is more than moral man! He is more than a holy man! He is the God-man!
    2. THE DEATH OF THE GOD-MAN
    This God-man was nailed to the cross to accomplish the work of redemption. He died with three statuses:
    (1) As the Lamb of God, He died to take away man’s sin.
    “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”John 1:29
    (2) As the brass serpent that had been lifted up, He died to crush the old serpent, Satan, and to deal with the serpent’s poison within man—his sinful nature.
    “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”John 3:14
    (3) As a grain of wheat, He died to release the divine life.
    “…a grain of wheat…dies, it bears much fruit.”John 12:24
    NOW:
    His death has taken away the sin which man has but should not have!His death imparts into man the life which he needs but does not have!
    1. THE TWO BECOMINGS OF CHRIST
    God became flesh, born as a man called Jesus. Please read the following verse:
    “The Word became flesh and tabernacle among us.”John 1:14
    The Lord became the Spirit called the life-giving Spirit by His resurrection from the dead. Read the following verse:
    “The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.”1 Corinthians 15:45
    Since this Spirit is the life-giving Spirit, He dispenses God with His life into His believers.
    Hence, the Bible says:
    “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”1 John 5:12
    2. REGENERATING MAN
    In his first birth, man obtains a physical life.
    When man receives God’s life through Christ, he experiences a second birth, which the Bible calls regeneration.
    “God…has regenerated us…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead.”1 Peter 1:3
    Jesus said, “Unless a man is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”John 3:3
    A pig cannot participate in the sheep’s kingdom and live a sheep’s life by education, improvement, or regulation; it must possess the life of a sheep.
    Similarly, man cannot participate in God’s kingdom and live a divine life by education, improvement, or regulation; he must receive the life of God!
    3. THE MEANING OF BEING A CHRISTIAN
    A Christian is one who receives God’s dispensing. God first dispenses Himself into our spirit and then spreads from our spirit into our soul. Finally, He fills and saturates our spirit, soul, and body with Himself. The Bible calls this final stage glorification.
    “And whom He predestinated, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”Romans 8:30
    Through this, we can be transformed and conformed to the image of Christ.
    “Because whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son.”Romans 8:29
    This is the purpose of human life! This is the meaning of being a Christian!This is what God has planned for you!
    WHAT MUST YOU DO NOW?
    Now that you have realized God’s plan, you should do four things:
    1. TURN YOUR HEART TO GOD—REPENT
    Repentance is not to be remorseful. Repentance is neither to turn over anew leaf. Repentance is to have a change in mind.
    Previously you had your back towards God. Whether you were doing good or evil, you were turned away from God. Your mind was turned away from God. Now listen to what the Lord Jesus said:
    “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”Matt. 4:17
    2. BELIEVE—RECEIVE
    To believe is not to nod your head, nor to agree, nor merely to be appreciative.
    If someone gives you a watch, it is not enough for you just to nod your head in agreement and admire the watch. You need to receive it. Believing is just receiving. Read the following verse:
    “But as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”John 1:12
    3. CONFESS—CALL
    Being a Christian is an open matter. God requires that your heart believe and that your mouth confess.
    If your heart does not believe, you cannot be saved.
    If your mouth does not confess, neither can you be saved. But:
    “…if you confess with your mouth, Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from among the dead, you shall be saved.”Romans 10:9
    4. BE BAPTIZED—TESTIFY
    Baptism is a testimony before men. All believers should be baptized in order to be saved not only before God, but also before men.
    The Lord Jesus said:
    “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.”Mark 16:16
    Through baptism, God transfers us from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God. For this reason, the Lord Jesus said:
    “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”John 3:5
    NOW PLEASE PRAY:
    “Lord Jesus! I am a sinner. I need You. Come into my spirit. Take away my sin. Fill me that I may have the life of God. I receive You right now as my Savior and life. I give myself to You. I ask this in Your name, Amen!”
    Now you are clear about the meaning of human life! May the Lord bless you and cause you to continue living in God’s plan!
    Now, pray often, read the bible, you are the church, the church is not a physical building, neither an organization is the body of Christ Ephesians 1:22, we are the house of God Hebrews 3;6 we are Gods temple I Corinthians 6:19 and in eternity we will be the bride of Christ Revelations 21:2 . But after Eternity we will return to the source and origin of all things God the Father, Colossians 3: “a renewal in which is not distinction between Greek and Jews, circumcise or uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian, slaves or free man but Christ” Galatians 3:25 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free man, neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” This Christ Jesus is the new man Ephesians: 2:15 “ By abolishing in his flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contain in ordinances , the in Himself He might make of the two one new man” This new man said in John 20:17 “I ascend to my Father and your Father” By him we became the many brothers of Christ and He is not ashamed to call us his brothers Hebrews: “ for this reason He is not ashamed to call us brothers” He is our older brother Romans 8:“ That He might be the first born among many brothers” Our older bother Christ is our Wisdom, He is Our Physician , our Light, and the one whom together with us his young brothers He will give all the infinite universe even us to the Father so that God the Father ICo 15:29 “ God maybe all and in all” this means the in the infinite universe that we finite man will never reach, God the Father will be all everywhere and He will be in us therefore we will be with our Father everywhere we never get bored, we will never get tired in a universe that has not end, furthermore we will enjoy His love forever. This is the meaning of life. God the Father since has place in us the desire of have Him. Regardless you are a believer or unbeliever, moral or immoral, wise or fool, with Him or against Him. He is waiting for you and He will run to you as soon you come for Him

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