"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better." - Dorian Scott Cole
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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Help My Unbelief

Assistance to Ministers and Others


 
Abstract

Religion and spirituality are attacked both from within and outside. Religion can be its own worst enemy. Philosophy and skepticism can be difficult adversaries. Faith can seem hopeless. Yet in the end, faith grows through challenges and becomes stronger.


Where you are

Welcome. Congratulations, you are struggling with your faith! It's a sure sign faith is important to you, and that you are growing spiritually.

The difficult part of a challenged faith, or spiritual growth, is having new questions that challenge your beliefs, plus the answers that you relied on to old questions, by degree over time, have become suspect or empty.

The result is being rudely ejected into limbo - that purgatory where you struggle with finding God anew... or remaining forever without firm ground on which to base belief. You doubt the authenticity of everything, and feel without purpose... even fake. Where is God? What about his promises? Does God even exist? The questions lurk in the recesses of your mind like shadowy monsters from which you shirk in fear.

Why are you here?

It's as if you suddenly stumbled into quicksand. But there are probably many reasons, within spiritual growth, that brought you to this point on your path.

Inflexible beliefs that don't meet the challenges of today: Chances are, seminary or your other religious training, has fed you their religious doctrine, which supports their theological beliefs, and more importantly, their agenda. Agendas typically include freezing the beliefs at some point in time, obstinately refusing change, countering all challenges, and especially preserving the organization. Perpetuating the organization is the first rule of organizations. Anyone who dares to disagree with its beliefs is labeled a "heretic," raising images of excommunication, being ostracized by friends, family, and co-workers, and even glowing embers at your feet. Inflexible beliefs and agendas are a primary driver of doubt.

Handed your beliefs: Another reason why you might be at this point is that you were handed a religious orientation and beliefs, and really never tested them with real life. Everyone you knew believed as you do. But few of us go through life without trials of our beliefs, which proves and internalizes them. So at the point when you had to decide if your beliefs were authentic, you had no demonstrable evidence. You ended up with, "Yes, I believe in God..., but I don't know why or even if my beliefs are true. If this is why you are here, take comfort, and start on your journey of faith.

Philosophical and reasoning difficulties: We live in a very "rational" world where things are suspect that don't lend themselves to inspection under a microscope, or rigorous philosophical reasoning. As I have noted elsewhere, philosophy is a destructive science. While the main goal is to purify reason, in reality philosophy in itself can prove nothing. What it can do is erode all reasoning - it simply casts doubt by pushing all reasoning to illogical extremes.

God has failed or disappointed you: We have expectations that God will do certain things. When those things fail to happen, we doubt our beliefs and even doubt God.

Irreconcilable scripture: A close look at scripture shows things that just plain disagree with each other.

What will help? Regrounding in a new and supportable perspective. The rest of this article and links are intended to help you do just that, from a position of active faith.

In the following sections, I'll talk about a couple of these reasons why you might be here.

Next: Page 2 - Problems with the Bible, irreconcilable scripture, and rigid teachings.

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Problems with the Bible, irreconcilable scripture, and rigid teachings

Biblical scholars - those who deal with interpretation of scripture, native languages, and similar tasks - often lose their faith... temporarily. Most gain their faith back with a new perspective. God does not lead us down a path of illumination just to take us to a dark place. But often we have to walk through a dark valley where beliefs are dealt serious blows before we reach the hill top and see the sun rise. It's a purification process.

We are taught, and expect the Bible to be certain things. We want the surety of something concrete to believe in. But the Bible is part of the path, not the end goal. It is not a book of science, although many beliefs that were formed in very ancient times miraculously do stand up to science. It is not a book of history - that is, doesn't stand up to the rigorous principles of historical writing in use today. It is not even a book of complete spiritual understanding. As the Apostle Paul said, we see through a glass darkly, and we think as children. Yet we often try to use the Bible as all of these things, and it typically fails in those respects.

We have to place our belief in God, not in a book. The Bible tells us about God from many people's perspectives. Kings, prophets, teachers, judges, priests, apostles, disciples, chroniclers, bishops, scribes - all have created literature that tells us about God from their point of view. Their points of view conflict sometimes. Even the apostles of Christ had disagreements. Kings, prophets, and priests all had disagreements. Their points of view were recorded for posterity so that we could study them and learn from them. But they don't agree.

Emphasis on various things cycles throughout history. The Congregationalist Church began an era of "the personal God." God was no longer that entity who was far away and not involved in people's lives. We went from a God who's mercy was unknown, who was represented by leaders, and who only occasionally performed miracles, to a God who asked for a personal relationship through Christ, was personally involved in the crises in people's lives, and who worked everyday miracles.

Somewhere in that personal God emphasis, people started believing again, as did some of the Jews in the Old Testament, that if you did certain things for God, then He would do certain things for you. And theologies grew that even emphasized giving until it hurts and then God would reward you with more money. The pendulum has swung to the personal God extreme.

The reset button

God does not promise everyone that they will be wealthy because they follow Him... he does say that you won't starve to death and will have shelter... and we know that sometimes the result is just a homeless shelter. It's mostly wishful thinking that God works everyday miracles. And while accepting Christ, or God, in our life is the beginning of our salvation, it isn't the be all and end all of God's work in our lives, or of our responsibility to keep growing in the faith.

It is God who works through us to perform everyday miracles in people's lives - we fund the homeless shelters, and we provide assistance in many ways to others. We find collective ways to do big things, often through our government.

Giving in the Old Testament was a plan called tithing - giving ten percent of one's resources to God. Tithing was used to fund the Temple, build the storehouse, and give to the poor. The need for that mechanism came to an end. The New Testament calls for people to give as they prosper. We pay taxes which do many of the same things through our collective payments. And most people give an average of around 5% to the Church to support its functions. That's an average. Some give less, some more. And giving buys us nothing personally. We have to be careful that our real goal is not the prosperity gospel of gaining wealth through giving. That's is just another form of materialism.

We are asked to sacrifice our time and treasure for others. We're not asked to give so that we will get a big "blessing." The word blessing has taken on a meaning that it never had. We've come to think of blessing as financial reward. Blessing basically means to "feel" happy or fortunate because we have God's appreciation.

Hebrew/Chaldee (Jewish Bible): Bless, blessed, blessing. To kneel. An act of adoration. Benefit, praise, salute, thank.
Greek (Christian New Testament): Bless, blessed, blessing. In some uses: To speak well of, thank, prosper. In other uses: fortunate, well off, happy, benefit, largess.

The primary root of the word bless has to do with conferring thanks, honor, and praise on another. The phrase "Blessed are the poor," or "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" most likely refers to happiness. For most of the 2000 years following the birth of Christ, most people were very poor, underfed or starving, afflicted by multiple diseases, cold, afflicted by harsh environmental elements, lost many children and themselves in childbirth, worked themselves to death at manual labor, were crushed by invaders, and on average died by age 30. Yet most of them would likely have said that their lives were happy. The feelings of satisfaction, accomplishment, helping others, love, and especially inner peace, transcend the miseries of life. The idea that being faithful to God has to mean prosperity is simply an invention of modern preachers and flies in the face of reality and history.

God asks us to treat others as we would want to be treated. With respect. With a caring type of love that has enough concern to help others when they are in need. To not do bad things to others. To reconcile with others and seek their forgiveness when we have hurt our relationship with them through our selfish or thoughtless and insensitive actions. To even wish good on our enemies. This is the main thrust of religion: how we treat others.

With the rebuilding of the Temple, in the Old Testament, God asked each of us to become individually responsible. There was no such thing as a nation of elite people who could live however they wanted and expect God to favor them. Christ helped every person from this time forward to understand what that responsibility meant. God asks us to be responsible people. Too often we look to God to totally control every aspect of our lives, and give all responsibility or caring for others to Him. He gave it to us.

It's convenient and comforting to think that God controls the entire universe for us at all times. God created the natural world. He created the laws that govern it. The natural world does what it does, including earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, accidents, and a lot of other unpleasant and destructive things, and does them frequently and with no respect to people who are in the way. Those who live in earthquake zones, know it, and live there anyway despite the threat. A lot of cruel, selfish, and bad people also do what they do, like invade others for theier own gain. God is not the author of our problems and disasters. Bad things happen to good people. He created a natural order that does what it does.

God does help us. He guides us toward better lives and more opportunity. He brings us into better relationships with others so that we don't live with a load of guilt that stops us in our tracks, or live in poison relationships that prevent us from working with others. He helps us cope with life through the things that He does promise. He guides us to help each other. The history left by religion and Christianity are that of a much better, fairer world with much greater treatment and opportunity for everyone.

The thing is, life brings a lot of difficulties. Even if you take the notion of Satan's temptations out of the equation, take the notion of God's "testing" out of the equation, you still have a lot of difficulties that life brings you... and brings every one of us. But by helping each other, and depending on God's real promises, we have realistic expectations and get through life. In this way, God does work everyday miracles.

We have built up a lot of mythology and expectations about God that are not supported in the Bible. You can find hints of these things, such as blessing can be interpreted to mean gain of some kind, but when taken in the total context of the Bible, they are not expectations that are supported. It is when these false expectations come tumbling down that our belief structure begins to crack and bring us into doubt.

It's when we stop defining God ourselves and telling God what to do that we can begin to understand what God actually does for us.

Read the Bible using a different filter. When the Bible says "blessing," do we see money and material gain? When it says, "abundance," do we simply see money and material gain? Is this our definition of God?

Next: Page 3 - Philosophical and reasoning difficulties

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Philosophical and reasoning difficulties

There is no wisdom inherent in philosophical logic to guide it. Philosophy can prove nothing, and doesn't really claim to. Philosophy is no wiser than its practitioner. But it is useful.

Philosophy tries its best to disprove things - to take things to their logical extremes and declare them untrue. Philosophy can't prove that God exists, nor that he doesn't. If the Bible is taken as a list of rules, philosophical reasoning will simply point out a bunch of exceptions.

The reset button

As much as I like Socrates, and the clarifying of our beliefs, his Socratic method questions things to death. We don't live in a world of answers and hard fact. We live in a world of questions and ideas, and answers that come only through experience.

If the strict rules that philosophy tries to apply to religion, were applied to science, scientists would give up in frustration. Science postulates theorems and then tests to prove whether the theorem is correct or incorrect. It's called the scientific method.

Much of what is portrayed as scientific fact is simply a theorem that has been tested and its exceptions overlooked. For example, we really don't have any idea what makes up 60% of the universe. Scientists have to put a constant in formulas to account for that 60% that we can't see, can't measure, and have no clue what it is. But science manages to progress just fine without having absolute answers.

Religion is based on human experience. Generally what humans have found to be true through experience, are codified into some kind of rule for living. The precept, "Give to others as you want them to give to you," is based on ancient thinking several thousand years before Christ. It is based on what happens when you treat others well. They generally treat you well.

There are exceptions. They don't "prove the rule," which is nonsense, and they don't break the rule. We have other precepts about being tolerant of others, which is what is required for many people to respond to kindness.

A few will never respond with kindness to our kindness. Do we stop responding to everyone in kindness simply because a few won't? No. Yet if you talk philosophy, the few who go counter to others will be cited as proof that the precept doesn't work.

But the Bible isn't a bunch of rules, it's a group of ideas, some of which have been listed as rules... and usually get unlisted, except for the Ten Commandments.... We are asked to use love in determining our conduct. Love isn't something that is supported by philosophical reasoning. Love is something whose value is proven through experience.

You might also find the following article helpful: Successful Thinking in College

Next: Page 4 - Summary

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Summary

Faith often gets attacked because it is often characterized by oversimplifications. Faith believes in the supernatural. Well, for comparison, things like hope and romantic love can't be put under a microscope and seen and measured, nor can they be felt with your hand. But we know that they are there from experience, and we understand them through experience, not by reading a text about their characteristics or shaking their hand. Faith is not so much a belief in the supernatural as it is in the ideas that come from the supernatural.

Spiritual ideas are the essence of faith. Beliefs are the essence of religion. Religion is a methodology to practice beliefs. The spiritual is a way of appreciating, experiencing, and understanding ideas. As we prove ideas in our experience, we are able to appreciate greater ideas.

God exists not because we want and need Him to exist, nor because we have met Him, but because the ideas He presents to us, through history and literature, for living our lives, prove to be true.

Miracles happen. They are documented. They are witnessed by many people. Skeptics will forever strain, with giant leaps of faith, for some other shred of an answer. Miracles through the ages have proven the authority of God. Perhaps small miracles occur on a daily basis for those who need that. I don't believe that God lets people down who need that type of faith. Nor do I believe that small miracles continue forever in most people's lives, because faith is supposed to grow. At some point we learn to be responsible for ourselves.

Loss of faith puts people into limbo... an empty place devoid of meaning, where suddenly nothing makes any sense. But don't despair, trust God to put your faith back together.

End.

- Dorian

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