Friday, April 25, 2008

On Faith and Popeshit

One of the more interesting things I've experienced since starting this blog is a new focus on my faith. As usual, it takes the secular realm to reinforce my faith. For example, my best understanding of the Bible came from one Great books course in college that looked at the bible as a work of literature. In other words, once stripped of excessive dogma and interpretation, the ideas and messages were really there. And after an absence (or inability to hear) for several years, I had God speak to me while listening to talk radio. It was actually a finance show, not the conservative talk radio that is a staple of my weekday listening.

Thus it's in arguing with secularists and having to define my faith for people who honestly don't get it that I have some ideas to share:

First of all, when it comes to faith, it is merely the way to make sense out of things that don't, and can't make sense when you examine them rationally. The specific beliefs don't necessarily matter in that sense, only that you are faithful to those beliefs and true to yourselves. And the secret to determining if something is good or something is bullshit is to look at it from the point of view of the golden rule. (not the one that says: 'He who has the gold Rules) In essence, that which helps and unites people is good. That which divides and hurts is bad. And rules of morality must be fairly applied to all people. It's one of the reasons I've gone more libertarian on the political front, by applying these ideas to my political views. Many religions should remember that when they find evils to rail against.

Now, as for questions I've heard as to why God has allowed the world to be what it is, I have an answer there as well. This is the irony of an omnipotent Deity. In that I refer to this, put forward by one of them there secularists:
The biggest question for me is why? Why would God bother. IF he knows everything, he already knows who is going to do what and who will be faitful and end up back in heaven. Just skip the middle man. It doesn't make sense. Why did he need to send his "son" down to die for our sins, why couldn't he just be a nice guy and forgive us? Why sit around for billions of years doing nothing before you decided to make the earth? And why make life so shitty for the majority of the planet? Send us here to suffer? What kind of bullshit is that?
This is where faith comes in to make these natural contradictions make sense. But here is the answer to that that doesn't require faith:

Living is what matters.
Making a meaningless life have meaning is the point.

In the absence of a strong faith, the only justification of a good life is to live to serve and to help as many people in your life as reasonably possible. In the absence of God, we have only each other to take care of the world. And it is through us that God works, whether by divine inspiration, or by original design.

Now I know that doesn't answer everything in terms of God's role in the world. I don't have the space (or the time or the energy or the sanity) to get into all the metaphysical details of how God and prayer and faith may work. there simply has to be a leap of faith at some point in the discussion or it will never make sense. Something has to be just accepted as true, as there are no rational proofs for anything here.

In the end (and I know you more fundamentalists will have to pounce on this one, so hop to it and prepare for painfully good thought) your worthiness before God will be determined by your words and your works, not by being "saved" or baptized into the right faith. For if God is that picky, then I will willingly be going to Hell. In that, if we seek good according to our faith (or reason) then we are on the right path.


Shaw Kenawe said...

First of all, when it comes to faith, it is merely the way to make sense out of things that don't, and can't make sense when you examine them rationally.

This is an irrational statement.

The definition of "faith" is a belief in something without any evidence for that belief. You take that belief on "faith" because you have no rational explanation for it.

If one examines something rationally and finds no explanation for it, one continues to examine the phenomenon and develop a hypothosis for it until facts can be determined, which in turn will allow a theory to emerge.

Very simply put, this is how rational people try to discover explanations about the natural world.

When it comes to ideas about incorporeal beings, we are dealing with entities that cannot be proved or disproved, entities that have to be taken on "faith" since there will never be any way to prove that an incorporeal being exists who knows every thought and action and future action by every one of the 6 billion or so humans on the planet.

The idea of an invisible being who watches over every human on earth is comforting to many people, as is the idea that our "spirit" will live on after we die in some pleasant paradise in some unknown dimension in a spirit world.

Not all of us need that idea to live a full, happy, decent life.

I believe that when I die, I will go to where I was before I was conceived--to nothingness. And that doesn't bother me in the least.

In fact, I do my best to live a good life here and be loving and kind to those who I interact with here, since I believe this is the only life I will live.

I don't care if other people choose to believe in an omnipotent incorporeal being, so long as those same people do not label me evil for not accepting their dogma and so long as those people do not impose their unprovable beliefs or customs on me.

The whole issue of presidential candidates having to prove they are Christian in order to be taken seriously as candidates is an insult to our Founding Fathers and is unConstitutional.

This country is truly insane where religion is involved.

A candidate's personal religious belief has nothing to do with how he or she will behave in office. Nothing.

Religion doesn't necessarily ensure that one will behave morally.

Just look at the monsterous behavior of the Catholic Church vis-a-vis pedophile priests--for just one example. There are many more in other religions.

Toad734 said...

Ok that isn't really fair, I didn't really think that statement out, I was trying to make a quick point. Had I known it was going to be the subject of an entire post I would have phrased it better. And it was also connected to a huge rant about how prayer only works (.01% of the time) because you believe it will work, not because God was actually listening to the 4 billion people were currently praying to him at that moment.

But I agree, to a point, that parts of the Bible, once stripped of all the dogma and magic, does have some good lessons. It has some really terrible ones as well. In fact, except maybe for 7-8 of the 10 commandments the entire Old Testament is just full of racism, sexism, death, murder, vengence and arrogance all coming from this perfect "God".

Jesus obviously toned that shit down a bit and had some good ideas about how to live life. It's just too bad most christians don't listen to him but prefer the fire and brimstone and eye for an eye part of the Old Testament.

I am not attacking your faith its just that I have been attacked for my lack of faith as if I was somehow in the wrong. I do believe that faith is a cop out when discussing the possibility of a God but if you have it, you have it.


He fully admits that faith isn't rational. And for him and about 4 billion other people, it doesn't have to be.

Patrick M said...

Shaw: Those are all points I was going for. Thanks for the expansion of my wisdom and light.

Although, I do have to disagree that a candidate's beliefs don't matter, in a sense.

(I won't name names, but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks)

The company a candidate keeps close, including religious mentors, can be an indicator. Also, whether a candidate uses his faith as an election tool reveals a lot. If one simply emotes his beliefs without using it as a weapon, and is not one to embrace craziness, it can be an indicator of morality. But there is no place in civil society for fanatics on any side.

Toad: Actually, your statement was an excellent springboard for discussion, and it made me have to think harder on it. So thank you for that. I was going to state something similar there, but then I thought your comment would be a littler harsher, therefore catch more attention from other readers. It seemed to get Shaw all worked up. Wait, that was something I said.

And also, that's why I didn't ID you by name. Now Mike's going to show up and flame you for it and I'm going to have to defend your ass. Again.

And I try to never attack anyone for his faith, or lack thereof. I merely seek to understand.

Probably the biggest reason you do get attacked is because many of your posts (although you may not intend to do so) come off as anti-religious. I have, on occasion, gotten into it a little with some of the more fundamentalist bloggers on some of their statements (concerning Evolution vs Design and Oprah's faith) because they take it to the other extreme in some cases. It's this tendency to push the envelope to get a point across that makes the blogosphere itself both refreshing and crazy.

My point (SPD's standard operating procedure) as usual is to try to get a discussion going without everybody pissing on each other's leg.

Mike's America said...

Toadbat anti religious? Whatever gave you that idea?

You really opened up another can of worms here Patrick.

And that bit about Toadbat's poor experience with the power of prayer is revealing. I wonder.... Did he pray for a red wagon one Christmas and got socks and underwear instead?

Shaw Kenawe said...

People believe gods answer prayers.

They pray for money, for help in solving personal problems, for help in finding lost loved ones, pets, possessions; they pray for rain, for their team to win an athletic contest.

They pray for cures for awful illnesses, and when some are cured, they believe god cured them, but what about those who were not cured?

What about amputees?

People have recovered from otherwise seemingly hopeless illnesses, and god is given the credit for the cure. He answered those peoples' prayers, they say.

But never. Never. Never, has god seen fit to have an arm or a leg regrown for an amputee who has prayed to him/her. Never.

Why god seeming cure cancer or some other horrible condition but doesn't ever answer an amputee's prayer?

No one can answer that.

Dave Miller said...

"Living is what matters. Making a meaningless life have meaning is the point."

Great point Patrick. I am sure that if everyone went with this, God would be pretty happy.

And for those of you who don't believe God exists, at least the world would be a better place!

Also, Patrick, you've been tagged. Your q's are on my site.

Patrick M said...

Mike: You're going to make me have to break out the "wingnut" label if you keep attacking rather than adding.

Everybody's faith experiences are personal and lead them in different directions. What matters is learning from them, not making fun of those experiences.

Shaw: I can answer that with some degree of logic in the secular realm. Prayer is an expression of faith and of desire and of will. The power to beat back a cancer is within us. Whether that ability can be marshaled is a matter of willpower or faith in healing. However, we never developed the genetic ability to regenerate limbs.

But whether prayers are answered directly or in a spiritual sense only, it matters not. What matters is the will and determination of people to reach down and draw that touch of the divine from themselves.

Hope that clears things up.

Dave: This is the problem with the super-religious and the uber-atheist: they never seek commonality.

If they really did so, the world would definitely be a better place.

Shaw Kenawe said...


When people pray either to themselves or out loud, they usually ask for something--a favor, strength to face a crisis, or a cure for a disease.

I like to think that prayer is a way of talking to yourself and giving yourself the courage to face whatever crisis is troubling you. I like to think that when someone says "Oh God, help me!" or "Dear God, get me through this trouble." He or she is really asking him/herself to marshal the strength and courage to face the unbearable.

(See I believe we are our own gods with an angelic and a devilish nature, you know, dualism) And when people pray they speak to themselves and hope that their better angels will triumph, or at least give themselves the dignity to face what horrors and heartaches life throws at them.

In the film "The Ruling Class," Peter O'Toole is a delusional son of an English peer who fancies himself to be Jesus. He's sworn off his inheritance, wears Franciscan robes, and carries a cross around with him on which, at night, he climbs on and sleeps.

When someone asked him why he believes he is god, the Peter O'Toole character replies, "Because I find when I pray to Him, I am talking to myself."

As to your statement that the power to beat back cancer is within us, I'm afraid medical science will disagree. No matter how much you pray, eat healthy food, and exercise, you won't cure yourself. A good positive attitude is very valuable, but when you're facing that bastard, medical science is how you beat it.

Believe me. I know this.

PS. You are aware of the study conducted by a Christian Fundamental Organization on the power of prayer? They prayed for people who were ill, but who didn't know they were prayed for, the study showed that the people who were receiving the prayers actually did worse.

The Christian Group who conducted the study was stunned, but they accepted the results, since it was they who scientifically set it up with the hope of proving that prayers heal people.

They don't. Does prayer make you feel better? If you are a believer, I'm sure it does. But if someone finds out he/she has pancreatic cancer, all the prayers in the world won't cure him/her.

Patrick M said...

Point of clarification: I did say beat back, not cure. While it might be possible for someone to beat cancer with prayer (statistically not true, but plausible) it takes the combination of determination and/or prayer and medical science. My point (which you and I seem to agree more than you give me credit for) is that attitude and focus are a part of the healing process. Someone with cancer and without the will to live doesn't have the best of chances compared to someone who will fight like hell.

Other than that, your ideas on faith and the nature of God are interesting and probably more accurate than some of the more "Godly" people I've known.

Mike's America said...

Patrick: Attacking is adding if it amplifies.

Patrick M said...

Mike: It didn't.