God, Gods, Religion, and other such things...

In response to a few comments expressing a desire for a thread on religion, I am starting one Smile

I want this to be a symposium style discussion so I am going to preface this by saying that if you are not interested in having a civil, open-minded discussion about the nature of the divine, the systems of religion, or any such related issue, please don't post. I know that people take their religious beliefs very seriously and I respect that, I also respect that as beings of free will and complex thought and emotion, we have to capacity to discuss, analyze, and debate such topics as the nature of the universe, God(s) and the like without compromising those beliefs. This is not a place to make fun of ANY religion be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, other pagan traditions, Buddhism, Satanism, or any other belief system or lack of belief. This is not a place to try and convert people to your religion. This is a place for us all to explore our beliefs and the beliefs of others and hopefully learn something in the process. I would hope that this all goes without saying, but I know this is a delicate topic, so I want to make that clear from the get-go. In short: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all Wink

That said, I pose my first question:

Do you believe in a God/Gods/Higher Power/etc? If so, why? If not, why not?

Forums: 
TheBoy's picture

Embodiment

There's a feeling I get (when I look to the west...)

A peaceful easy feeling.

Some essential calm, under the right circumstances that lets me feel like I'm touching something central. Idunno that I can explain, but I believe firmly in a warm, loving God who wants us to be happy.

(I don't believe that God intervenes in daily existence, though...it's a pretty limited view, all-in-all).
I typically self-describe as "deist."

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

The term "agnostic atheism" pretty much describes me: I don't believe that there is a deity, any deity, and I don't claim to have (or even for it to be possible to have) definitive knowledge of the existence of any deity. This, by the way, does not preclude me from being spiritual on occasion, although my spirituality is of necessity rather... utilitarian in nature. (Reading Eric Raymond's Dancing with Gods might help to clarify that a bit. OTOH, it might not...

My views also include a form of agnostic deist apatheism in that I admit that yes, it is possible that some supreme being created the universe, set it on its course, and then buggered off to watch but not intervene anymore (deism), but that there is no way to know that (agnosticism), and that it doesn't really matter so I don't care (apatheism).

As to why? I was pretty much raised that way, and I have so far found no compelling evidence to the contrary or encountered events that would profoundly shake my beliefs. On the contrary, I have encountered a variety of arguments, each compelling in their own way, be it epistemological, aesthetical, logical, or otherwise, to support my beliefs, so here I am.

SkyRider's picture

Devotee

Background: I was raised in a strongly catholic family and attended catholic schools from pre-school until graduating from high school. I believe this was a wonderful thing for me because of the fantastic education I received (public schools down here SUCK) and also because of the amazing people I met in these schools. Knowing just this, please do not declare me permanently brainwashed. I must admit that for quite a while I was, but I have since become wonderfully enlightened to the world outside this exclusive, fairly close-minded catholic bubble. (College is fantastic :P)

Personal Experiences of God: The year I turned 16 (2004), I had the world's most amazing summer job: a position on the kitchen staff at a remote lodge in the Canadian rocky mountains. (http://www.beaverfootlodge.com/gallery.php - check it out, it's phenominal!!!!!) I was offered this job through some family friend connections and I flew up there alone knowing almost no one at the lodge. (The last time I had been, I was 12 years old and didn't really remember any of the adults who had worked there.) Anywho, I went up there armed with a daily prayer book from my mother and instructions to 'please try to spend some time praying because you won't likely be able to attend church while you are up there.' While I did read the little prayer book, it was through my daily interactions at the lodge (both people and nature) that I was able to experience a peace, serenity, and inspiration I can only attribute to God. It was truly enlightening and amazing - an experience with memories I will never forget and it's been my 'heaven' since.
I have a strongly religious background yes, (at times, quite overmuch) and I believe this allows me to personally feel God through nature and my interactions with other people on a very close, personal level. I'm not quite sure how to explain it, but even without my religious background, I know there's something greater out there. I believe in a loving God who wants us to be happy and who is here for us, touching our lives every day through the environment around us: people, nature, music, thoughts, you name it. (I don't necessarily believe He changes things daily, but at least that He's here for us in a variety of ways.) I believe in God because I have experienced firsthand how deeply He can affect people's lives. I don't think things happen by chance - I believe there's a reason for everything as well as an opportunity to learn something. I am not trying to impress my views on anyone or be overbearingly religious, but I believe very strongly in God and His interaction and presence in my life and the lives of those around me.

Someone's picture

Postulant

I believe in a god. sort of. My personal opinion on "the divine" is to call "god" "That which is made up of all that exists, yet is greater than the sum of it's parts" (a phrase which I do believe I made up myself). What this means is that (for me) "god" is more of a concept than a person.

However, I also strongly believe with what Ramakrishna (A Hindu saint) said in his writing "Many paths to to the same summit". To paraphrase: You can get whatever it is you go to religion for (truth, wisdom, enlightenment, a set of morals, whatever) from any religion. Ultimately, it is just important that you follow your chosen religion. To put it another way (this time quoting a bumper sticker I read once) "God is one, Names are many".

That last one is not meant to be anti-polytheism, either. I see no problem with trying to but something which is literally boundless into little boxes for the sake of our puny mortal understanding, y'know?

For the longest time I described myself as a polytheistic pantheist. Now if people ask, I just shrug and say "It's complicated".

Stormy's picture

Supplicant

I self-identify as agnostic tending toward atheism, but am growing increasingly dissatisfied. I don't take comfort from the idea that it's just this life and there's nothing after, no soul that survives the body. To me, that seems like such a waste. But intellectually I just can't bring myself to accept the idea of a deity who created us and then either took off or still watches but doesn't intervene or one who still watches and intervenes selectively according to some mysterious master plan.

I was baptized Lutheran and spent my childhood very involved in church--to the point I was telling my classmates that if they didn't go to church, they were going to hell (hey, I was 5 or 6!) After my parents' divorce we pretty much stopped going, though my dad took me to an evangelical church a few times--one where people routinely were found speaking in tongues. In high school we started going to a non-denominational church and I once again became very involved in my church with youth group and teaching Sunday School and the like. Then I stopped believing. It didn't happen all at once and I couldn't tell you when I realized I no longer believed the teachings I had grown up with, but certainly by my sophomore year in college I had decided that there was no God and even if there were, he wasn't very nice so who wants to be part of his "club" anyway. For years--other than a brief flirtation with Wicca--I have been mostly aspiritual (kind of asexual, but with the soul aye?)

But...(there's always a but)...as I said, increasingly dissatisfied. During my pregnancy I realized how spiritually empty I was. I cast about, searching for something that felt right. Then I remembered the feeling I had when reading the Wicca book I had picked up in college: 'THIS is it. THIS explains everything!' I didn't follow through in college because, well, college! Life just kind of swept me away. And then my son was born and I got lost in trying to survive day-to-day with an infant who would not sleep and who had to be held all the time. But now, especially with recent health scares, I'm feeling like I need something more. I need there to BE something more. So I guess now I'm more of an agnostic budding pagan...

Wait, did I even answer the question?

Elrac's picture

(more to come if this post makes it)

Pikachu42's picture

Embodiment

I believe in God, but sadly I can't convey in words why I do. I just know, ya' know? Which might not be the best reason, but that's what faith is. I could go in this whole spiel about how I've been drug "through the fire" and so on and so forth, but that's not me and seems like a cop out. Not to say if that's why you believe in God, I'm belittling you, it's just not for me. I've never been the most religious person, and I've had my faith shaken more times than I'd care to admit. I've been angry at God for most of my life for various reasons , and throughout it all I've maintained some semblance of a relationship with him.
My adult relationship is much different that my childhood relationship, and that saddens me deeply. Religion (for me at least) is like a cup. When I was child, the cup was small and so a small amount of liquid filed it up. I believed, and that was it. You couldn't tell me otherwise. But then the person doing the pouring passed away, and as my cup got larger the amount of liquid didn't increase. I've spent so many years trying to fill it up on my own, and it just hasn't worked. The ice has melted and now it's watered down. I'm trying to work out my relationship with Him little by little. We have an interesting relationship to be sure, but it's not where it needs to be. It may never be where it needs to be, but I'm trying and He's working with me. But long story short, yes I believe in God.

Elrac's picture

I'm not just an atheist, but a militant, raging, foaming-at-the-mouth atheist. I'm a fan of Richard Dawkins, but I consider him much too moderate.

Dawkins or some other clever fellow is quoted as saying: "The world works exactly as one would expect it to work in the absence of a god." That's my stance, perfectly. Apart from the coming-into-existence of the universe itself, 13 billion years ago, I consider it very reasonable to feel confident that there's a non-supernatural explanation for everything that happens. I also believe there's a non-supernatural explanation for the universe, but it may be tougher to find, perhaps impossible because the evidence is hard to grasp this long after the fact. But even there, God is no explanation: If God created the universe, who created God? "God created the universe" is an explanation for people who are too stupid and/or too lazy to think; all that explanation does is shift the inexplicable further down the line.

People talk about this wishy-washy concept of "soul." They say that a human's soul determines how he feels and acts. Well, there are hormones to make you feel love and/or attraction; drugs to make you feel paranoid; surgical procedures that can take away your feelings of pity, shame or fear and turn you into an ice cold killing psychopath. Caffeine will make you hyperactive, bromide will make you lazy. Some people are naturally quiet and easy-going because of a thyroid condition. Or the opposite. I'm saying: If manipulating the body and brain can bring about all these marked changes in personality, what does the soul do? Nothing, I tell ya. Shut down the brain and you've shut down the personality and anything people think is the soul. Life = brain activity; death = becoming worm fodder. It's as simple as that.

There... now that's expressed pretty clearly and starkly. That's my personal view of things and it used to be I'd leave it at that, because I respect my fellow people and would like to let them enjoy whatever floats their boat. The reason I describe myself as militant is that I feel that taking a neutral stance is failing to respond to my fear of and my felt duty to act against religion. Religion is more than a personal hobby: World history up to the present minute says that religion is a danger to the whole world. That sounds hyperbolic, but I'll try to explain:

We've just suffered through two terms in office of (I think) the worst President the US has ever had. I'm American and this makes me ashamed, but it's far more than that: Being in the position he is, Bush has not just made America worse off, but much of the whole world. America is (still) the most powerful country in the world, and the whole planet suffers from its mistakes. Now... anybody can make mistakes, but millions of mouth-breathing hicks voted for him a *second* time! And why? They voted for Bush so that gays couldn't get married. For fuck's sake, THE CHOICE OF PRESIDENT WAS MADE FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS! Bush and the Republican party went on to cut funding to secular aid organizations and (in defiance of the constitution) most strongly supported Christian groups... which means millions of AIDS-endangered human beings got prayers instead of condoms. If you do the math, you'll realize that Bush and the (previous) Pope together have caused the deaths and suffering of more humans than Hitler. Bush and the Republicans authorize oil drilling in nature reserves because "Armageddon's just around the corner anyway," or because "God gave us dominion over the earth to do with as we choose." Bush has stymied stem cell research because he worries about the souls of lifeforms smaller than a pinhead. Bush and others thwart social security programs because of pressure from churches - who would harvest fewer sheep if there were more and better alternative welfare programs. I could go on but this is getting long. You must by now see where I'm going with this: Religion is making life worse for me whether I believe or not. It's not a personal hobby, it's a political power. It feeds on ignorance and poverty, and it sustains the corrupt and powerful. Another one of my favorite quotes: "Good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things; but for good people to do truly wicked things - that takes religion!"

Do some comparative anthropological studies on religions through the ages, as I have done. Every religion exactly mirrors the thinking of the people in the time and place where it was invented. Native Americans honored bears and rocks and trees; the Scandinavians of yore thought that thunder was Thor banging his hammer. The Jews thought that God made the sun stand still. The ancient Greeks thought that a god had brought fire to mankind. Christians believe in a virgin birth, a fisherman who walks on water and who comes back from the dead. Mormons believe that they will become gods on other planets; Scientologists believe that Xenu, a wicked ruler of galaxies, destroyed our planet of origin with hydrogen bombs. It's all made up, I tell ya, it's fairy tales like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny for adults. Every single religion is a made-up story, a lie! Every religion tries to tell you you won't really die when you die; that someone cares whom you fuck; and that doing what the religious leaders tell you will get you a reward in a later life. Bullshit.

As I said, religion thrives among the poor and the stupid; and America is heading back that way. Americans are placing their heads under the boots of their governments and their clergy. And where America goes, the world goes. Please help me stop this bullshit before it's too late! Man has a glowing future if he places his trust in mankind rather than a ficticious white-bearded supernatural being. Man can find the right way if he takes responsibility for his actions, rather than delegating it to a non-existent fairy in the sky. Science and technology can give us freedom, prosperity and leisure. With the fruit of our brains and our hands, we can become as powerful as the gods mankind used to worship. Wipe out religion, make the world a better place.

Amen.

seia's picture

Devotee

I agree with some of your arguments, but not the way you use them and draw conclusions from them. Sure, I believe that religion is based on ignorance and fear, that religions take too many ideas from other religions to be truthful and that religion is the number one reason for killing people. On the other hand, I don't care. There are always ways to step away from religious influences, so why not let people believe whatever they want and live your own life?

Also, please don't rant about religious ignorance while displaying nationalistic ignorance. ("And where America goes, the world goes.") The rest of the planet has different ideas about your country being the most important one.

Requiem's picture

Petitioner

And yet, the rest of the world pays more attention to american politics than americans do. Blum 3

In response to the grandparent: Dawkins is an asshole, small minded (argument from evil, seriously?) and a sectarian one to boot. If you go for the militant nontheist stuff, try to find someone follow who doesn't insist his particular brand of nontheism is the correct one and nobody else should be listened too.

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

Wiping out religion seems unlikely to make people be smarter or more educated. It's statistically true that educated people seem to shy away from religious beliefs, specifically those presented by organized religion, but wiping out religion isn't going to improve on the level of education people receive or their general intelligence, amount of compassion, etc. If anything, it will work the other way around.

Instead of fighting against religion, maybe it would make more sense to fight for education. Lack of education seems to be the underlying cause of pretty much everything that you think sucks right now. If Americans were better educated, maybe they would be better able to make decisions that will affect world affairs. If human beings were better educated, maybe they wouldn't let religious leaders push them into religious wars that are unlikely to benefit them in the first place. Education could bring about more widespread acceptance of others and their ideas. It could aid people in understanding the science of what makes them tick, and make their lives more meaningful in the process. Education could even make people more aware of how their actions affect others, and in the end, isn't that what everyone really wants?

Fighting against something doesn't make you many friends, especially when what you're fighting against is ingrained in someone else's upbringing (even if it's not something you or I particularly agree with). Fighting for something, especially better education throughout the world, isn't going to make you any enemies, and it might make you quite a few friends. If you want to change the world, I say, fight for education, not against religion. I think you'll find you achieve the same goals in a way that doesn't make people who disagree with you cling even more strongly to their beliefs.

raecchi's picture

Devotee

One, I'm really glad that the older polytheistic religions existed -- they are fascinating! Besides, look at how few people take those religions seriously today. Use them for creative inspiration, sure, but worship? Nah, not so much. This will probably be true of current religions in the (admittedly distant) future.

Two, how could you possibly wipe out religion, without some serious brainwashing/mass murder? Attempts in the past to suppress religions have generally been horrible parades of human rights violations. Even if you managed to get them outlawed, they would just go underground. I think your best bet is to let time and science take its toll on the faithful, and work to fight faith-based decisions in the political arena as it comes up.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

...in something. Thomas Moore (the psychologist/writer, not the saint) says that our souls are pagan, even when our brains are not.

seia's picture

Devotee

You can't simply take away a vital part of people's lives without one side of the conflict resorting to violence. Science could work, given time, but so far it seems only chrisianity is really losing people.

raecchi's picture

Devotee

Which religions are gaining people, if only Christians are losing them? I've heard that Islam was getting more followers, and possibly the Baha'i (is that apostrophe in the right place?). I don't know all that much about the latter, but the few people I've met of the Baha'i faith have been very nice people indeed.

Requiem's picture

Petitioner

Christians definitely aren't the only religion losing people, and soome forms of Christianity are growing. Judaism for one, loses people in droves (though the ethnic/religious entanglement means people don't notice as much).

As far as I know, the only religions to be gaining converts faster than they lose them are less than 2 centuries old. Islam and Hindu (is that the right term?) have growth because of extremely high birth rates, but most conversion is going to very young religions; Mormonism, neopaganism, scientology, evangelical Christianity.

Actually... I guess if you consider them religions (which is a tricky question, not mention loaded) athieism and deism are a decent age (the enlightenment perhaps? I've read works extolling both from the 18th century anyway), and while deism is lost most of its adherents, I've never actually met a deist who was raised that way.

Voyeur's picture

I thought this thread was made to discuss religion and not tell people they are stupid for believing in a kind of religion. You've made a couple comments about people being stupid for believing there is a God, and I personally don't think that is fair. You should let people believe what they think is right, and don't judge their intelligence or social class/income levels upon it.

GreenGlass's picture

Supplicant

"Science and technology can give us freedom, prosperity and leisure. With the fruit of our brains and our hands, we can become as powerful as the gods mankind used to worship. Wipe out religion, make the world a better place"

Dude, don't you realize you're just falling back on the same zealot strategies as religions have to try and spark revolution? You say some good things, but on this point, I think you're wrong. It's an oversimplification. There is no one cause of what is wrong in the world. There is no magic cure for humankind, and trying to wipe out religion won't automatically make the world a better place. Getting rid of religion won't rid people of ignorance or erase the learning curve or unlock a golden age of discovery. I think some of these things might happen with a lot of different types of effort, but no matter how difficult you think religion makes the betterment of the world, you can't just call it the new evil and wipe it away.

That's it. There is no magic fix it. That I do believe.

Elrac's picture

Hi again, GreenGlass. I agree completely that a War on Religion would be bound to be just as dismal a failure as the War on Drugs or the War on Terrorism. "Wipe out religion" is a pipe dream of mine, and a phrase I shouldn't be writing in public.

Religion is indeed only one of many evils plaguing the world. I think a more over-arcing theme would be human greed, for wealth and for power. Corporations are exerting pressure on us to get more work out of us to make more crap to sell us for our money. Politicians are betraying our trust to gain even more power over us. Greed used to be a survival trait when life was a lot harder; today, it's really dragging us down. I really, really wish humankind would hurry up and evolve toward a kinder, gentler state of mind where people are more easily content, less selfishly dominant and less uncaringly hurtful.

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

I was intrigued by that last statement of yours - the desire for humans to hurry up in evolving towards a kinder, gentler, more content, altruistic, and considerate state. The way you phrased it assumes that a kinder, gentler state is where humans are destined to go and it's just a matter of more or less time to get there. I don't know if that's what you meant, but it's how I read it.

So my first thought upon reading that was - what evidence is there that we're evolving towards a kinder, gentler mentality across our species? I can't see where there's any natural selection to pressure us into that direction. We've already survived over 50 years with nuclear weapons and we've successfully reined in the levels of heavy metals/toxins/CFCs that were really doing a number on our environment (not everywhere yet, but that's a more a matter of bringing up other countries to our level of affluence, and environmentalism in general is another whole rant for me). So we've already evolved sufficient altruism and social skills to avoid destroying ourselves/our only planet in the face of sufficient technology/power to do so. (Not that we should let our guards down in those regards, but we have the skills, we just need to keep applying them). So I don't see a species-wide pressure to change in that regard. In small/regional cases there may be places where being more socially conscious and altruistic gets more altruism-related genetics passed on, but I bet there's just as many places where a propensity for violence gets your violence-related genetics passed on with greater frequency instead.

So yeah, my untested-but-highly-reasonable-based-on-what-I-know hypothesis is that there is very little selective pressure on humanity's social skills and altruism-related genetics nowadays, at least in any sort of greater picture. Pressure on the genetics of our immune system? HELL YEAH. Maybe on some other disease factors, too. But not so much in the genetic arena of dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin and vasopressin and all those other strongly-related-to-socialization biochemical tweaks.

Of course you might've been expressing a *wish* for humanity to evolve in a kinder, gentler fashion as opposed to an *assumption* that we are, in which case I apologize for my misinterpretation and thank you for the opportunity to engage in this thought-exercise anyways.

(seriously, it was kinda fun thinking that through; and yes, I'm a dork =P)

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

Capriox, Elrac & Co: Have any of you seen the movie Idiocracy? The movie itself is totally ridiculous, but the premise is kind of interesting. It's based on the idea that poorer, less educated people in this day and age tend to reproduce more. They had a set of two example families. The first one was a couple with high IQ's and high levels of education. They wanted to wait until they were more financially stable to have a child, and by the time they were ready, the man had died of a stress-related heart attack due to a high stress career. The second family was clearly uneducated, poor, and there appeared to be some sort of polygamy involved (that maybe not everyone was happy about). This family had tons of children, and in the amount of time that it took the first couple to decide to have children, the second couple had 6-15 kids, as well as uncountable grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The point of the movie was that human evolution isn't going anywhere good, because educated people are often career oriented and do things with their lives besides raise children, limiting the number of children that they have. Poor, uneducated people are unfamiliar with contraception, and end up having more children than they can afford, pushing the population of the earth further and further towards the growing uneducated majority.

I'm also wondering why this principle of increasing population doesn't also hold true for religious people...most of the religious people I know have more kids than the non-religious people that I know. As a result, you would expect the religious movements to gain momentum with higher reproductive rates than the originally atheistic/agnostic minority. Instead, the trend seems to be quite the opposite. Maybe it's because parents fail to install religious traditions in their children, but I just think that the result is counterintuitive. I also think that it means we can't necessarily count on "a kinder, gentler, more content, altruistic, and considerate" population for the future.

I also agree with the sentiment that the world would be better off religion, but I don't think I see it quite the same way you do, Elrac. I think about it more the way John Lennon did (see "Imagine"). I think that a number of wars would be eliminated if there were no religion, but I'm not angry about religion in general. I can even understand why you would be, but I think it's important to see both sides of a religion.

There are a lot of people who need religion. They need it to answer questions, to make themselves feel better, or to feel as though their lives matter. They need it to instill some sense of order into their lives, or to motivate themselves to be good people. Some people have probably just had some experiences that make religion make sense to them, and since I operate on what makes sense for me, I can't tell them what should make sense for them. Religious groups do a lot of charity work, and I can see good in that. Many of those people who help others through a religious organization might not help others if it weren't for the opportunities to do so that are presented through those groups. Just because I have my own motivation to try to be a good person (even though maybe I'm not awesome at it all the time), doesn't mean I should step on someone else's motivation to be a good person. If religion keeps someone in line because they're afraid of retribution from a higher power, maybe that's a little less chaos in the world. If someone is brought comfort from a faith that doesn't make sense to me, who am I to say that they're wrong? Sometimes, it's important to feel like someone understands and cares, even if the feeling just comes from inside yourself.

When people talk to me about how great religion is, I point out all the wars fought in the name of a god. I point out how people can spend years, wracked with guilt over something they can't reconcile, or angry at a god they think did something horrible to them and so must not love them anymore. I tell them about families that are divided and destroyed over matters of faith. About religious people who end relationships or refuse to invest in them in the first place because they don't want to be "corrupted by secularism".

All I know is that it's important to see both sides of religion. Religion has destroyed a fair amount of relationships in my life, because people have felt it was their "Christian duty" to behave a certain way, but I also see the positive change it brings to other people, and the comfort that they find in it. Maybe if it weren't for religion, people would find other reasons to be horrible to some people and reach out to others. But, then again, maybe not.

GreenGlass's picture

Supplicant

I love the movie Idiocracy! It actually makes me want to have a lot of kids sometimes! Blum 3

greenpokefiend's picture

I have never heard of a religion that doesn't support kinder, gentler, less selfishly dominant states of mind. I'm not sure where you're pinning any of this other than on basic human nature. Yes, some church leaders think they are above their own church's laws, but generalizing all adherents is grossly unfair. The people who use religion as a starting point for conflict aren't following their own beliefs, so I fail to see your logic. You have the right to believe whatever you want, so don't let me stop you, but i find the basis of your arguments unconvincing.

V's picture

Embodiment

that you feel strongly about your beliefs, but your tone and gross generalizations and stereotypes are going to prevent me from discussing this entire issue with you unless they change significantly.

TheBoy's picture

Embodiment

To an extent, I agree with you, V--and to an extent, I disagree.

As long as it's Elrac posting, I'm going to follow the old adage "don't feed the troll."

fairnymph's picture

Embodiment

Wow, I am seriously fucking annoyed. Due to someone stealing my internet, I just lost the lengthy reply I composed. I'll try again, but apologies if this version isn't as polished as my earlier post.

Religion is a tool, and as such can be used for good or for evil, for individual or mass purposes. Very few religions, if any, are *inherently* evil. In this regard religion is not so different from nature (natural forces), genes, etc. Context is so very important.

I consider Dawkins (who is a good scientist but a terrible crusader) just as offensive as religious fundamentalists, though obviously at the other end of the spectrum. Both rant beyond the point of reason, and have obnoxiously patronising attitudes to boot. The all-or-nothing pitting of religion vs. science angers me more than virtually all else. Both types of extremists consider them mutually exclusive, a concept I find closed-minded and limiting. I believe in both creation and evolution, in both God and science. They coexist harmoniously in my perception of reality.

No offence, but you remind me of such extremists with the tone of your post, the sweeping and inaccurate generalisations, and presumptions that you speak for all people and all truth. You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

/converted moderate Jew raised by (divorced) nondenominational, spiritual dad and radical atheist mom

Qendrix's picture

I was raised in the Methodist church and when I was in high school my mother became a Methodist minister. So I've pretty much grown up in a church environment. But as I got older things just didn't feel right. I would read things in the Bible and question, but the only answers I would get were "Of course it happened and we have to live this way because it's in the Bible." So much peer pressure and hypocrisy really turned me away from the church and I've started to figure out my own way. It wasn't until I watched Donny Darko that I really became aware of how I feel and where I believe I fit in. I do think that there's some kind of force out there gently guiding us along, but I don't think that we need to worship it "religiously" (pardon the pun), only trust that the decisions we make will work out for the best and try to live the best life that we can in this short time that we have. I do believe in souls and I do think that there's an afterlife where we can all be happy, free from the pain of our earthly lives. Not heaven or hell, but some kind of limbo like state. The hardest part for me is living in the Bible Belt of the South. There are plenty of religious people who are quick to judge and try to get you to go to church so you can be saved and won't go to hell. It's always an uncomfortable feeling to have to be pressured like that, but I try to set an example by being tolerant of others and respecting their beliefs as I would appreciate they respect mine (though more often then not I'm usually seen as a heathen, oh well).

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

I posted a link to this one in the thread that started this thread, but I want to put the text in here because I feel like it really sums it up for me. This is Penn Jillette's "This I Believe" Essay, part of a series on NPR:

I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy -- you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?

So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The atheism part is easy.

But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."

Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.

Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.

Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.

jacob's picture

And I really believe that that quote is much better at expressing how I feel then I could every be thanks for posting that Its getting put into my inspiration folder.
Jacob

Oddfish's picture

Postulant

I was going to write up something big, but now all I'll do is say "seconded." I've never believed in a God, but I've never been the kind of blood-drinking, coke-snorting heathen who talks at the theatre that a fair share of religious people assume that makes me. My morals, such as they are, are my own, and I think that's neat because I actually understand and believe in them, which probably makes it easier to practice them. Also makes me more responsible and aware of myself, because I'm the only one governing my actions and I can make my life better or worse. This cheers me even though I got laid off right before Christmas, because I'll be okay again if I apply myself and don't get lazy. It's what works for me, and that's groovy, and I'm pretty happy to be here doing what I do and experiencing what I experience.

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

I'm super curious, Mei. You mentioned in the other thread that you were Pagan...what does that mean in this day and age? How did you find it? (If you don't mind my asking.)

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

I'm pagan also, and your question startled me. I'm not offended by it--just surprised! I didn't realize that it was possible, especially on the internet, to be unaware of modern paganism. So, uh, I guess I'm just saying "thanks for shaking up my worldview." I keep learning about more things that I thought everybody knew but they don't.

seia's picture

Devotee

I don't have a religion and I don't believe in any kind of higher power/deity. To me, this life is all we've got and there's no point in wasting it for some spiritual "afterlife".
My parents were christians though, and I was pretty much raised that way. I was forced to go to church or do something church-ish each week, even though I started hating the concept of any "almighty" god when I was 14. I haven't done anything remotely religious since I moved out.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

I have been pagan all my life, though I only realized it when I was 18. I could have written what Someone did. My experience of the Divine is that it is made up of everything that is. The Divine created the universe(s) and, at the same time, is the universe(s). There's nothing supernatural about that to me. I hold the Enlightenment view that science reveals how God works, because God is everything there is.

So why am I pagan?

Because I am human, and my mind is small. I am small. Compared to the Divine, I am infinitely small. Human minds need to put faces on things that big; we are too small to see even a tiny fraction of what the Divine is. So I choose to put many faces on it rather than one, understanding that behind the masks of the gods is the same being, or energy, or whatever you choose to call it.

When we die, we join the Divine. My death experience confirmed that for me. Hallucination of a dying brain? Possibly, but it was an awesome hallucination, let me tell you. There is no heaven, there is no hell, there is only all there is. What we are goes back into the whole; the "I" ceases to be, but the whole remembers who we were, who we are, and who we will be.

So you could call me a Pagan, or a deist, or even an atheist, since I don't believe in God as a Being with Rules We Must Follow (other than, you know, gravity and the speed of light and such, and even they seem variable in some spots).

MeiLin's picture

Most High

We are going to be kind to each other in this conversation, yes?

raecchi's picture

Devotee

I have been described as "functionally atheist" -- I don't let the idea of god or lack of god have much of an impact on my day-to-day life. To the best of my knowledge, I've always been that way; pragmatic rather than spiritual. ("Just the facts, ma'am.") I wasn't raised in any religion. I associate churches with weddings and funerals (neither of which I enjoy), so they tend to make me feel very uncomfortable indeed.

All of this is intensely non-militant, though. Provided people do not attempt to foist their beliefs on me, I think they should adhere to whatever belief system brings them peace and contentment and helps them get through life. Faith can be good for people, regardless of if there is a god or not.

I do have some spiritual moments -- TheBoy, they sound a lot like yours, though I've never checked to see if it was a particular direction. There are sometimes when I look around at the world, and it just seems to be the most incredible thing, so full of life and goodness. I get bouts of sadness at the evils of the world too -- I'm a big ball of mush, really. I like to go on long rambles about why everyone just being nice to one another would make things so much simpler. It's the closest I get to a "one true way" -- everyone be nice to each other, damn it!

One last thing to touch on: wanting to have faith. I know some people besides me have this. There are times (thankfully not too often) when I want to believe in some sort of higher power so badly it hurts. There's something rather childlike about it, for me; it's the same as wanting to believe in magic and portals to other worlds and other things I wished for so desperately when I was younger. My mind won't accept most of the major religions' ideas of god, though the idea of a benevolent watcher who does not (or better, cannot) intervene is much easier to accept. It's a bit comforting, though I know even if there is no god(ess) like that, I have lots of people who love me and care about what I do. That, for me, is enough.

Requiem's picture

Petitioner

Which is complicated to explain, for a variety or reasons. One being that I've been Gnostic for three years now, and am only just started to understand what that means. I think a divine exists, (belief or faith is discouraged by both systems) though its not something that really fits into standard thought. I'm also out of things to say about it it seems.

GreenGlass's picture

Supplicant

*sigh* This is the kind of thing that I wish I would keep my mouth shut about. I don't know if I can explain it, you know? For now I also skipped the posts above so I wouldn't get sidetracked by the complexities of this.

I believe that the nature of the universe is to be complicated and uncertain, as far as I know anything about it. Borrowing from AE's Arkhanism (which I couldn't find to quote), I think all religions are probably wrong about god, if there is a god. I don't see any evidence for a personal god, and I don't know whether or not god is likely to exist at all. But I also think the world is mysterious, so I still cannot go as far as to say that I believe there is no god.

I don't have a belief about god. I don't know. I think this is a pretty pure form of Agnosticism, but I'm not sure, and the label seems to have gotten tied up with other things. I like to think it would be possible to convince me one way or the other if evidence about this kind of thing existed, but I don't really believe it even can! This makes me a lot more understanding and gentle about other people believing in god, making me not quite fit in with Atheists, but I called Atheism my guilty pleasure because lately when I have free time, I've started reading books by Richard Dawkins and I often think about returning to Athiest group events with a friend of mine. I don't think I could be one, but I pretend for a little while, maybe? It's easier then trying to remember the complexities of my real "beliefs."

I don't know if anyone will understand exactly how I feel about this. It makes me feel tired and misfit and sad.

Elrac's picture

Hey GreenGlass, I was in your shoes a while back. If you'd like to "talk" a bit, you can reach me at: elrac at gmx dot net. I got this shit straightened out in my mind and my life has been better since; and I'd be happy to help you get there too.

GreenGlass's picture

Supplicant

I think you missed my point. I don't think I can believe anything other than what I currently do in good conscience. I am sad because there still seems to be so much vague and generalized opposition to people who don't fit neatly into familiar categories. I don't feel that I particularly need anything "straightened out in my mind" by anyone else at this point. Thanks for the offer.

Elrac's picture

@seia: You say "There are always ways to step away from religious influences, so why not let people believe whatever they want and live your own life?" Two answers: If you live in Saudi Arabia, there's no way to get away from religion: There's religious police patrolling the streets with sticks to beat you if they (e.g.) catch you in a supermarket at one of the 5 daily prayer times. That's a strong example. But back in the US, chances are you can't step away without losing most support from your community. G. Bush senior said, "I don't think atheists should have the same rights as people who believe in God." What I'm seeing is religion grabbing a hold of governments and using them to strong-arm their beliefs on the general populace. If it were really true that everyone was free to believe what they want, and free from the influence of religious zealots, I wouldn't be on this soapbox.

I'm so glad I'm not a woman living in the USA: If I were to be raped, it's possible for medical professionals to not only withhold after-the-fact birth control treatment, but to not even inform me about the possibility or that I have a choice. My girlfriend is livid at this state of affairs. Religious people take away some of our options, and that's where I decide to draw the line in the sand, and to push back!

Displaying nationalistic ignorance? seia, I happen to live in Europe and have been here for 30 years. I'm highly disturbed that the US, whose citizens are appallingly ignorant of global politics, has such a massive influence on the rest of the world, but it's an undeniable fact. If you don't agree then you're missing a lot of information.

@Requiem: Unlike most religious outfits, atheists aren't very sectarian. There's only so many distinct ways you can believe there's no god. Dawkins is an educated and brilliant man whose point of view is based on the towering monument of scientific knowledge and rational thought. What better basis for any philosophy?

@raecchi: Religion has been partially squashed by Communism in eastern Europe, but I agree it wasn't pretty at all. Still, these days from what I observe those people are recovering from Communism better than many other people recover from being religious. Just my opinion here, though.

I think religion can be eradicated by the same means as disease, poverty and crime: Give people an education, teach them to think, give them the means to earn a comfortable income and some leisure to enjoy life and learn things, give them a sane and stable government to protect them from violence and other threats, safeguard their health and their retirement... and you'll see people less likely to prostrate themselves before an imaginary god as a last resort.

There are studies on religion vs. income and religion vs. education... one example I found is http://uspolitics.about.com/b/2007/11/05/income-religion-and-politics.htm, another is http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/a... . I especially recommend reading the second article completely. I don't just make this stuff up: Contrary to what the unnamed Voyeur claims, there is statistical evidence that religious people are more likely to be poor and/or less educated. I'm not saying, and never did, that religious people are stupid. But maybe in not understanding this, Voyeur has just proved my point.

@MeiLin: I agree that there is something in almost all humans that wants to believe in the supernatural. The naturalistic/mechanistic explanation of our existence, that we are just more highly evolved animals, procreating because our genes tell us to and writing poetry to get us laid... that's a very sobering world view. Some people find it disappointing, depressing, perhaps even terrorizing to think there's no higher purpose. It takes a strong person to come to grips with this (as I think) reality, but I think there's also a big reward in becoming aware that you are in charge -and hopefully in control- of your own destiny, and can make your life as meaningful as you choose to.

To close the circle: My own longing for the supernatural and superhuman has instilled in me a lifelong fascination with science fiction and fantasy. My first comic was Superman, my first series of novels Perry Rhodan. Later, A.E. van Vogt, Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson. On the 'Net: Alexandra Erin and now MeiLin Miranda.

GreenGlass's picture

Supplicant

Now I am not positive about this, but I would guess that the way you present your side is unconvincing unless the person already partially agrees with you.

No matter HOW good one's arguments and points are, and how much homework one has done, there is always a fact that goes unknown, an argument phrased poorly, or a human variable that goes unappreciated. This calls for humility, even in the face of great intentions. At the heart of this you believe that the world could stand to use more education, equality, and critical thinking! Fantastic! But in your confidence you have displayed that even you could stand to benefit from more education, especially on how to best communicate your ideas (especially good and important ideas) to other people.

Oddfish's picture

Postulant

I already partially agree, but I don't see how being condescending or just flat-out rude will help the case. There's a wide line between being too squishy and passive and being a raging ass, and I like to walk it. It's broad and expansive, and allows me to meet and speak with many people about many explosive things. I think it's absolutely terrible the way religion can impact politics and lives, in no small part because I am a woman in the US. I think it should be less important in many places, because I think spirituality is a deeply personal business that doesn't really belong in the public sphere. But going for your merit badge in alienating people isn't really any more intelligent or superior just because you're doing it with atheism instead of religion. Accept that some people cannot get over the idea. Accept that not everyone is going to agree with you. Accept that other people are human beings too and approach them as such. I'd be willing to bet you'd get a better reception from everyone-- myself, the lifelong atheist included-- if you weren't frothing at the mouth like that.

V's picture

Embodiment

Having read further down, I'm inspired to quote the OP:

Saramander wrote:
This is not a place to make fun of ANY religion be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, other pagan traditions, Buddhism, Satanism, or any other belief system or lack of belief. This is not a place to try and convert people to your religion.
READ it. You clearly misunderstand or are willfully ignoring it.
Requiem's picture

Petitioner

I call Dawkins Sectarian because of his assaults on Agnosticism.

I call him silly because he bases his views on the argument from evil, which is up there with Pascal's Wager for poor arguments. Even ignoring the logical problems, it refuses to take into account a non omnipotent/omnipresent/omni-benevolent deity.

RandomScientist's picture

Petitioner

I'm a scientist and a Christian.

And that's not an easy combination. I've had to deal with the disappointment of scientist friends who "thought [I] was smarter than that" when they found out I attended Bible study and the skepticism of students and Christian friends who can't believe I can be a Christian if I accept and teach evolutionary biology.

I call myself a Christian because that's the tradition I was raised in, and that's the view of the divine that I'm most comfortable with. That being said, I don't think it makes my world view superior to anyone else's. I believe that the divine is far beyond our ability to understand, and each one of us has to work out for ourself how we choose to understand the things in the world that are beyond our comprehension. I like the "many paths to the same summit" imagery and have used that idea before without knowing its source, so thanks for the reference.

I consider myself a Christian, even though I'm sure a lot of things I believe would be considered somewhat heretical by a good number of Christians. I feel no need to believe the Bible is the literal and sacred word of God, any more than I would put that sort of faith in any other document that was written by human beings and has been revised and translated for centuries. I refuse to reject scientific evidence because it might not conform to a centuries-old explanation of how the universe works. I am not arrogant enough to believe that my views are the only truths and that anyone who understands differently must be wrong and needs to be corrected. If asked to make a list of the places in the world where I have most strongly felt the presence of the divine, that list would include Stonehenge, a seaside Greek temple to Poseidon, a wide variety of natural settings, and a few churches.

In recent years I have begun to more strongly self-identify as Christian because I am frustrated by the prevailing view that faith and science are incompatible, that Christianity requires a person to be socially conservative and turn off their mind to new ideas.

I think part of this answer was supposed to be why I hold the beliefs I do. I could say that my faith is a result of moments of transcendent joy, deep prayer, an awareness of a spiritual presence in the world. And those things are true. However, at the most basic level, I have no reason to believe in God. As a scientist, I don't believe there can be a reason or proof; the supernatural is by definition outside the realm of scientific inquiry. So ultimately, I hold these beliefs because I choose to. Rationally supported or not, this is the world view I choose to have, because it is what works for me. Your choices may vary based on what works for you.

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

Thank you, RandomScientist.
I hold very very similar beliefs to yours, as expressed in your post, and you put it so elegantly that now I don't have to fumble my way through duplicating it. On a very personal level, thank you.

@MeiLin's point about humans wanting to be believe in the divine - I know I read an article about research to that effect in either Discover magazine or Scientific American (or maybe Nat'l Geographic) sometime in the last four years. Pretty sure it was Discover. Anyways, my personal take on that is that part of being human is the demand to make sense and give order to otherwise chaotic information. Humans seem to *need* a narrative which explains the world around them. For large scale explanations/answers ("how the fuck did we get here?" being the classic), religion was pretty much the only source until very recently in most cultures (couple hundred years in modern era versus tens of thousands of years before). Now we have other options derived from scientific findings - a natural order, or if you want disorder, you've even got quantum mechanic-esque Chaos Theory type options - which can supplement or supplant religious explanations. In short, scientific theories become your personal choice of world-narrative. I think it's easy for those who adopt world-narratives based purely on their science-based learning to forget that there is no One True Way in science either, and so there is nothing inherently superior to beliefs based on scientific evidence over more overtly religious narratives. The data is perhaps more accurate (we've got mp3s of bird songs from similar species to analyze, but Buddha's and Jesus' words come to us secondhand at best), but the *explanation* of the data beyond the most simple interpretations is subject to as much debate as the nature of something like the Holy Trinity, and often with as little in the way of sure resolutions. So yeah, IMO, world-narrative = major part of one's beliefs and there is a severe lack of any One True Way or else after tens of thousands of years I think humanity would have found it already.

Unsurprising, I have an extremely strong distaste for extremist versions of any world narrative. Again, religious fundamentalism is more obvious in Western eyes. But for example, I think the environmental movement includes a significant number of people who end up using it as their primary world-narrative, and therefore has its share of "eco"-fundamentalists whose extreme views are based on their *beliefs*, not the simple facts themselves.

As a result of this, I am VERY STRONGLY a supporter of separation of church and state. As a faithful person, I enjoy my freedom of religion, thank you, and have no problem not enforcing my world-narrative on others because it means they can't enforce theirs upon me, hooray!

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

How refreshing! I have a great deal of respect for both science and religion and I am glad that you have been able to reconcile the two. Personally, it saddens me that people get so caught up in fundamentalist dogma and the like that they completely turn aside from the joy and wonder and beauty of science. The way I see it, if I believed in a specific God, I would see evolution as evidence of God's plan, or at least as a function of God's work. Why couldn't God have initiated the spark of life so that he might watch it grow and change and Become? Sometimes I feel like many fundamentalists do their God an ill-service by stuffing him in such a small box as the Bible. Keep up the Good Works Smile

RandomScientist's picture

Petitioner

I'm pleased that my comments resonated with you in some way. As I said, it can be difficult to try and live in "both worlds" as a Christian and a scientist when so much of modern society is convinced the two views are incompatible.

Capriox, I wholeheartedly agree about separation of church and state and a discomfort with extremist versions of any world view. I sometimes admire the passion of a person who can so firmly believe one thing, but I would feel so arrogant insisting that my view of the world had to be the right one because it was mine. When there's no way to prove or even scientifically examine questions of spirituality, I just don't feel that there can be "right" answers... only each of us finding the world view that encompases how we relate to the divine in whatever form.

Saramander, I'm glad you gave me an opening to talk more about evolution; it's been kind of a pet topic of mine since I was in junior high and began debating religious views of evolution with friends. What you're discussing is often called theistic evolution, and it comes close to my views on the subject. I don't believe that evolution was a directed process with the intent of creating humanity exactly as it is (or even the rest of the world exactly the way it is, aside from the point that life is always changing). I believe that God did set out to create a being "in His own image", meaning a sentient being who would be able to have an awareness of the divine and a relationship with it. The laws of the universe were established such that evolution could function as a self-perpetuating process that would allow sentience to develop in beings at some point. I don't believe that God is concerned with our physical forms but with our souls, hearts, and minds.

I also very much relate to the idea of limiting God by refusing to accept new ideas. In "The Language of God", Collins describes this as a "God of the gaps" approach to faith. If a person is unable or unwilling to explain something scientifically (eg the origin of life), they declare that it was done by the hand of God and is a miracle. Once science advances to the point it can fill that gap in knowledge, what place does it leave for that person's view of God? I think this is why many people are resistant to the idea of evolution: they've based their faith in God's power on his ability to fill that gap, and if science can do that, it weakens their concept of God.
That being said, I have had conversations with people who have very solid theological reasons for their insistance upon creationism (under whatever name), which I am willing to respect, even if I don't agree.

And that is more than enough deep thinking for me on a Saturday morning. If I didn't say it before, I'm very appreciative to have this place where we can share such personal, complex views in a largely nonthreatening environment.

sherinik's picture

Postulant

I'm loving that.

I'd call myself an agnostic - I don't believe the guiding hand was an entity. More like a set of natural laws that can be flexible, and possibly subject to coercion. Hard science is doing some interesting stuff that makes this look provable some time in the not too distant future. But that doesn't mean there can't be deities - just that I don't happen to believe in any right now.

There's spirituality, faith, morals and so on, and there's religion. I'm willing to say I have all of the former, and none of the latter - and some of those who identify with the latter believe that, without it (and only their brand), I can have no claim to any of the former.

Religion, to me, is a construct, no matter which one. The holy scriptures of all religions have been edited many times and by many interest groups over centuries. I can't put that aside and have faith that a supreme being controlled those revisions. I also can't accept that making a choice about which religion is the right one means all the others (and their adherents) are wrong. And the trappings of formal religion can seem to me excessively formulaic. Some rituals are designed to assist with achieving communion (Gregorian chants are hypnotic, and beautiful) but a lot aren't and I wonder at their purpose.

Still all in all, an upbringing 'in the church' is I think a good way to raise children, until they develop the skills to formulate their own value systems. There used to be a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and if you aren't lucky enough to have a large and supportive family group nearby to help, that's one way to supplement parenting hopefully in a wholesome environment. Belonging to a community is a valuable thing (especially this one!).

thedisquietedpen's picture

Postulant

This is incomplete, I think I should go ahead and share it. This is my best (if thus-far incomplete) attempt at explaining in words my belief structure.

"I believe in love and in True Love. I believe that the purest emotion of the human heart is love. I hold that love is the best thing that can be spread to another person.

I believe in Human Compassion. I believe that with love, compassion is a quintessential human quality. I know that compassion is the only thing that allows us to relate our inner love to other people.

I believe that wrongs are being and shall be committed by humans. I accept this as a part of human nature. I profess that forgiveness is oftentimes the best path. Through forgiveness and understanding, I know that more mutual respect and love can be garnered.

I believe in reason and science, as applicable to most things. I realize that certain things, such as emotion and poetry, cannot truly be expressed at this time by science or rationality. As such, I profess no fundamental Truth, but many different and varied truths that collectively make up the Human Experience. All persons are wholly free to make up their own minds in regards to ideologies."

As far as "God" or "god" or "Goddess" or "goddess" or "gods" or "goddesses" or any combination thereof, I do not believe in standard definitions. Something close to Mei's spiel about the Divine and it being the universe(s) seems to make the most sense and be the most reasonable to me. Until a very short while ago, I was an ardent atheist.

I have since questioned my dis-belief, because there is something (someone) without whom I could not live. I have thought of the pain of living without her, and I am not sure I can even properly imagine it. And that is what has changed my mind about as well as souls and several other things.

I did have a brief stint as (what I would describe as) a New Age-er. It really has lent itself to my current belief system.

But this entire post is just a "snapshot" of my current beliefs. They might change overnight; they might not ever change. Either way, that's that.

GreenGlass's picture

Supplicant

That makes me happy. I really wanted to question you further about what you do about the existence of wrongs... but your ending is very comforting to me. It resonates.

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

I kind of feel as though I have no choice. The most defining moment of my spiritual life took place during my Reiki I initiation (which I guess shows how open I was already to non-mainstream thinking): I saw the Goddess, or She showed herself to me. She kind of said, "Hi, I exist," and I said, "Oh, hi. Wow. Thanks for letting me know." I had gone through various periods of different spiritual beliefs before that, including a period in which I called myself atheist, but didn't really stop believing in some kind of deity. My parents are an agnostic Jew and a mildly religious Lutheran, so I wasn't raised with any strong belief.

I believe that all gods are one God and all goddesses one Goddess (and they are both One). I view the Goddess--as She showed herself to me--as having four Aspects, related to the moon that is Her emblem: Maiden/waxing, Mother/full, Crone/waning and Dark. Dark encompasses all possibilities of female life that do not fit easily into any of the other categories; I sort of see Dark as the feminist Aspect. I've also recently discovered an attachment to the specific Sumerian goddess Ereshkigal.

I am pagan--which, as I'd like to point out, is an umbrella term containing probably an infinite number of religions, not a singular religion itself. Mostly what that means for me personally is that I don't belong to an organized religion and I believe that all religions are true for their believers. I also believe very firmly in reincarnation and always have, which is pretty much inextricable from the rest of my religious beliefs.

It's hard to explain what I believe about deity other than the specifics I've written above. I quite like what MeiLin said: "The Divine created the universe(s) and, at the same time, is the universe(s)." The Goddess didn't create the universe, sit back, and poke idly at things ("intervene") as they caught Her interest; She is always in everything, dynamically. You are Her; I am Her; MeiLin is definitely Her; the computer I use to type this is Her; even the Internet is Her.

I also believe in a male counterpart to the Goddess, but don't worship Him or feel that I know Him well. I did say that the God and the Goddess are both one, but I guess the female side is what I connect with best.

Wow, I hope I remembered to get everything I wanted in there. I'm enjoying this discussion and definitely look forward to more in the future.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

testify.

Remind me sometime to tell you about my meetings with the Lady. It doesn't matter whether they were dreams or hallucinations or whatever you want to call them; they held a truth in them, even if they were just parts of myself speaking to the rest of me.

Shinjinarenai's picture

Postulant

Especially because, as Requiem mentioned before, I'm ethnically Jewish and self-identify as Jewish before anything else. But as for my actual beliefs- I don't know if there is a God or not. I think that if there isn't one, that that's really okay, because the texture of everyday life is precious anyway, and if there is one (or several, I suppose), well, they haven't introduced themselves yet, at least not to me. I feel like if there is some sort of spiritual deity then they must have far more important things to do than tend to me- not a neglect, really, but a knowledge that I'm okay on my own and don't really need them right now and that they should focus their energy on someone or something that does. The idea of an all-encompassing deity is interesting but completely unbelievable to me. I think I could understand a being with far more power than me, but I wouldn't want them to spend any of that power on me.
I want to believe that everyone's religion is true for them, and that my personal heaven will be just like in the end of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, becoming part of the Dust and energy of life, but I don't really believe or know it. It's a sweet wondering hope, I guess. Anything else that happens would be fine too.. I have a very fatalistic approach to death. To life... I think it is a very material and sensual approach, with lots of room for the possibility of spiritualism but no personal connection to it. I have a great admiration for people with strong religious or atheistic convictions, the same as I do for people with great passions, because I don't normally feel those very well and I wonder what it's like. But I'm very content as I am.
I follow conservative Jewish traditions pretty closely- not from a spiritual motivation, but more a method of respect for my ancestors and a connection to my ethnicity, and most importantly- even without the spiritual side, it never hurts to be reminded to be thankful for what you have, and to be reminded to have a prayer and a hope for something better. I love Judaism for all of that... and the food. Blum 3

I hope that was reasonably clear and not too TL;DR.

Voyeur's picture
Saramander's picture

Petitioner

First, thank you everyone for sharing your various perspectives on divinity, I find you can learn alot about a person when you understand how they understand the universe. That said, here's my story: When I was a small child, I believed in God and Jesus and prayed before I went to bed. As I got older, I started questioning God and the universe and the bible and found it harder and harder to take the pastor seriously in church. One day, when I was around 7 years old, I was in the middle of praying when I stopped, realizing that I felt foolish and it felt like nobody was listening. Years passed and I learned little tidbits about other religions of the world and when I was in Junior High, someone who had a profound effect on my life passed away. Until then, I hadn't thought much about my own beliefs but faced with this grief, I found I needed more comfort than anyone could give me. I began my search then. I studied and dabbled in religions like Buddism and Wicca, Pantheism, and philosophies like Nihilism. I had very long and in depth conversations with various friends of mine who were Mormon, Baptist, Catholic, Recovering Catholic, Wiccan, etc on the nature of faith, God, Religion, the Universe, morality, and everything and these conversations were monumentally shaping experiences that I am grateful for every day. After years of study of comparative religions, trying to connect with my own spirituality, and a deeply passionate love and interest in Science, I have arrived at a world view that I can take comfort in.

I kind of think of the universe as a great organism. Kind of like the human body. The body is made up of cells, bacteria, plasm, atoms, etc. Basically zillions of little bits that go about their lives mostly unaware of each other and definitely unaware of what they make together as a whole. These bits work together and affect one another directly and indirectly, having an affect on the overall condition of the organism. See, I started with the body, and I expanded that idea to communities, habitats, biomes, and eventually the entire planet. EVERYTHING on this planet is interconnected in some way, just like all those bits that make up your left pinky toe. Well, then you look at the solar system and how the radiation from the sun affects the life on Earth, temperature and gaseous movements on other planets, etc. You see how the gravity of one celestial body affects the orbit/tides/direction/fate of another and, well, I'm sure you are getting the point. Just keep expanding the analogy and try to find an end.

I do not believe that this "Universal Organism" in a sentient being or "God". I really just derive comfort in the idea of being so immeasurably insignificant in comparison to the rest of the universe, but also being a part (arguably an integral part as every part serves its purpose) of something so vast and beautiful as a galaxy or so small as a blade of grass. In the end, I look at the idea that God is infinite and I say to myself "There is really no way that finite beings such as myself could ever hope to comprehend something like infinity, so why try?"

That said, I also believe that there is something to be said for the concept of religion and gods or deities. I speak to the moon, knowing full well that she is just a rock in the sky, but also finding comfort in being able to personify that something greater than myself and acknowledge it, even if its just for me.

This brings me to the topic of my two cents. Elrac has actually touched on a topic that is of huge interest to me and while I disagree with this person's attitude toward the faithful, I would like to first acknowledge the interesting points raised and second remind both Elrac AND everyone who's immediate response to him(her? sorry, I don't know your sex) was to rebel against their opinion that we are trying to be NICE AND INTELLIGENT here.

The biggest topic I want to examine is the difference between religious (ie Spiritual) BELIEFS and religious SYSTEMS (ie, churches, advocacy groups, religious laws, doctrine, what have you)

I am of the opinion that Religion (and here I reference the COMPLETE system of beliefs and laws) was instrumental in our evolution as a species and that without it, we may not have gotten to the technologically and socially evolved state that we are at today. I also feel that lately (as in the last couple millennia) the spiritual aspect of religion and the systematic aspect have been growing farther and farther apart and that where Government was born from that marriage of belief and structure, the structure is separating from the spiritual and the Religion that Elrac refers to is in fact another form of systematic rule (ie government).

I can go on, but I'd like to hear everyone else's opinions. Oh, and everyone, PLEASE don't call people stupid or I will henceforth completely ignore you, even if your opinion is valid. I know its frustrating dealing with people whose beliefs, etc, seem backwards and have a negative effect on your life, but this is not the venue for ranting, this is the venue for THOUGHTFUL DISCUSSION, keep your frustrations out of it unless you can articulate your thoughts in a respectful manner that furthers the discussion. Thanks! Smile

MeiLin's picture

Most High

...in that we see all there is as a connected whole. I don't really think the whole is self-aware as such, but it might be. Phillip Pullman resonated with me, too.

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

I noticed that you and I and a few other people share very similar views on the interconnectedness of things. One of the reasons I love bringing stuff like this out in to the open s because its nice to know that I'm not the only one thinking these things. I often feel a little ridiculous trying to explain my concept of the "Universal Organism" to other people, usually because they look at me like I'm crazy Wink

I'm not familiar with Phillip Pullman...

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Find it, read it now.

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

Looks interesting, I'll put it on my list Smile

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

I absolutely love those books. I read them as a kid, and then I read them again more recently and got even more out of them the second time.

Also, everyone should read Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, if you're at all interested in anything. It's a little bit of sci fi (but not so much that you won't love it if you're not into sci fi) and a little bit of social analysis (but not so much that you won't love it if you're not all over that either). That's high on my list of the most influential books I've ever read. It really shaped my understanding of other people, in a way.

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

I LOVE Ender's Game!!! I read the first book in a single day I was so enthralled.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

That's how old I am. It was eventually expanded into the book and then the series. I'm not liking giving Mr Card my money right now, so I haven't read the rest.

Shinjinarenai's picture

Postulant

What is your personal gripe with him, Mei?

I LOVE His Dark Materials. I'm actually reading a book right now about it's connection to Paradise Lost and Blake and all that good stuff, with interviews from Pullman, and I have another book about the science in them, but mostly.. just the books themselves are one of the most influential and beautiful books I've ever read. They really do inform my thoughts. I reread them at least once a year, if not more.

TheBoy's picture

Embodiment

is why the universal divine entity gave us public libraries.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

and his unbridled support for Prop 8.

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

I've always loved his books and really looked up to him as someone who understands people for who they are. I had no idea he was like that Sad

fairnymph's picture

Embodiment

I highly second ML's rec!

Requiem's picture

Petitioner

By Universal Organism do you mean the religious adoption of the Gaia theory pantheists do, or something else?

Edit: Question mostly withdrawn now that I read the wall of text from earlier.

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

Yeah, I got kinda long winded there Smile But to answer your question: Yes and no Wink Its very similar to the Gaia concept, but without actually assigning it an individual identity. Basically, I see this intricate system that works together. Its sloppy and beautiful and who really knows if it makes up a single being, but the point isn't in defining that being, because its not just one being, as we are not just one being, we are made up of zillions of beings and all beings are made up of the same energies and matter. I see this as an infinite process or infinite exsistence resonating in harmony with everything else. I don't know where it ends or if it ends and I feel that because I DO end there is now way I will ever be capable of answering that. I basically like to trip out on the complexity of the universe and revel in the beauty of its chaos.

I guess thats pantheism. Though when I looked at pantheism (though its closest to what I believe) I found in a little lacking. Maybe its just that there really are no words to describe what I feel about the universe.

Requiem's picture

Petitioner

The Gaia concept doesn't really have a personality (was a scientific idea before it was a religious one). It's more an observation that the earth behaves as a superorganism at the biggest scale.

I suppose its easy to confuse with the goddess it was named after though.

Elle's picture

Petitioner

Earth, by David Brin. It explores Gaia as a scientific as well as a religious idea. Fascinating, especially if that's something that sparks your interest. (I actually hadn't heard much about it until I read the book, so it's good even if you aren't that familar with Gaia.)

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

Ah, thank you, Requiem, I suppose that in that context, Yes, I do believe in the concept of a super-organism, Gaia.

GreenGlass's picture

Supplicant

An excellent, if complex, framing of something very relevant to us today. "...where Government was born from that marriage of belief and structure, the structure is separating from the spiritual..." So you see this as an ongoing process that has increasingly revealed that we have a government founded on and maintained by invoking traditional "religious" values. But this has evolved beyond religion and is now just the system that we're used to.

If I understood you correctly, I'm not sure what to make of that! It is true that there are some close relationships there, but I don't know... are you saying we need to watch what the system is sort of naturally turning into or we need to cut out the damaging parts, previously religious, systemic rule? It's difficult to go forward without you expanding on your idea more.

I'm used to seeing the connections between what humans believe at an individual level and what the "population" or even "nation" believes as related from the bottom up, not so much the top down. But that is not the case, obviously, or media wouldn't be so... acceptable? Something. It's worth exploring for me, in other words. I have to admit I am not well educated on this specialized topic.

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

Basically, my theories stem from an observation that the first structures of social order in human society were religion-based and gradually became less centered on religion as religion/spirituality changed and people didn't need it/respond to it as much anymore. Humans are very social creatures and in order to maintain the complexity of our social structure (which is arguable what is responsible for our development of language and symbolic thinking) there must be certain consequences. If you look at a group of chimps, (highly social creatures) you see a hierarchy that is enforced through the physical dominance (ie threat of violence/shunning) This is not a very stable system and systems that lack stability tend not to grow as fast as systems that are stable.

I feel that somewhere along the line, our ancestors began to have a profound feeling that there was more to the world than sex and food, that there was a Higher Power, something greater than themselves. Originally, this manifested itself in animistic religions (worshipping animal spirits, rain, sun, trees, etc) This respect/deification of the world around them gave our ancestors a sense of accountability, for if you crossed the spirits, they could smite you. Eventually, as we gained more control over our environment, our gods changed. with settlement and agriculture, our gods began to take humanoid form, because we saw that we had the power to change the Earth and so, to stay accountable, we needed to answer to something that was more powerful than us (ie gods with tempers and whims that could blight our crops if we didn't observe strict rules against incest, murder, and pay homage to them, submit to authority, authority which is wielded by priests and holy men, anointed ones who bless our harvest, our marriages, etc.) As we grew less and less dependent upon the Earth, our gods became more abstracted, living in unreachable realms, shedding human-like flaws and eventually becoming a single super being that knows all things and is perfect because we can think of nothing more powerful than a single humanoid mind free from the flaws we see in ourselves. It all comes back to accountability, though. If people never believed that they would be smote unless they lived good lives, didn't kill each other, etc, there would be little incentive to maintain those morals. (This is of course a generalization and a theory, and I realize that lots of people led horrible, violent lives, often in the name of God, but bear with me, ok Smile ) This fear gave the priests who mediated between us and the gods a great deal of power with which they sculpted systems of order which eventually grew in to complex governments which then detached themselves from the spirituality that sparked them in the first place as people's idea of the divine grew to a point where now, the most powerful force in our lives is ourselves. Many people see God as a boogeyman, a fantasy for the weak. We are all about taking control of our destinies and have thus reached the point where the threat of Hell or divine intervention does not hold the same weight as a prison term or an atomic bomb.

In some ways we've come full circle. In some ways, I feel we may be embarking on new territory as more people are returning to spirituality in a time where governing structures are in place for the masses and so we don't have to all believe in the same God in order to get along. The rules are the same for everyone in the US, regardless what your personal belief system might be.

I'm really tired and I feel like I'm rambling, so I'm gonna cut this short. I hope that helped to clarify my idea, though its entirely possible I've mucked it up even worse Wink

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

Also, a little something to think about. A very influential woman in my life once told me her opinion on religion (and I think she quoted someone else, but details like that are lost in the cobwebs of memory)

There are as many religions as there are people in the world.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Remember Roseanne Roseannadanna? Just remember: With people, It's Always Something. If It's Not One Thing, It's Another. Either the Christians are trying to murder the Jews, or the Hindus are trying to murder the Muslims, or the Khmer Rouge are trying to murder everyone.

Meaning: If you took away religion, people would just find different reasons for mayhem. It would not result in some mythical golden age, any more than any religion itself has ever launched one. To quote the Muppets, peoples is peoples.

Thus endeth the lesson. Wink

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

I agree completely! Smile

Katie's picture

Embodiment

to use something similar to support the point; people can always always ALWAYS find something to be snobby and superior about. If you're rich, you might look down on people who aren't. If you raised yourself in the streets, you might look down on someone who was 'rich, pampered, and spoiled'. (middle class folks go 'hey, leave me outta this; and be snobby cuz they have nothing to be snobby about. Or something like that.) If you're athiest, your world view is the best...and the same if you're religious. Peoples is peoples. Wink

greatmediocrity's picture

Devotee

I so want to say that I'm a Pastafarian. Really.

But honestly, I consider myself a Bright, a non-theist. I don't believe there's evidence of a deity, and furthermore I don't believe that it even matters whether a deity exists or not. (Note that I'm not saying that I don't care, so I'm not apatheistic.) IIRC, Buddhists are kind of like that, but I've never looked into that in much detail.

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

You've been touched by His Noodley Appendage, huh? Wink

From my half-remembered intro to Asian religions, I think Buddhists have two major sects - one of which is big into deifying their saints, spirits, and religious concepts, the other of which is closer to what you're saying - deities, etc. may or may not exist but it really doesn't matter because you're busy trying to transcend reality and karma anyway.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Buddhist concept of letting go of one's emotions, desires, and eventually self. As a method of coping with everyday life and stress, the ability to just let go of an emotion, especially negative/destructive ones like hate and jealousy, is a huge benefit with some biological grounding - maintaining stressful emotions literally leaves your body in a biochemical state of chronic stress which is detrimental to basically everything in your body. On the other hand, me being an unfortunately selfish and stubborn person relatively content with my life, I don't want to let go to the point of not existing as "me" any more. I fear that in the same way I fear death, although to a lesser extent. The great extinction of myself terrorizes me if I let myself get bogged down in thinking about it. My faith and many other religions teaches that there is Heaven after death, but I can't imagine what that would be like. The popular conception of perfected angelic souls floating around ad infinitum sounds mind-numbingly boring, to be quite honest. Although would be nice to get to see my one grandfather again...

Now there's a fun thought exercise - if your soul is going to exist infinitely, what would Heaven be for you?

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

From what I understand of Buddhism, its not really about deities or saints or any of that, but more of a focus on self-actualization. Finding Nirvana. There are of course hundreds of flavors of Buddhism and those ideas also run strongly in other eastern religions.

The interesting thing about the concept of enlightenment is that it IS a kind of death. It is the death of the Ego. I have experienced this to a limited extent in my experiences with psychedelics and also meditation and yoga. The complete death of the Ego is near impossible to attain without devoting your life to this goal, but the wonderful thing about the journey is that it makes you a better, happier person. Seeing the world from an unselfish perspective can be a very humbling and beautiful thing. Also, the idea is not to completely let go of your emotions or your identity, but to better your relationship with them. When you realize you are holding on to something that makes you angry, you stop, acknowledge your anger, its causes, and decide if its really necessary. If not, you can maintain your objections to whatever the situation is, but you can release the anger and not make yourself miserable getting all worked up over something that isn't worth it. Yoga helped me alot with this, saved me from more than a couple emotional breakdowns in school. (I know yoga isn't buddhism but they have alot of similar ideas, shame on me for generalizing ;))

gjh42's picture

If we need labels, I'd have to call myself an agnostic pagan sympathizer.

My childhood church (the only local church) was Methodist, but the first clear memory I have of it is hearing/reading some teaching and thinking "this doesn't make sense." I stopped attending sometime in high school, as soon as my parents let me make that decision. It was the center of social life in the village (along with the fire department), so there was no avoiding it completely.

My main feeling of connectedness with something larger came from being out in the woods, hills and valleys of our land; until I was over 30, the only organized religion I knew of that resonated with me was Shinto.

Then a friend introduced me to paganism, and my spiritual and social circles shifted dramatically. Not that I believed in any gods/goddesses in any case, but the idea of an accessible tradition that celebrated facts like the wheel of the year and gave personifications with which to discuss the land and nature appealed to me.

I have learned how blessed I was with the land I grew up on; for the past 18 years, it has been the gathering place for our community 5 of the 8 sabbats in the year, with 50-150 people enjoying it for each rit and considering it the community's sacred land.

So I don't really have beliefs so much as feelings and acts...

Ladyshade's picture

Excerpt:

"IT has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it, could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the work.
The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.

As several of my colleagues and others of my fellow-citizens of France have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?

Soon after I had published the pamphlet Common Sense, in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous connection of church and state, wherever it had taken place, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, had so effectually prohibited by pains and penalties, every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be done, a revolution in the system of religion would follow. Human inventions and priestcraft would be detected; and man would return to the pure, unmixed and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more.

Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet, as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some other observations on the word revelation. Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication — after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hands of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so. The commandments carry no internal evidence of divinity with them; they contain some good moral precepts, such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver, or a legislator, could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention."

~Thomas Paine in his work Age of Reason

Funny this conversation came up. I was just reading this last night and it struck a cord with me. There are aspects of Paine's writting that speak for me better than I tend to do on my own!

I consider myself many things, lol, but others would call me atheist. Of course, if there were some proof of a directing, dictating deity I would have no problem believing that proof. Shrug I have no reason to behave otherwise.

While I am not compelled by the irrational premise that a being so vast and powerfull as to Create All, would spend any time expecting Creation to grovel through life in its honor, I am intrigued by the concept of what may come After this experience.

In my opinion, history teaches us that we understand the working of the universe as we come into the ability to understand it. Can't run before you've learned to walk,.etc,. So it makes sense to me that just because we're not in a position to see something after the death we can expect in this life, doesn't mean there is not some other form that Life continues in after it.

Experiences like the personal one Meilin describes, provide compelling...reason..if not outright sort of Proof that a scientist might want to make a definitive declaration, to pursue the open question. It certainly makes sense to me that we would return to something we came from. Even basic principles of matter seem to follow that line of thinking. Nothing is really destroyed, just changes form,.etc,.

I have no emotion attachment to the outcome of pursing that question either way. In any event we have a limited amount of time, to experience and impact the world, ourselves and other people in it, and that should be treated with reverence.

RandomScientist's picture

Petitioner

I just wanted to say, very sincerely, thank you for sharing this exerpt. I enjoyed reading it, and I agree that it does a nice job of articulating certain ideas in a non-threatening and thoughtful way.

Qendrix's picture

I once read an interesting story that fits how I tend to look at religion in the world. It was about six blind men and an elephant. None of them knew what an elephant was so they all reached out to touch it. Afterwards, they all discussed their experiences but couldn't agree about what they felt. The first had touched the elephant's side and said "An elephant is like a wall", the second had touched the trunk and said "no, an elephant is like a snake", the third had touched the elephant's tusk and said "no, an elephant is like a spear", the fourth touched the elephant's leg and said "no, an elephant is like a tree", the fifth touched the elephant's ear and said"no, an elephant is like a fan", the sixth man had touched the elephant's tail and said "no, an elephant is like a rope". All of them were correct, yet each one had experienced different parts, and none had experienced the entirety of the elephant. It's the same way with god or the forces of the universe. I believe that all religions have a modicum of truth to the person experiencing them. Even though we have different experiences we should all respect that we see things differently (even those that don't believe there is an elephant because they didn't feel anything) and realize that there are still plenty of pieces to the puzzle we haven't and never will fully comprehend due to the limits of our being human.

Saramander's picture

Petitioner

Yes! That is a very apt analogy Smile

Laureril's picture

Supplicant

I'm inclined to agree to a large extent, mostly through wondering "What about the people who lived far away and never heard of Jesus after he died?" as a young kid. How were say, the Japanese who lived before the Edo period, supposed to get into heaven if they had never known about God or Jesus? It wouldn't be fair to leave them out, because surely God thought about that, and wouldn't want to exclude people. It'd be mean, like not inviting someone to your birthday party.
And so my four year old brain concluded that "Well, I guess God just knows if they lived a good life, maybe (s)he asks them once they get to heaven if they believe in Him/Her."
My more updated belief is that anyone who believes in a Divine and has never had the opportunity to accept or reject Christianity is going to heaven. On the other hand, I believe that Christianity is The Way and that the Bible is true.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not an aggressive bible-thumper. I was raised in a fairly liberal Baptist church (Yes, I know, Oxymoron of the year.) My mother has been a strong influence in my spiritual life, and has always fought to keep us questioning rather than being spoon-fed religion. I've wrestled with other spiritualities and tried to inform myself about them as much as possible, but I keep coming back to Christianity.

I do believe that Christians can learn from other religions to supplement teachings from the Bible. Peace and meditation are exemplified by the Zen Buddhists, and discipline in prayer and fasting by the Muslims. There is the deep understanding of the "many-in-one" in Hinduism and the respect for the world surrounding us practiced by Pagans and Wiccans. Even an Atheist's skepticism. With all that and more to learn, I find myself firmly grounded in Christianity with an open mind to learn from others.

Your analogy reminds me of my mom's explanation of how science and religion can play nicely. Imagine a big mural completely covered up in paper. A scientist comes along, pokes a small hole in the paper, peeks through and surmises something about the mural. He may correctly believe that what he sees is blue and white and therefore a bit of sky - a perfectly reasonable explaination. What he may really be seeing is only a tiny speck of a wave. As other scientists come along and add their observations and guesses, the picture becomes clearer, but the mural is so vast that it will take generations upon generations to finally remove the last clinging bits.

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

"Righteous pagans," like Virgil, who never had an opportunity to hear about Christ, went to Limbo--basically the nicest part of hell. Unbaptized babies went there too.

Laureril's picture

Supplicant

I'm aware of what Dante had to say on the matter, since I wrote a 3800 word final paper on the evolution of Hell in Classical and Medieval Literature (IB Extended Essay anyone?). I just don't happen to agree with him. I also don't agree with the idea of Limbo - just one of the reasons I changed my mind about being confirmed as a Catholic during my religious wanderings. I guess I'm technically still a catechumen... huh.

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