Having faith in the modern era

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mccardey

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Don't know about divinely inspired, but that William Tyndale had a lovely way with words...
 

Chris P

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I'll start this by stating that I am an atheist. I am on the autistic spectrum, and autists are generally atheistic, due to a rigidly logic-based mindset. I can't find it in myself to believe in something based on zero evidence. This is not a criticism, this is just how my mind is structured. I sure would LIKE to believe I have a soul... I just can't.

But I also can't write solely about characters that share my viewpoints, and that leads me to my question: How do people maintain a spiritual view of the world in this modern age of scientific understanding? I am genuinely curious about this aspect of the human experience.

Actually, I'm a little confused by your question. Are you asking how to write characters who have spiritual or religious beliefs you don't hold? The same way you would write about any character who has experienced anything you haven't: through empathy, asking questions, research, whatever.

If you're asking how I personally hold spiritual beliefs in a rational world, especially as a trained scientist, all I can do is share my experiences and what they mean to me. I offer that as "evidence" for its existence, whatever "it" might turn out to be. My "belief" in a spirit world of some sort is as natural to me as your "unbelief" is natural to you. Your unbelief is offered as evidence to me, and I don't discount it because so many people experience it that way I have to admit there's something to it. I have no interest in changing anyone's mind. I'm open to other reasons behind the experiences. That's how I learn and, ironically, end up deepening my faith by seeing where atheists are right rather than wrong. That sounds like nonsense, but that's the only way I can find to describe it. Were we to sit down over coffee and discuss this, my side would be a long list of stories that don't add up to a grand theory explaining everything, nor do I expect it to. That doesn't make the experience of faith any less real to me, though it does for some.
 
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pschmehl

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I just stumbled on this thread. When I read this, "I am on the autistic spectrum, and autists are generally atheistic, due to a rigidly logic-based mindset", I had to chuckle. It's precisely because of my rigidly logic-based mindset that I believe in God.

Just goes to show you. Two people can take identical evidence, grant it entirely different weights, and accept or discount something based on "logic".

For the record, I'm not interested in trying to change anyone's mind about whether or not there is a God. It's far too soul-sucking. If you're curious, I'll answer questions, but I will not engage in arguments.
 

RichardGarfinkle

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I agree that the mindsets and mentalities are different because, again, other factors play a large part in the formulation of those mentalities and mindsets. So yes, the mental practice is different because of the weight we assign factors and evidence.

I am an atheist, and the only person in my family who is, but I was brought up in a deeply religious environment . . . and was myself deeply religious for most of my life—until I began to question and reassign the weighting I gave to each of the factors as well as to the data points.



That may be. I don't know because I tend to accept Merriam-Webster's definition of belief:


I still think, though, that those who care to explore "why religion" should investigate the work of cognitive scientists on the subject of religious belief. I recommended two, but there are many others both religious and non-religious.

I, too, am unconvinced that religion and science are necessarily incompatible.

The dictionary definition actively generates the mushiness I'm talking about.

: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing - her belief in God - a belief in democracy - I bought the table in the belief that it was an antique - contrary to popular belief

2: something that is accepted, considered to be true, or held as an opinion : something believed - an individual's religious or political beliefs; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group the beliefs of the Catholic Church

3: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence - belief in the validity of scientific statements

Definitions 1 and 3 do not arise from the same mental processes. Habit and examination of evidence are essentially opposed mental processes. Habit is what we think when we're not examining. In effect, the word belief encompasses two antonyms.

Definition 2 is in many respects even worse because it gives no sense of the arising of belief or under what circumstances it would pass away. A person who accepts something for the moment but will change it in a heartbeat, or will change it when presented with any evidence, or would only change it on the testimony of a particular person, or would never change it, cannot really be said to be performing the same mental action.

I'm not trying to sound pedantic. As I've said, the mushiness of the term causes conflict, and the dictionary definition worsens the situation. A person pulling out the dictionary could say,"aha, you do believe in evolution because of definition 3, but I'm going to carry on the argument as if you meant definition 1."

The dictionary provides an opportunity for bait and switch on the idea of belief.

Words don't exist in isolation. They are associated with other words and ideas. Belief belongs to the universe of discourse of a particular branch of theology. It does not belong to the universe of discourse of science and evidentiary thinking. Belief is cast in contrast to doubt, but scientific examination embraces doubt as a precursor to the tentative acceptance of something. The mindset that accepts out of habit, and the mindset that mistrusts what it accepts are contrary ways of thinking. It makes no sense to use one word to cover both.

Furthermore, because the word belongs to one universe of discourse, it conjures up that universe whenever it is used. Belief as a central concept drags up a framework in which a mind must adhere to a belief system (which is a largely static structure), instead of a dynamic framework in which a mind learns, practices, and is aware that what it knows tomorrow may well contradict what it knows today.
 

kuwisdelu

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I'm religious but I don't "have faith". Many religions are not based in faith.

Also, I'm autistic. Also, I don't have a "rigidly logic-based mindset". Many of us on the spectrum would not describe ourselves that way.
 

Cindyt

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I'm a born-again evangelical Christian, with an open mind. I understand why some people don't believe in things unseen. It's hard to grasp something you've never come in contact with. It's like belief in ghosts, really. Some people do not believe because they have never seen or heard one, while others believe because they have. That doesn't make ghosts or God any less real. That's just my opinion. Remember Abigail Freemantle in The Stand?

One of the MCs: I don't believe in God.
AF: That's all right. He believes in you. (paraphrased)

My belief is based on hope and faith that God exists.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
 

RichardGarfinkle

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I'm a born-again evangelical Christian, with an open mind. I understand why some people don't believe in things unseen. It's hard to grasp something you've never come in contact with. It's like belief in ghosts, really. Some people do not believe because they have never seen or heard one, while others believe because they have. That doesn't make ghosts or God any less real. That's just my opinion. Remember Abigail Freemantle in The Stand?

One of the MCs: I don't believe in God.
AF: That's all right. He believes in you. (paraphrased)

My belief is based on hope and faith that God exists.

This is the kind of clever response that seems to work for people who already share a certain view, but is irritating to those who don't.

This is symptomatic of a problem with insular groups.

By way of example, yesterday around lunchtime a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses came by. They followed their standard pattern of starting with some general topic (in this case death) and proceeded to try to do their classic argument method:

Step 1: Are you concerned about general topic X?

They presume that they will get the answer Yes.

Step 2: Dump a vast number of answers very specific to their views as if the highly general question led directly to the narrow views of their particular orthodoxy.

I intercepted the process with a warning: "I don't think you want to have this discussion with an atheist."

The speaker went on, clearly following what he had been taught about atheists, asking when I had become an atheist.

I explained to him that while some atheists began as theists who were disillusioned, not all of us are.

He tried to go on with the idea that the divine is visible in nature.

I pointed out that most of human awareness is full of error, that we don't understand what we are seeing by just seeing it, and therefore conclusions drawn from such observations are likely to be naive and erroneous.

I also pointed out that different people benefit from different spiritual and philosophical practices, so it seems absurd to me that a god who created everyone would also create only a single path of help for those people.

He clearly didn't have a direction to go from there and thanked me for talking to them before leaving.

I very much doubt that there will be any error correction on their views of atheists or the quality of their arguments. They will simply keep trying the same thing and anyone it works on will be seen as a success while others will simply be written off.

The clever dismissiveness of the quote given above is also embodied in what is probably the worst parable in the entire Christian Bible: The parable of the sower.

Here's the NIV version (just because it came up first in the google search).

A farmer went out to sow his seed. [SUP]4 [/SUP]As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. [SUP]5 [/SUP]Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. [SUP]6 [/SUP]But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. [SUP]7 [/SUP]Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. [SUP]8 [/SUP]Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. [SUP]9 [/SUP]Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

This parable preaches bad teaching and justifies it with bad farming.

A good farmer won't just toss seeds indiscriminately without regard for what the land would grow or what a good use for the land is.

A good farmer won't try to grow a monocrop on the assumption that people only need one thing.

A good farmer wouldn't sneer at the land as being bad land because they can't grow that one particular crop on it.

Similarly, a bad teacher will argue (as one of my children's teachers did years ago) that their job is to teach the curriculum.

A good teacher teaches the students.

A bad teacher sneers at students who don't learn.

A good teacher tries to find a way to teach what the student needs to learn.
 

ColoradoGuy

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This is the kind of clever response that seems to work for people who already share a certain view, but is irritating to those who don't.

This is symptomatic of a problem with insular groups.

[snip]

I also pointed out that different people benefit from different spiritual and philosophical practices, so it seems absurd to me that a god who created everyone would also create only a single path of help for those people.

Interestingly, George Fox, founder of Quakerism, made a similar argument in the 17th century. He said a just God would never condemn those who never had the opportunity to learn about Jesus. He used the example of those in the East Indies of the time. Of course George would probably still be annoyed with you because you have had the opportunity in his eyes. But his viewpoint interests me. I think it was quite progressive for his era.
 

mccardey

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Interestingly, George Fox, founder of Quakerism, made a similar argument in the 17th century. He said a just God would never condemn those who never had the opportunity to learn about Jesus. He used the example of those in the East Indies of the time. Of course George would probably still be annoyed with you because you have had the opportunity in his eyes. But his viewpoint interests me. I think it was quite progressive for his era.
It's my understanding that Islam had the much same teaching a few hundred years earlier than that ;)
[FONT=q_serif]A person who has never heard of Islam or the Prophet SAWS (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and [/FONT]who has never heard the message in its correct and true form, will not be punished by Allaah if he dies in a state of kufr (disbelief).
 
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It's my understanding that Islam had the much same teaching a few hundred years earlier than that ;)

It's a familiar philosophy in Roman Catholic theology too; the "virtuous pagan," like the righteous gentile in Judaism and the hanifs in Isalm; those who are not condemned because they were born in the "wrong" place and time. Thomas Aquineas waxes eloquent about them. The virtuous pagan (Socrates is often the poster child) is one of the reasons for the concept of limbo as a way station for those who do not merit heaven but are too virtuous for purgatory or Hell.

In medieval literature and iconography, the harrowing of hell often shows Christ freeing the virtuous pagans from limbo to go straight to Heaven.
 

RichardGarfinkle

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Interestingly, George Fox, founder of Quakerism, made a similar argument in the 17th century. He said a just God would never condemn those who never had the opportunity to learn about Jesus. He used the example of those in the East Indies of the time. Of course George would probably still be annoyed with you because you have had the opportunity in his eyes. But his viewpoint interests me. I think it was quite progressive for his era.

I read George Fox's journal years ago. It was startling to see how different his approach was compared to modern Quakerism. His guerilla preaching and ambushing congregations after church was startling to read.

But he did suffer from the same One True Wayism, I was arguing against. The virtuous pagan idea
and its Islamic equivalent have the same difficulty. None of them acknowledge the possibility that different ways work for different people.

Again the religious and philosophical monoculturing is what I find troubling.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

From the moment of his enlightenment in 1496, Guru Nanak (the founder of Sikhism)promoted the idea that since everything comes from God, then that includes all religions. So the idea isn't exactly new.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

RichardGarfinkle

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

From the moment of his enlightenment in 1496, Guru Nanak (the founder of Sikhism)promoted the idea that since everything comes from God, then that includes all religions. So the idea isn't exactly new.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal


It's certainly not new, but it isn't prevalent. But what about those of us who do not follow religions. Does philosophy without religion also come from God?
 

pschmehl

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One of the problems with these types of discussions is confusion of terms. What does religion mean? Does it refer to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc? Or does it refer to the infinite number of denominational variations of those faiths? (Orthodox, Reformed, Modern, etc., Sunni, Shia, Sufi, etc. yadda yadda yadda.)

There is an argument to be made that the "pure" forms of the various faiths are not even represented today by the variations that many follow.

I, for example, call myself a Christian, but I do not follow any religion nor do I attend any church. As Thomas Jefferson argued, religions are man-made and corrupted by what he called "the priesthood" (or what we moderns might call the gatekeepers.)
 
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Siri Kirpal

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It's certainly not new, but it isn't prevalent. But what about those of us who do not follow religions. Does philosophy without religion also come from God?

Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Of course! Which is not so weird if you understand that for a Sikh we all exist inside God and God exists inside us.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Paul, I'd say they're all religions. I prefer the forms that help activate transcendence, but I know that not all do that.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

RichardGarfinkle

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Religion is a very blurry word. It suffers from intense localization. Most people identify it either with their own religion or the religion(s) they have been most exposed to. It's similar to words like nation, home, town, city, art, entertainment, beauty etc. People don't realize how many artifacts of their own experience they have stuck to the idea.

This is a consequence of the associative nature of human memory (all of our ideas have agglomerations of personal experience around them). This wouldn't be a problem if people understood this process. We live in a relativistic universe and we have relativistic knowledge and understanding. But somehow the idea of absolute meaning crept into our thinking so we treat our relativistic comprehension as if it were objective.

This problem shows up most vividly in extremely narrow and extremely broad concepts.

For an example of narrow, many people do not understand each other's personal tastes and think there must be something wrong with someone who does not share their liking/disliking for foods, books, movies, sports etc.

For an example of broad, we're talking about it.

The most annoying part of this delusion of absolutism in the face of relativism is that it forms an unnecessary obstacle to the sharing and expanding of human experience and understanding.

If we look at religion as a map rather than as a defined term, we can see the varieties of religion and examine them for commonalities.

The theologian Mercia Eliade made such a map in his History of Religious Ideas.

Eliade's student, Ioan Couliano expanded the concept and created a way to find commonalities between religions. He began to show how to do this in his (unfortunately out of print) book Tree of Gnosis.
 

RichardGarfinkle

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Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I've been saying this in this part of the forum for years. It's not (always) about belief; it's about experience.

Personally, I think atheists are spiritually colorblind. I'm not. I experience a vast flow of ecstasy and an ecstatic flow of vastness that has nothing to do with belief. I call that experiencing the presence of God. (That's the only place I can think of where belief comes in.) Your mileage may vary.

Then there's intuition. This has nothing to do with belief either. Except a sure sense of what to do and when to do it that proves much more life-enhancing that what my logic would have had me do.

And so, the proof of religion/spirituality is in the living of it. The real living of it, not the mouthing of us/them idiocy.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Of course! Which is not so weird if you understand that for a Sikh we all exist inside God and God exists inside us.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Siri. I think these posts are mutually contradictory. The first implies that atheism is an act of misperception, the second implies that it isn't.

The term spiritually color-blind is troubling within this context. Color-blindness is an inborn characteristic. Spiritual color-blindness would be a similar inherent inability to perceive something. If, again, one has a concept of humans as the creation of a divine being / beings/ process, then that implies either that an error was made by that divine being or process or that some humans were deliberately made incapable of spiritual perception.

But there is another possibility to consider, that some people are seeing different colors than you do.

Digression: I have a friend who has a bit of an odd mutation in his eyes. Dark red looks black to him, but he can see a little of the low ultraviolet. To most people he appears to have a problem and only a problem: he can't see red against black or black against red. Because there are many uses of that color scheme, most people would regard him as lacking a useful component of life. But he can see and appreciate colors none of the rest of us can. He has less experience in common with many other people, but he isn't limited because of it.

For a more on point digression, my daughter is asexual (she's talked about it in QUILTBAG). To her, most of human society is really weirdly obsessed with stuff that means nothing to her. She isn't limited, lacking, or blind in any way. She sees and interacts with humans, and she appreciates human beauty (in fact, she's a very good artist).

There isn't anything wrong with her, just because she isn't pulled and pushed by an impulse that most of humanity has to deal with.

Many atheists are like that. We don't have the religious impulse. That doesn't make us incapable of comprehending it or appreciating the works and practices that come from it.

It doesn't make us inhuman, alien, or wrong. It makes us another part of humanity.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I don't see them as contradictory at all.

If all things come from God, including atheism, then it stands to reason that the ability to distinguish the presence of the Divine or not would be inherent (AKA genetic, AKA put there by God).

But if you want to see those things as contradictory, that's fine with me.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

kuwisdelu

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I don't think it's impossible for multiple seemingly-contradictory things to be simultaneously true. Rather, I kind of like the idea.
 

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I don't see them as contradictory at all.

If all things come from God, including atheism, then it stands to reason that the ability to distinguish the presence of the Divine or not would be inherent (AKA genetic, AKA put there by God).

But if you want to see those things as contradictory, that's fine with me.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

The contradiction lies in the assumption that being able to distinguish the Divine is necessary for human spiritual good. If it is then atheists would be deliberately created incapable of receiving and/or employing such spiritual good.

If the ability isn't necessary than religion is simply one way in which humans achieve spiritual good and therefore confers no spiritual superiority to those who seek religious life over those who do not.

That's fine by me, but that's a view rarely espoused by those who adhere to religions who most commonly assert such a superiority.
 
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