Adjusting How I Talk About Faith

When grace was heard with piercing power,

Enough to break my soul that hour

What could be done, but lift my eyes

To see the One who heard my cries

The wood, the nails! The blood and wails!

What love unveiled from such travails?

Can any person, place, or thing

Divide this hope that I now sing?

I have this last thing yet to say,

No harm could cast me from His way

My friends, this is a free and voluntary glimpse into how I once spoke about faith in Jesus. This was a poem of worship. A poem of my deepest thanks and gratitude relating to my previous testimony. I really really believed that Christ was real and that He was my all. I don’t seek to ignore this about myself. I don’t seek to bury my past. So, how is it that a belief in God that was this deeply rooted within my life ultimately led me to doubt?

It came out of what I can best describe as the struggle for assurance. If faith was to remain real in my own life, it meant that what ultimately makes faith meaningful and reliable is a sense of assurance. A need for clear evidence. As I fought, labored, and prayed for ten years straight, I called out to the vast unknown, and the reality of what I do not know ultimately became more prominent within my thinking than an ability to maintain the faith.

This was also accompanied very much by personal trials. Personal trials that challenged me to think profoundly differently over a  period of time about what I was doing with my life. In my view, trials do in fact test faith. They call upon us to evaluate our personal sense of certainty and knowledge. A very justified and legitimate thing to do I might add.

Belief in God, as I have learned, is very much a state of mind. It would be wrong to not compare it to other states of mind that we can experience in life. When we were young we had the disposition to believe and accept all kinds of ideas. Think about ghost stories, the monster under the bed, or aliens from other planets? These kinds of ideas tap into something. They tap into something within our cognitive make-up. We either have a disposition to believe in supernatural and/or paranormal ideas, or it is possible to either later modify them, or even discard them altogether.

It’s a delicate process and I am not convinced that a deep understanding of how we know what we know plays a large role in this. When we ask ourselves how we know what we think we know, it is a challenge, rather, an attempt to pinpoint what exactly tips us to either believe or doubt in the existence of God. I can pinpoint and tell my audience exactly what gave me a sense of assurance before I lost it. What made me assured of my faith was a profound sense of emotional comfort, and I would even add, emotional experiences that derived from heartfelt worship and a sense of daily surrender.

You wanna talk about a guy that was brought to tears and felt the goosebumps? This was part of a feedback loop that largely contributed to my sense of certainty until I realized it and discerned it exactly for what it was. This sense of transcendence is not unique to the Christian faith. It is actually quite universal across the board. Yes, I, as an Atheist, still feel that way when I consider the majesty and vastness of this universe.

I try to talk about it with regard to what I can pinpoint for sure. What Science teaches me is that there is not an atom in my body that didn’t once come from previously existing stars. What I can appreciate for sure is that somehow, life comes from non-life. Not only does life come from non-life but it eventually returns to that state. I can’t presume to know any more than that, but I know that this is precisely where our human sense of intuition diverges sharply.

This sense of intuition goes on to be largely shaped by our varying cultures in which many different religions are born. A person of faith needs to grasp this. There is an undeniable link here. This sense of guidance and greater wisdom from a transcendent being (or beings), when we narrow it down, is largely linked by what our families, communities, and larger cultures come to accept as normative. Christianity is a most unnatural and non-normative set of beliefs when presented to Muslims, Orthodox Jews, or even Hindus.

I find it very interesting just how polytheistic religions have been for centuries. In fact, there is much Archaeological evidence that suggests that the predominant view of most ancients Jews, within the time that the Bible was written, was polytheistic. Jewish culture, as in, the Jewish mindset pertaining to how to think about religion was polytheistic. Think about it, what this means is that there are competing human beings, both past and present, that intuit more than just one God. It may seem normative to boil God beliefs into one Monotheistic God, but for billions of other people in this same world, it is not natural to think that way.

Believers in one God, many gods, or no gods need to decide how to best explain this phenomenon. How wise it is to hold onto revelation when there are a myriad of insights that we can gain historically and psychologically about these matters? My overall point is that conforming to doctrine isn’t necessarily best squared with the facts. The facts may contradict doctrine. Are we prepared to approach these questions with an open mind?

If there is anything I can encourage, I would at least like to encourage a greater willingness to approach these questions with an open mind. My audience doesn’t have to agree with me. I’m just one guy who’s been thinking about these things. I’ll leave my readers with one last question, can you identify what shapes your own state of mind? What contributes most to your sense of why God seems real to you? Why do you personally believe in one or more gods?

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Do You Know God?

 

These are probing questions for people of faith to ask themselves. Also, I just want to be clear here that this line of questioning and probing is not harmful. It is serious. It is inquisitive, and it is with the interest of helping others to apply thoughtful and critical analysis to the things they believe.

I’ll quote Aristotle again, there’s a quote from him that says, “ all men by nature desire to know.” So, the intention of these questions is to dig down deeply for knowledge. My friends, if given the choice to believe in things without knowledge and evidence, or to believe in things with knowledge and evidence, what would you choose? Which is more desireable?

David Hume said it like this, “a wise man therefore proportions his belief to the evidence.” Keeping that principle in mind, I offer this line of Socratic questioning.

Do you know God? If this God is unseen how certain can you be that he is there? Do you feel God? What exactly brings you to believe that you are feeling God? How can you know that God is present with you?

Is God a still small voice? If so, how are you able to distinguish this subtle voice of God from your own thoughts? Is it possible that you think you are hearing from a God because you can imagine what he or she would say? Do you imagine what God is saying to you? If so, what does this imagined voice sound like? Does it speak gently and softly with a sense of depth and great wisdom?

Does this imagined voice say things like, “my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, and my ways are higher than your ways.” Does this imagined voice say things like, “trust me, I’m here with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Does it remind you in your toughest moments with phrases like, “don’t give up, be strong, I’m always here.”

My friend, how certain are you that you know the voice of God? That you know the actual source of your own sense of divinity? How deep are you willing to go to find out what is true? Is it valid to question this for your own self? For your own sake? How can you know what is true?

 

Is Faith Synonymous With Truth?

 

As a brief disclaimer, I am defining faith much like I did in my previous post. It is getting nuanced just a little more by focusing on the sense of conviction or confidence that faith is often associated with. Faith is thereby being defined here as: A firm belief, conviction, or sense of assurance in something for which there is no proof. A few synonymous terms used here are faith as a sense of certainty, confidence, trust, or even as a feeling. A helpful definition for truth would be: anything which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.

On a scale of one to ten, one being least certain and ten being most certain, how certain are you that faith is in accordance with fact or reality? Faith is often described as a deep sense of assurance or conviction. In the Bible it is described as, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

My friends, if you can neither see or detect who or what you are placing your trust in, how certain can you be of that belief? Consider Romans 10:17 in the Bible where it says:

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Can you recall the first time that faith arose within you toward Christianity or whatever religion you subscribe to? What was that like for you? When I was at one time a believing Christian, I can tell you that I felt flooded with gratitude, joy, and even excitement. It was a very emotional experience to commit my life to Jesus.

Have you ever pondered the varying pieces of the puzzle that can surround and often even influence these deep faith experiences? More so when we are focusing on the confidence aspect of what faith is and how it grows and takes shape in one’s life? For instance, think about the social and emotional impact of a community that surrounds itself around the same type of cause or goal? It could be something akin to the Civil Rights movement and the fight for equal rights for all people regardless of skin color. Can you imagine yourself initially being on the fence about that during the 1960’s? Much like one may be on the fence about religion?

Then, as you interact with that community, learn about its core values and mission, and make many friends who live out these ideas with passion, you may eventually feel compelled to join in, right? It may be a moment of moving into a surging sense of confidence or conviction that this is the right set of ideas to fight for, the right movement to be a part of. Could you see yourself right there on the front lines holding protests, interacting with the people and standing up for what is right?

Imagine the sense of brotherhood and the energy that can arise from being on the right side of history? From surrounding yourself with passionate people who are fighting for the same ideals. Imagine the idea that you are changing and impacting millions of lives for the better? I’m not going to pretend that coming to a belief in Jesus as one’s Savior doesn’t feel a lot like that in many cases. Not all cases, illustrations like this do break down, but definitely in many cases. In fact, many folks would argue that faith in Jesus is a huge level up from this because this is a movement to redeem and save all of humanity.

How can we go wrong when it feels so right? I hope that didn’t hit a nerve, but think about faith for a moment, really think about it? If faith is the substance of things hoped for and if it is a conviction that arises in direct response to the Christian message, would it not be accurate to call it a feeling? Is faith not a powerful and deep sense of conviction that arises in people’s lives? To be fair I know this is one main way to describe it, but there are separate definitions that believers provide as well, which I can examine in future posts.

I have some more probing questions to ask. Is this faith conviction a good measuring stick that is able to show us that we believe in true things? Is truth always related to a sense of powerful conviction that arises from a set of beliefs? My friend, what then is the difference between a deep seated certainty that arises through following Islam and a sense of assurance that arises from embracing Jesus? How can we tell the difference? Can both of these people of faith be right?

If our Muslim friends and Hindu friends are able to acquire the same kind of deep seated certainty about their faith-based beliefs, what does this tell us about using faith as a guide for believing and embracing true things? Is truth more than a feeling? What does truth look like? Is it more probable that truth can be better identified through feelings or through reason and evidence?

Where should the weight fall when we are attempting to get at what is true? What is more reliable? Is there anything that you believed in growing up that you were once totally confident about but then discovered you were wrong? Is this more prone to happen with totally faith-based beliefs over, say, beliefs that arise from knowledge and evidence?

Where should our sense of confidence or certainty stem from? Thank you for asking these difficult questions with me and if you are a person of faith, please share with me your thoughts? These are rather challenging and brutally honest questions, right?

What gives you guys a sense of assurance that what you think and believe directly corresponds to what is true? Thanks!

 

 

What is your faithGnosis?

Alright, I confess, faithGnosis is a term that I have coined about the relationship between faith and knowledge. It’s a way of diagnosing or identifying what that is. What is the relationship between faith in God or supernatural concepts and ideas, and what we can know in life? Are faith and knowledge synonymous? As I’ve surveyed many people who believe in God and supernatural things, I have the impression that many folks do in fact closely link the idea of personal faith with their knowledge about what is thought to be beyond the natural world.

We have that ever so famous quote from the Bible, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, many folks, and I was once able to include myself in this group, believe that faith or the act of trusting or believing in God is itself an evidence of what is not seen. Faith in and of itself is considered a guarantee or assurance of what many folks are hoping for without evidence.

After years of personally believing that faith was synonymous with my knowledge of the unseen, I eventually came to deeply question whether that was actually true? A couple of years ago I came to a rather difficult and undesired conclusion, I came to the realization that I was not able to honestly say that the faith that I had in a God was connected to what I knew about that question. My thought out answer was that as far as I could discern within my life, I did not possess any good evidence or knowledge that a God does in fact exist. My certainty was tied up within my faith, rather than in what I knew about this very important question.

As this occurred within my thinking, it gradually brought me to reformulate how I acknowledge both what I know and what I do not know in life. I adopted a new methodology. The Philosopher, David Hume, once put it so very well when he said, “In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.

I came to adopt this line of thinking before I became more well rounded with what people like David Hume had to say about it. So it is, that at least in my case, and those who think like me, the only way that I can be certain about beliefs that are supernatural is to have some semblance of knowledge about it. I would need to experience supernatural things or find some kind of measuring stick that can validate supernatural claims. Otherwise, I find myself in the dark.

I haven’t found any reliable tool that can point to Christianity being any more true or valid than any other religion that purports supernatural claims and requires faith or trust alone as a foundation. My quest now is to put these honest questions and concerns out there for others to both ponder and consider for themselves. Should faith really play as big of a role as it does in feeding one’s sense of certainty about what is true? If given the choice, wouldn’t we want that faith to be more in line with solid evidence that we can cite in the here in now?

Is the act of believing (having faith) or trusting in what is not seen a reliable way to get at the truth? This doesn’t apply just to religion. This applies to any belief that is held without evidence. As a quick example, belief in Karma. Is faith a good way to navigate ourselves toward true and accurate beliefs? If so, how can we know this for ourselves? How can we know we aren’t honestly fooling ourselves? I admit that these are hard and challenging questions. My questions are going to challenge your own sense of certainty, as they did mine.

Here’s what cannot be said about this process of getting at what is true. This cannot be thought of as a dishonest experiment. It really isn’t. You’ve just read my honest take on how I came to critically examine and diagnose where I went astray in my previous logic. This isn’t an attempt to unjustly steer other people away from the truth, rather, this is an invitation for others to ask themselves the same questions, come to a conclusion, and see if what we conclude is in line with what we know?

If it isn’t, then we all must make a decision about something. We must decide whether it is important to have evidence and knowledge at the foundation of our belief systems, or whether it just doesn’t appear all that important? This is something I’ll leave up to my audience. I wish everyone the very best as they strive to critically evaluate what faith is, what knowledge is, and how to best navigate our process of identifying what is true from there.

This is a place where people make their own decisions. I’m not here to tell you what to think in the end, you are free to disagree with my stated conclusion, perhaps faith is a form of knowledge? If so, how can we make this knowledge easily identifiable for outsiders like me to acknowledge?

The whole purpose of this new blog is to create a refreshing, challenging, and brutally honest dialogue between those who hold to faith as a foundation for their beliefs and those like myself who see a need for evidence to dictate what we think. What is the best way to navigate toward and rest upon what is true?

Aristotle said it best when he said, “All men by nature desire to know.” If this is true, how much more should that relate to what we believe and trust within this life? Thanks guys, I’m excited to get your feedback and responses about these questions!

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