Faith, delusion, extremism, etc. (I think i should end all of my blog titles with “etc.”)

First of all, what happened? 18 comments on the previous post? Wow. Thanks for the good discussion – obviously it had nothing to do with me. I have been so busy with things (translation: why won’t Ivy eat?!) that I didn’t even get to join in. I hope to post a follow-up in the next week or so with some of my own thoughts (not that you need to hear my thoughts. Your thoughts were all perfectly great. But anyways, since it is my blog and all…I’ll probably post my thoughts).

Ok, so do you remember the “Responding to Buechner” post? Well, it kind of died off and I posted about something else and it seemed like that discussion was over. But I think the discussion just started – thanks to Angela (and I think it actually relates to the “Circumcision” post as well). If you haven’t read the post, go read it real quick and make sure to read the comments. Here is Angela’s comment (posted with permission):

“I wasn’t going to respond to this, because I was afraid of the reaction I would get. But I’ve changed my mind. Bare in mind, I’m asking questions more than answering them. As you know by now, I’m agnostic, so my views on faith are very… skeptical… for lack of a better word.

“If I am to believe that faith is nothing more than a “real” dream, what separates reality from fiction. It seems to me that the only separation (in Buechner’s quote) is what I want that separation to be. If I want my faith to be a reality and not just a dream, then I only need to believe it, and it is so? I don’t buy it. Sorry. If one has doubts, and the doubt unsettles you so, then retreating back into the dream to avoid these doubts solves nothing in the end.

“It’s a beautiful idea when applied in a loving manner, but it becomes a dangerous idea when in the hands of extremists. Their faith is so strong and so “real” to them, as well.”

This is such an insightful comment – I hope it leads to some good discussion. I think Angela’s response is very fair. I know some Christians would attempt to quickly refute it and “prove” that faith is completely reasonable – I think that is just plain arrogant.

Any thoughts on this? What do you think? I think Angela brings up some great points.

By the way, I’m not interested in a debate or an argument. I want to look and see the value in what Angela is saying – because I think there is a lot to be gained from it.

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10 Responses

  1. I think Angela’s thoughts are right on target. I know I’ve had my own wonderings of the “reality” of faith. For me it is a daily journey and there are times it feels that I am so focused on the footpath that I cannot see the picture of the map. And there are times I’ve wondered if it is just me alone in the big world or if maybe not.

  2. I have a comment that needs refining (or at least, reviewing) that I wrote before this post was posted. Can’t post it now, must sleep, but won’t you all be waiting to see what I say? ;)

  3. “If one has doubts, and the doubt unsettles you so, then retreating back into the dream to avoid these doubts solves nothing in the end.”

    This is EXACTLY how I would describe a huge part of my “faith journey” (sorry; can’t think of a better phrase) for the last 4 years. Having really deep, dark doubts begin to surface, pushing them down, diving deeper into the spiritual disciplines/lifestyle I was in, and ultimately realizing (with help–including help from a few of you guys) that those things weren’t helping me this time. Not with these doubts. Eventually, I took the supremely scary step of not only admitting I had doubts, but of going into them, pursuing them and letting them be what they were: the biggest element of my faith at the time.

    In a lot of ways, they still are. That is, doubt still comprises a large bit of my faith (word choice? this thread seems to be making wording particularly difficult for me), but it is not the only thing there anymore. Things got a lot darker when I admitted my doubts, but like with most difficult experiences, I’ve also learned some things that I consider valuable. Foremost among those is that I know that I absolutely want what is REAL, not merely what I or someone else dreams up and thinks is nice. So now I’ve got a lot of doubts (that aren’t quite as dark as they were) alongside a bone-deep longing for Truth, and the belief (ugh…words again) that such a thing exists. Now I just have to find it, over and over again in every aspect of what I thought I knew to be true, the things that I desperately WANT to believe and even in all the things that I desperately DON’T want to believe. I feel that I need to test/examine everything, do the best I can to seek the truth in all things.

    “It seems to me that the only separation (in Buechner’s quote) is what I want that separation to be. If I want my faith to be a reality and not just a dream, then I only need to believe it, and it is so? I don’t buy it. Sorry.”

    I think what I love most about Angela’s comment here (aside from the fact that I agree with her thinking, on the topic even if I’m not sure that’s what Buechner meant his words to say) is that it highlights a very real danger for us as humans: the danger of subscribing to a faith of our choosing, rather than one of our truest conviction. That kind of faith does seem like a dream to me, and an incredibly narcissistic, hollow dream at that. Anyone who claims that this is rational is, I think, as arrogant as Adam suggests–even if the arrogance is unwitting.

    However, as far as we can tell, we humans don’t have all the answers, nor do we seem to be able to find them out. At least not fully, and we haven’t managed to resurrect (geez…word choice again) anyone and interrogate her about how much we find out after death. So…faith does become important. We do the best we can to seek the truth–and do it consistently, and humbly–and hope that we have some measure of success. I don’t think that living in TOTAL doubt ALL the time is healthy–probably not even possible. My roommate likes to quote one of her philosophy profs at this point, the one who liked to remind the class that we all take gravity for granted yet it’s a theory that has been mathematically disproven…some things just aren’t totally rational according to the understanding we’ve managed to scrape together over the years, but maybe they’re still real. There is such a thing as overkill, and now fanatical doubt scares me the same way fanatical belief does.

    I’m really sorry–I didn’t mean to start delivering a sermon but that’s what I feel like I’m doing. Unintentional! I guess this is something that’s so near to my heart–geez, it’s at the very core of me, who am I kidding?–that it’s hard not to get on a soapbox and share things I consider to be hard-won bits of knowledge. I’d edit–and probably turn the whole thing into a post on my own blog, as it’s gotten so long–but I’m using a friend’s computer and don’t feel like going through the trouble of saving, emailing it to myself, and working on it later. So it will stand, with one last summary of what I really wanted to say:

    PURSUE TRUTH. I’M PRETTY SURE IT’S GOOD TO WANT TRUTH, AND IF GOD IS REAL AND GOD IS GOOD, THEN GOD WANTS US TO WANT TRUTH, AND TO TRY TO FIND IT THE BEST WE CAN.

  4. This is not so much meant to argue anything that’s been said as to express my own experiences with this topic. So here’s my recent experience with the “dream” of the world I find myself in and the “reality” of the hope of a better world, one ultimately found in Jesus, and also found here and now, not in the nebulous concept of a future Heaven. Also, when I speak of faith, I mean specifically faith in Jesus. (See also my comments on the circumcision post regarding faith in Jesus.)

    Lately I have been in a real funk. It’s a funk that has been waxing and waning all summer, one that I’m still struggling with. It’s a completely unexplainable funk that has bordered on depression. I have found myself sitting doing nothing for hours on end, and some days it has been enjoyable–a nice summer vacation–but more often it has been a fitful restlessness, a dissatisfaction, an aimlessness. Even in the midst of activity I’ve experienced this…filminess of the soul. A clinging smog. I’ve also been dealing with some heartbreakingly frustrating days with my eldest and have been discouraged beyond any normal discouragement. I was aware of how funky this funk was a couple weeks ago when I was driving around listening to songs that I love—songs that normally “speak” to me, for lack of a better word (I’m feeling you, Mary!)—looking for a bit of respite, and I didn’t believe a damn word of the songs–any of them. It was just not true. They talked about how God cared, and said “my heart yearns for you” and I just wanted to throw up. I was mad, I was hurting, and there was nothing for me to hold to. God was not real to me–the reality I was living in was screaming of the absurdity of my faith. And, honestly, it broke my heart. That hurt as much as any of the funkiness.

    And then, through some encounters with people who love me (and love Jesus), something happened. I woke up for a bit from the “reality” of the funkiness, etc. to the “dream” of faith. It wasn’t a magical enlightenment, or a dramatic revelation. It was really like waking up from a nightmare and realizing–oh! THAT was a dream! (This dream/reality terminology is getting confusing.) Through love (love in people I know, specifically), and through some very simple, almost silly, answers to prayer, I was reminded that the “dream” of my faith in this God, this Jesus, was the reality, and the “reality” that had been my doubt and disgust was the dream. (I will also say again that I do not see faith in general as the reality, or even my personal faith as the reality. Rather, I believe that faith in Jesus–the active faithing in and on him–is the reality. He is the reality. I also do not believe that doubt is inherently a bad thing.)

    This sounds absurd, I know. It sounds wishful and completely illogical, almost childish. I could talk about the wisdom of the world being foolishness, and the foolishness of God being wisdom, and I could talk about how it is now that we see but a poor reflection, but I don’t think that’s going to mean anything. It doesn’t particularly mean much to me right now. So, here’s the best way I can explain or defend my absurd faith in this “dream”, how I can have the audacity to call it reality.

    Several things that people have said about this post come to mind. Mark’s “…for those of us that believe in Jesus, the story of who he is, how he died, how he rose again, ‘makes sense’. Not in the strictly objective and verifiable scientific way that the modern mind insists upon, but on a deeper level, inside, the truth of Jesus’ story resonates, ‘makes sense'”; Adam’s “…the dream [of faith] was so much more true, more real, more good than reality.”; Jeff’s “He rings true. He resonates with the deepest longings at the core of my very being.” I can say with deepest, utter conviction (if not effective persuasion) that the dream of faith in Jesus is the reality because it rings so undeniably, unequivocally true within me. It resonates within my soul the way the beauty of a sunset or a song can ring so achingly true in my soul; the way love–true love–is real and good and, well, true. He has that same feeling of truth and beauty and love, of goodness and reality, except so much more so. And because of the intensity of his reality that I have known and walked in and explored and wondered about and come back to, I know beyond any reasonable doubt (yes, even beyond doubts that may be reasonable) that this dream is truth.

    Even recognizing the nebulousness and lack of logic in my defense, I don’t know that I can explain it or defend it any better than that, not in this context of dream vs. reality. I must also say, in response to the point about extremists (aside from what I’ve already said about faith in general vs. faithing on Jesus), that love (Love?) is a (the?) key ingredient in this. Without it, there is no truth.

  5. Don’t have much to say except that I totally agree and identify with Amy’s second-to-last paragraph here. Beautifully expressed, Amy; as I was reading the post and the comments above I couldn’t get my nagging thoughts organized until I read that paragraph–I think you explained so well how we know what is true and what is real. I appreciated reading it, as well as the recent discussions here.

  6. The funny thing is I think Mary’s (and mine) comment and Amy’s comment go hand in hand. Amy said that until she truly realized that she wasn’t moved like before, and actually had a problem, she wasn’t tackling the problem, (ok, maybe I’m putting words in your mouth, Amy, but work with me here.)

    It is the retreat from doubt that bothers me most. Facing those issues, and facing the “funk” is what allows us to move past them, and grow. It’s the fear of where we will end up that keeps us from facing these doubts. I don’t think God owes me an explanation so that I can dispel them all. But in the end I need to be honest with myself about them, or how can I expect to hear truth?

  7. I might even venture to say that our “faith” isn’t faith UNTIL it has been tested–until we have faced the doubts in their many forms and owned what we believe. It may just be a belief system or set of beliefs up to that point. But then there are so many ways and times that our beliefs/faith are tested/doubted, and I know my faith was my own (not just regurgitation of what I had learned) before it was truly “tested”. Hmm. I’m not sure–these are off-the-cuff thoughts.

    But there is definite validity to the idea of facing the doubts and working through them, etc. as opposed to avoiding them.

  8. Good thoughts everyone – thanks. I’m still thinking of something that hasn’t directly been addressed…

    What about when doubts lead to unbelief? I think a person must be honest. Ultimately, to believe one must experience something that makes them believe. To believe just for the sake of believing doesn’t seem to really be faith at all (but I think is probably true of many people).

    What if doubt lasts so long, is so intense, and seems to clearly go against any possibility of faith? Personally, I think honest disbelief is understandable. I don’t feel I can blame anyone for honest disbelief. Actually, I think honest disbelief can be commendable, at least on some level (what?!). I do. Ultimately a person must go in the direction that seems right to him or her, right? If a person honestly seeks, and honestly does not find, then what now? (let’s not write this off as impossible either). Should he or she believe in spite of what seems right inside? Can we say people should go against conscience? I don’t think so…

    Of course this all leads to lots of other questions, etc. I’m not saying people should do whatever they want, believe whatever they want, and it’s all equal, etc, etc. I’m simply saying a person must be honest with him/herself and faith is not something that can be forced (on someone else, or on one’s self).

    Also, no one has mentioned Angela’s comment about the potential destructiveness of faith. Any thoughts? I think this is a valid point. Faith (certainly the Christian faith through the centuries) has caused much war, death, pain, and injustice. This continues today (even with the Christian faith).

  9. Let me put on my “devil’s advocate” hat here… (it has little horns to up the cute factor).
    Honest disbelief. The key word here is “honest”. I think the type of thing we are talking about is not the fist-raised, angry, hateful kind of atheism/post-Christian antics that Christians (in fact all religions, I’m learning) usually associate with disbelief.
    Mary said:
    “PURSUE TRUTH. I’M PRETTY SURE IT’S GOOD TO WANT TRUTH, AND IF GOD IS REAL AND GOD IS GOOD, THEN GOD WANTS US TO WANT TRUTH, AND TO TRY TO FIND IT THE BEST WE CAN.”
    This best sums up how I feel. (Thanks Mary.) If God is the Truth, then searching for Truth should ultimately lead us all to Him. If we have doubts, but don’t work through them, then we are not being truthful to ourselves or even to God, and how can we expect Him to work through us or even with us.
    But on to the destructiveness of faith: Adam, I think we are avoiding this topic, because it is a very emotional one. The world is veering off into very scary places for me. I used to hate the idea of separation of Church and State, and now that the lines are being blurred in most parts of the world, I understand how important it is. There has never in the entire history of the world been a government that was ruled by religion that didn’t commit horrible atrocities in the name of that religion. When a religion has a (human) army behind it, bad things happen. Its leaders can commit no wrong because God is on their side. And I think most of them whole-heartedly believe this, but to bring this full circle… If they had doubts, they would push them away, I believe. See, maybe the doubts are a check and balance for us. Maybe it’s God way of saying “You really are simple, stupid creatures, so don’t think you aren’t.” I’m just speculating (wildly, at that). But I believe the doubts, and the doubtors could be very useful to God, not just the spawn of Satan.

  10. One of the things I was trying to say (maybe I didn’t get it across) was that faith (of any religious persuasion) HAS to be tempered with/rooted in/refreshed by/inherently concerned with love. I don’t think any religious movement (government or otherwise) that is rooted in love–really, not just in word–will end up dominating or conquering or ignoring people. Faiths that ignore love or leave it out of the equation end up being self-seeking and destructive.

    I fully agree that honest doubts and seeking are not the enemies of faith. They can sometimes be the vehicles to faith and Truth.

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