Leap of Faith

Sean, a buddy of mine and long-timer reader of this blog, made a comment that I think ought to be highlighted. Responding to my post about an atheist’s argument against the veracity of Jesus Christ’s claims, and a mutual friend’s comment, he wrote the following.

"My God isn’t some pie in the sky, and He’ll change your life if you’ll let him."

This gets to the root of why I’m not religious. Everyone says something long these lines. Everyone wants me to make a leap of faith, but no one has been able to give me a reason to leap into their religion over the other ones, without out first making a leap of faith. (I hope that paragraph isn’t too contorted)

Nope, it’s not too contorted. You don’t want to look before you leap, especially since most if not all religions claim to be exclusively true. They can’t all be right. To which should you leap?

I’d like to open this up to discussion. What reasons would you give Sean to have faith? Why is Christianity right while other religions are wrong (or at least less right)? I’m sure Sean will let us know which reasons have been beaten to death and carry no currency with him, so let’s avoid the well-worn apologetical arguments. Perhaps some of you are fomer atheists or agnostics yourselves. What convinced you?

Comments 44

  1. Eustochius wrote:

    For me, paradoxes can be beautiful. But to me they’re just succinct and elegant ways of expressing two seemingly contradictory ideas.

    It’s not hard to accept that Jesus was fully human. And it’s not so hard to accept that Jesus was fully divine, when you believe that there is a divine seed within everyone, that was manifested fully mature within Jesus.

    However, when one makes no attempt whatsoever to resolve the paradox and asserts that Jesus was fully human — just like us — and that he was the same being as the Old Testament God, you’re not making any sense.

    Christians may revel in not making any sense, but it doesn’t look so hot to an outsider. If Christians refused to reason about God and did not offer rational argumentation, then they could accept a contradiction. But by the canons of logic, you can deduce whatever you want from a contradiction and so any argument attempted is like when you use bad math to prove that 0=1 or something like that. Another resolution to the paradox that would be more in keeping with traditional Christianity would be to imagine that Jesus alone was God and that the consciousness of Yahweh slowly awoke within a human form. This would explain Jesus’ humanity. He didn’t always behave like God from the second he was conceived because the consciousness of Yahweh was slowly awakening within a finite and fallible human form.

    I can understand why people might desire to practice Catholicism, but I just can’t understand why anyone would take the whole of it as literally true. To me, and not to rude, it’s just transparent lunacy. What’s worse is that when you ask a Christian a question about the more prima facie crazy aspects of Christianty, they’ll say, “Well, it’s a mystery.” Or, “Well, that’s just what we believe.” Or even worse, “You can’t apply human reasoning to God.”

    If they use that last one, I’m tempted to start some baby-sacrificing cult, and if anyone complains I’ll just tell them not to apply human reasoning to my God.

    They seem willing to use logic to question other religions but shrug off deep questions about their own.

    To me, the answer is simple. Catholicism possesses truth but just not the whole truth — like any other religion or system of thought in the world.

    I agree with the Buddha that religion should be treated as a practical tool used towards spiritual development, not as a final statement of truth.

    So go ahead and practice Catholicism, just keep in the back of your mind that it’s a model. And just have enough confidence in the goodness of the deity that 2/3’s of humanity will not be tortured or outcast forever because they reached different religious conclusions than you.

    Hindus believe that God incarnated many times. Never heard one of them damning me to hell for not recognizing one of those incarnations. Only Christians put such high stakes on making a correct religious judgment: Christianity in many ways works by fear in gaining and retaining conversions — I just don’t think a good God would design the world in such a way.

    Posted 23 Nov 2005 at 4:23 pm
  2. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Unprincipled doubt is not an intellectual failing so much as it is a moral failing. And to doubt all leaps of faith indiscriminately (including the article of faith which dictates merely: doubt is good) is unprincipled doubt, doubting for its own sake, and therefore destructive even to itself. Furthermore, such a position doesn’t correlate with real life, at least as most wish to live it, wherein we exercise leaps of faith all the time, to love and be loved, to find joy and purpose, to be courageous, or to be thankful that others acted better than we might have.

    Faith is not an intellectual exercise. If it were, then salvation would be gained by those with the highest IQs. But smart people are all over the map on this. (So are dumb people.) Faith is instead an exercise of the will, a principled decision to live as though certain unprovable axioms are true. Well then, practice charity, practice self-sacrifice for the benefit of another, specifically one who cannot (or, better, will not) return the favor. In short, live in the way you know (in your least guarded moments) you ought to live. Intellectual ratification will eventually catch up. Act yourself into a way of thinking. That’s what everybody does at all times anyway.

    Why Christianity over and above others? Tougher question… First off, it makes good sense of man, in a way that Islam and Hinduism (AFAIK) do not: Man -> image of God -> freewill -> sin -> fallen -> in need of redemption. Second, it makes sense of nature: Nature is good. Third it makes sense of evil: Not dualistic, but instead evil is contingent upon the good. All evil is merely some good sought or gained in some harmful way. Good and evil are not, therefore, equal and opposite principles. Finally, its central communal practice, the eucharist, is founded upon the fundamental principle of all animal life: to live, i.e., to take sustenance, means death to another organism. Unless ye eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye shall not have life.

    Bulletproof? Probably not. But it’s proven to be a good way to live and a consistent way of seeing reality (all of it, not just the objective parts). I think C. S. Lewis said something to the effect that Christianity made sense of the largest number of facts. No system of thought makes sense of all facts.

    My $0.02

    Posted 09 Nov 2005 at 6:58 am
  3. Trudy Whittaker wrote:

    Is your lack of faith based on an unwillingness to believe?

    Faith starts with a committment to truth.

    The Christian Church teaches that Jesus was born in a specific time, at a specific place. It is possible to do historical research. Jesus Christ’s life is as well documented as other event in ancient history, and better documented than most.

    You can study the spread of Christianity. Many individuals throughout history have written accounts of their conversions.

    You can study the actual beliefs of Christians –

    Or you can ignore any truth or evidence that you find uncomfortable and accept misrepresentations about
    christianity as truth because you want to believe them.

    If truth matters to you, then God, who is Truth, will reveal himself to you.

    If your disbelief is what really matters to you then what’s the point?

    Posted 09 Nov 2005 at 2:27 pm
  4. gbm3 wrote:

    Trudy Whittaker, the relevant question at hand is:

    “They can’t all be right. To which should you leap?”

    It should be assumed that the Truth is what Sean seeks.

    I’m sure you’ve looked into the facts/beliefs of all the major religions.

    Look at all of them closely. Keep on looking. Make sure your facts are correct (this is great about the Catholic Church since most beliefs are documented with backup; if a believer says something, you can fact check it with the documents).

    http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

    When it comes down to it, the search can be compared to this:

    When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
    They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
    He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
    Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
    Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
    And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. (Mt 16: 13-18 )
    http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew16.htm

    Who is/was Jesus? How do we come to this knowledge?
    People that were alive at the time of Jesus had different ideas.
    For Peter, it was revealed to him “by [Jesus’] heavenly Father”? How? Don’t know?
    For me, I could say why I believe/came to believe what Truth is, but it probably wouldn’t make sense to you or would not be a convincing reason for you.

    I pray that you find the Truth. Not just your truth, but the Ultimate Truth.

    Posted 09 Nov 2005 at 4:58 pm
  5. edey wrote:

    i’ve never been an atheist or agnostic, but i have still struggled with orthodoxy and orthopraxis. one thing that is essential to getting faith/coming to orthodoxy is being open to it..that search. it’s like in the matrix “the answer is out there, neo, and it will find you if you want it to.” you have to want to find the Truth. you have to be truly searching in order to even start to have any faith. it took me much longer than it should have (much to the dismay of jerry and tony who i’m sure were beating their heads against the wall) because i was not truly open to the Truth as early as i thought i was.

    Posted 09 Nov 2005 at 5:29 pm
  6. Sean wrote:

    Hey, I made a headline! So much to respond to?

    ?I’m sure Sean will let us know which reasons have been beaten to death and carry no currency with him?
    You know me well, Mr Dung.

    ?In short, live in the way you know (in your least guarded moments) you ought to live.?

    I like that line. I believe I am doing that already, to the best of my ability anyway, but I?ll keep that idea in the back of my head. I?ll keep my eye open for insight to evaluate that about myself though.

    ?Is your lack of faith based on an unwillingness to believe?? Hmm?Sometime I feel like agent Mulder, ?I want to believe!? I do miss a lot about religion, believing I was headed to heaven, the community, having someone tell me what was right rather than having to figure everything out on my own (its not easy, trust me). On the other hand I?m happy with the decisions I?ve made, and probably would be disappointed with myself if I ever went back to Christianity. It would almost be like getting back into a bad relationship. The bottom line is that I do not believe, and I don?t want to pretend to for the wrong reasons.

    Mr. gmb

    ?I pray that you find the Truth. Not just your truth, but the Ultimate Truth.?

    I consider you a friend and am well aware of your good intentions. But I find your statement above condescending, and when I consider the number of people who share your view above, it gets back to what turns me away from religion. I find your certainty nearly incomprehensible. I feel my willingness to be uncertain one of my greatest strengths.

    ?orthopraxis?
    Had to look that one up I must admit. Good word though.
    As far as being open, I really have to say I gave it an honest try. I?ve spent far more being a Christian (20 years give or take, although not all together) and considering Christianity than any other religion. At some point I need to say, ok this really is not the one for me. I?ve been meaning to look in to other religions, Quaker or Buddhism but that really is not among my top 5 priorities now.

    I will reflect on everything else everyone said, and will respond if I have a reason to.

    Posted 10 Nov 2005 at 3:52 am
  7. gbm3 wrote:

    “I find your certainty nearly incomprehensible. I feel my willingness to be uncertain one of my greatest strengths.” -Sean

    I am not certain, I have a firm faith in what is revealed through the Tradition of the Church to which I belong (which comes from many supposed first-hand witnesses).

    In any case, I respect your uncertainty. May you try to live to the best of your ability.

    Posted 10 Nov 2005 at 12:50 pm
  8. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    I find your [Gutterball Master’s] certainty nearly incomprehensible. I feel my willingness to be uncertain one of my greatest strengths.

    Yes, Sean. But what of uncertainty? Are you certain about that? Or better, what even is certainty? Sure we can be certain that the square of the hypoteneuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle. But when was the last time Pythagoras changed a life?

    Of all the things life-changing, of all the things worth killing or (better) dying for, of all the things, in a word, worth believing there is no such certainty. And the only conclusion your uncertainty allows to be drawn is that there is nothing life-changing, nothing worth dying for, and nothing worth believing. It’s all a calm, cool, rational system. But what of the world whose existence it postulates? Do you want to live there–a world where the relation of the sides of right triangle are perfectly known, but where courage, virtue, suffering, sacrifice, beauty, and love are dubious?

    The certainty expressed by Mr. Gutterball, which I would heartily second, and which is quite rightly incomprehensible, is not of the same species that convinces us the earth is an oblate spheroid or that the speed of light in a vacuum is 3*10^8 m/s. It is rather a certainty of faith, which is purely an exercise of the will. It is commitment to act as though the world is not all, but instead much more than, it appears to be, to act as though that certain supremely satisfying propositions about man and God are true. Such a “maladaption” can easily be mistaken for hubris, or more likely insanity, but this is an insanity that says if all that may be known and believed are things that can be proved logically or materially, then I don’t wanna be sane.

    $0.02 more…

    Posted 10 Nov 2005 at 3:21 pm
  9. gbm3 wrote:

    “Such a ‘maladaption’ can easily be mistaken for hubris, or more likely insanity, but this is an insanity that says if all that may be known and believed are things that can be proved logically or materially, then I don’t wanna be sane.” -Steve Nicoloso

    This reminds me of 1 Corr 1:17-31.

    http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/1corinthians/1corinthians1.htm

    Posted 10 Nov 2005 at 5:17 pm
  10. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    I Cor 1:17-31… precisement!

    Posted 10 Nov 2005 at 6:26 pm
  11. Adrian wrote:

    If you want to have your socks blown off, read Faith and Reason, a paper by Pope John Paul II (technically called an encyclical). There’s dynamite in there, and it was pivotal for me personally.

    God loves you, and so do I.

    Posted 11 Nov 2005 at 5:44 am
  12. Sean wrote:

    Steve,

    Its not a question of what I want. Its simpling where I am.

    Also while I find concepts such as courage, virtue, suffering, sacrifice, beauty, and love ambigious, facinating and confusing, who can really say they understand them?

    And for the record I think there are things worth dying for or killing for if necessary.

    Posted 14 Nov 2005 at 3:01 am
  13. Sean wrote:

    I’m curious, has anyone considered that I may be right?

    Posted 14 Nov 2005 at 3:07 am
  14. Funky Dung wrote:

    About what specifically? (not a sarcastic question)

    Posted 14 Nov 2005 at 3:32 am
  15. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Heh! Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask.

    If, on the other hand, you are asking whether anyone encounters doubt from time to time, the only honest answer is: Of course! Which gets us back to the question of principled vs. unprincipled doubt. Principled doubt is simply a persuasion that certain propositions are false because they conflict with other more satisfying (or more authoritative, or more rational, or more beautiful, &c.) propositions. Unprincipled doubt is, on the other hand, mere moral and intellectual sloth, and as such must be fought against.

    Also while I find concepts such as courage, virtue, suffering, sacrifice, beauty, and love ambigious, facinating and confusing, who can really say they understand them?

    Good point, tho’ I dare say it is one thing to not fully understand, and quite another to accept no language even with which to define such concepts–no language, that is, at least that avoid radically reducing such concepts to mere absurdity.

    Cheers!

    Posted 14 Nov 2005 at 4:55 pm
  16. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Great discussion, guys.

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 12:40 am
  17. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    BTW Sean, I invite you to read this.

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 12:43 am
  18. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Sorry, no html — this:

    http://ambivablog.typepad.com/ambivablog/2005/02/calling_all_spi.html

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 12:43 am
  19. Sean wrote:

    About what specifically? (not a sarcastic question)

    I guess I need to back up and explain myself. I decided at one point I was only Catholic because I was raised Catholic, so I thought I needed to step back and evaluate all religions from scratch (while I was traveling around the world so I had a chance to see firsthand and study a few). That is the point I still am at, where everyone is telling me to make a leap of faith, but with everyone telling me their religion is the one true one, I decided everyone who says that is wrong.

    Now we get to my question. I decided that nearly everyone who is in a particular religion is there because of circumstance, and not due to a fair evaluation of all (or even several) religions. I was Catholic because I was raised Catholic. Mr. Dung, I propose to you that you are Catholic due to the circumstances of your friends and associates in college. I know you also had protastant friends, but I’m saying if instead of some Catholic friends you had friends from another religion, it is doubtful you would be a Catholic today. I don’t know anyone who does not fall into this category. Some people become Jewish because they are going to marry a Jew, etc, but I don’t know anyone who tried what I tried, and said ah ha! I looked at all the religions and you know what Zoroastranism (sp?) is the one for me.

    Now we really get to my question. I say religion is a matter of circumstance, and if you step back to evaluate all religions from scratch it is impossible to select one as superior to the others, particularly when they all say they are superior.

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 1:26 am
  20. Sean wrote:

    I’m really busy with work, and am doing a lot of work related reading at home, but I’ll take a look at the suggessted readings when things calm down a little.

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 1:29 am
  21. Funky Dung wrote:

    Participants in this discussion might find this interesting:

    How I was born Catholic, became an atheist, embraced Islam and reverted to the Church (short version)

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 1:47 pm
  22. eustochius wrote:

    Let me preface my comment with a proper disclosure: I was raised Episcopalian, became atheist, and then “converted” more or less to a Theosophical outlook (at least in broad outline) due to both intellectual reasons and a powerful spiritual experience. One of the key tenets of Theosophy is that there is a universal “wisdom religion” that undergirds all religions though it is often obscured. Another is that truth ought to be pursued by a wide study of religions, science, and philosophy. A third is that assent to a religious tenet should be based on personal experience and rational argumentation, not a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith.”

    So I really think Sean is on the right track here. However, I believe the most important thing in a spiritual person’s life is a “relationship” with the divine. And I think a deep sincere spiritual experience is truly the bedrock of a person’s faith. I agree with Jesus that “Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” IOW, I feel that if someone truly deeply desires to know the truth and is willing to change their life upon receiving it, they will get it.

    That’s what happened to me. And I think it is the basis of most conversions.

    However, I really do strongly object to thinking that Catholicism or Christianity is the “best” religion. In fact, I find it somewhat perplexing (and I admit humorous) that anyone would think it so. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is much very beautiful and true in Christianity, and Catholicism in particular (I like devotion to Mary, the feasts, the saints, the history, etc.), but that doesn’t give me much reason to think that the whole of Catholic doctrine is true.

    But before I get started–Sean, really do read Amba’s link above about “spiritual nomads,” it might be exactly what you’re looking for. I think the old religions are worn-out and need to be transcended–IOW it’s foolish to pour the new wine of contemporary religious experience into the old wineskins of ancient and often calcified religious traditions.

    And I also don’t understand why anyone would think Christianity is the most rational religion to believe in–one of the reasons I became an atheist is because I found Christianity, IM (not so) HO, to be, well, ludicrous. I think people need to clearly distinguish between events and interpretation of those events. Jesus may have indeed performed those miracles, he may have indeed been resurrected from the dead, but why trust the orthodox interpretation of all that? I view Jesus as a sort of “Western” Buddha or Yogi. Maybe the miracles he performed were merely the flowering of innate spiritual gifts available to all those who reach a very high level of spiritual development. That would unify Christianity with other religions rather than isolating itself from them.

    I can understand feeling love and devotion towards Jesus–I do too–but does that necessarily validate your theology? I would tend to interpret your conversion to Catholicism, Funky Dung [and this is addressed to all readers], in the following way–you found much of beauty and transcendence in Catholicism and maybe you even directly experienced God or Jesus or Mary–but I don’t see how that validates the whole structure. I feel if that if works for you, then by all means use Catholicism as a tool to experience and draw closer to God. But I am leery of a wholesale acceptance.

    Here is what makes Christianity very dubious in my eyes. The whole plot line is suspect. Supposedly a perfect God creates people that immediately screw up. He then lets them breed for a while, and then he decides to wipe most of them out with a flood. Still no good. So his bright idea is to sacrifice some goats and sheeps. His next bright idea is that he needs to send his Son down and kill him because he needs blood, or needs self-punishment to deal to forgive anyone!? After coming to earth personally, the world is still screwed up and filled with evil, and basically 2/3’s of humanity is condemned to either eternal damnation or maybe some limbo unless they accept the blood sacrifice of God’s Son!? And finally everyone’s gonna get resurrected and judged upon their acceptance of his blood!? Now don’t get me wrong. I know that wasn’t the most charitable interpretation. But isn’t it an accurate one of the traditional viewpoint? I know that you can dress up this story and fall in love with it–but I think acceptance of this story requires suspension of disbelief–you just agree not to ask certain very important questions about it.

    Furthermore, I think it makes God to be incompetent, strange, and evil. Somehow I just don’t believe that an infinitely good God would accept such a high failure rate (2/3’s) or would rely on blood sacrifice as a means of forgiveness. Why can’t he just forgive people? Why is he so angry? People do need redemption, but through this!? (And I forgot to mention that he allows some crazed fallen angel to roam free and tempt people because he’s looking for . . . kicks or something?)

    You could still even view Jesus as literally God, but view the resurrection as a means by which God shows that God is God–only God can overcome death, say. But the whole notion of substitutionary atonement just seems cruel. It seems to me a character assassination of God. If this is what God is like, the devil is looking pretty good.

    Christians will usually reply at this point that humans should not expect that God’s ways will make sense to humans. But that’s circular. That allows you to justify whatever hare-brained theology anyone devises. Have anyone considered that your being fed a convenient bunch of half-truths that don’t allow you to challenge them? If you can’t explain something–just say, well, God is mysterious. Would you tolerate that maneuver from another non-Christian religion?

    I feel that the problem is that truth and falsehoold are so intricately woven together in Christianty that people get trapped. One part of Christianity feels very true to them and so they swallow the whole thing.

    It would take a while to explain but I believe it is legitimate to honor and venerate Jesus, Mary, and the Saints, and thus a lot of Catholic practice is beneficial. Catholic tradition is a rich and wonderful tradition. But I feel that people need to really on their hearts, on the divine within themselves to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Relying on Catholic methods to do so seems circular–meaning whatever criteria they would provide would always validate Catholicism. It’s not falsifiable.

    Jesus said you will “know them by their fruits.” And to me certain parts of Christianity bear wonderful fruit, whereas others foster division, hatred, and religious warfare. And I think most of the negative elements stem from misinterpretation of Jesus and that these misinterpretations still exist in mainstream Christianity.

    So again, I would encourage you to explore and embrace Catholicism in so far as it bears good fruit, enriches and enlivens your relationship with the divine, but to be somewhat cautious in your acceptance of all details of its theology. After all, just because God led you to Catholicism doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth–maybe God just wanted Catholicism to be a temporary point in your life. Above all, trust God, not tradition, to lead you and to help you discern truth from error. Have enough faith that God can do this for you. Don’t allow the Church to browbeat you into thinking that you, a mere mortal, cannot question its “infallibility.” To do otherwise is to limit God within your life.

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 10:19 pm
  23. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    One of the key tenets of Theosophy is that there is a universal “wisdom religion” that undergirds all religions though it is often obscured. Another is that truth ought to be pursued by a wide study of religions, science, and philosophy. A third is that assent to a religious tenet should be based on personal experience and rational argumentation, not a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith.”

    Heh! So the truest “religion” is this undergirding “wisdom religion”? I see. And this corrects all of the world’s major religions which apparently hold that there is no truth in any of the others? Which is, of course, a straw man–and a deliciously weak one at that.

    And truth ought to be pursued by a wide course of study? Which is denied by which of the religions against which Theosophy competes?

    And I see that “assent to a religious tenet should be based on personal experience and rational argumentation”. And what sequence of personal experience and rational argumentation would lead one to assent to this particular religious tenet? Oh, I see, it is simply a “aesthetic preference”, but one that is somehow superior to a mere “leap of faith”. ToMAYto–ToMAHto…

    Now back to the actual matter at hand, viz., Sean’s proposition:

    I say religion is a matter of circumstance, and if you step back to evaluate all religions from scratch it is impossible to select one as superior to the others, particularly when they all say they are superior.

    Fallacy #1: Proximity does not necessarily imply relationship.

    Religion is a matter of circumstance. No thinking person could refute that this is generally true. But its proximity to the bald (and much more tenuous) assertion that if we were to evaluate all religions “from scratch” (as if that were actually possible) it would be impossible to tell which one is better, is completely accidental. That is to say, the second assertion stands or falls on its own and does not follow logically from, nor is it supported by, the first.

    Fallacy #2: We actually can evaluate all religions “from scratch.”

    I dare anyone to come up with a checklist by which we may objectively evaluate any particular religion, religion in general, or even non-religion. Any checklist (worth its salt at any rate) would consist simply of a series of inherently (i.e., by their very nature) uprovable axioms. It would itself be, almost by definition, one’s own “religious” viewpoint (however religious or irreligious that might be).

    Fallacy #3: The “particularly” in “particularly when they all say they are superior”.

    This somehow implies that the hubris (megalomania, insanity, whatever) associated with actually thinking that (and living as though) a set of propositions are true (contra the contrary propositions) somehow counts as a strike against those holding such propositions. Your indicting people for not being “nice”… for we all know it is not “nice” to actually think you’re right. C’mon, Sean, surely audacity should count for something on your checklist!!

    Cheers!

    Posted 15 Nov 2005 at 11:22 pm
  24. melanie wrote:

    For what it’s worth (perhaps not much)one of my favorite Catholic saints, Edith Stein aka Teresa Benedicta of the Cross once said: “He who seeks truth, seeks God”
    Edith Stein was born a Jew, became an athiest and then became Catholic. She held a doctorate in philosophy at a time when few women received a college educationa at all.
    Sean’s story speaks to me because in a small way it resembles my own. I’m a cradle Catholic who in college decided that I was only Catholic because I’d been raised that way. I decided to take a step back and after a few years of drifting I decided I was Catholic after all. I know, not very convincing. His argument that I’m only now Catholic because of my circumstances would seem to bear strongly on my case.
    All I can say is that it is my belief that if one honestly looks at the Catholic faith without prejudice it does indeed appear true. Not only because it seems reasonable, but also because it is beautiful.
    I’ve looked at other religions, and quite frankly was turned off because they didn’t have the same beauty that touched my heart and felt true.
    One must look at religion not only with the eyes of reason, but also with those of the heart. If it is true it will not only seem rational, but also beautiful.

    Sean, I hope you find the truth you are looking for, above all that you are honest in your quest.

    Posted 16 Nov 2005 at 5:01 am
  25. Sean wrote:

    Hi All,

    In WV for training for a few days so this will not be as long as I’d like, but I’d like to thanks everyone for the interesting comments addressed to me so far.

    I’m still very intersted to hear more responses to my question, “has anyone considered that I may be right?”, even (or espically) if you disagree with me.

    Steve, I’ll disagree with you as soon as I get back to DC and have a chance to reread your last comment carefully. In short though, I was not trying to say a implies b in my satement. I think the statment
    “if you step back to evaluate all religions from scratch it is impossible to select one as superior to the others” stands on its own faily well.

    Can we evaluate religions from scratch? I admit it would be difficult to put aside our own bias so I’ll have to think this one through. At least I can say its always diffiuclt to put you bias aside though, but to navigate throught life you simply have to accept you have a bias and that it will affect you decisions.

    For the third fallacly you listed I simply but directly disagree with you. You said

    “This somehow implies that the hubris (megalomania, insanity, whatever) associated with actually thinking that (and living as though) a set of propositions are true (contra the contrary propositions) somehow counts as a strike against those holding such propositions.”

    I agree, from my perspective if you believe your religion is superior to all others, it is a strike against it.

    Posted 17 Nov 2005 at 10:32 pm
  26. eustochius wrote:

    Steve,

    I think you misunderstood me. I only mentioned Theosophy in order to be honest and disclose fully. I don’t consider myself a Theosophist–just strongly influenced. Besides, while I myself learned the “tenets” from Theosophy, the tenets I mentioned are just common sense. I’m not arguing for Theosophy, I’m arguing for those particular common sense beliefs that I happened to learn from it. (honest disclosure you know)

    While it is true that everything rests on unprovable axioms, some axioms appear more reasonable than others. Euclidean geometry was built on what appeared to be self-evident axioms. The method of relying on experience and reason has served us extremely well in understanding the natural world, it seems relatively natural to extend it to other areas of inquiry. While some degree of faith is required in almost everything, the term “leap of faith” is often used in contexts where you believe in something that makes little or no rational sense–like, if you don’t believe in Jesus, a God of love will send you to eternal damnation. If you disavow reason and experience, then you have seriously weakened yourself because then religion becomes arbitrary.

    As for exploring all religions, science, and philosophy before reaching a conclusion–that again is common sense–compare before you buy.

    Theosophy is not competing with other religions–rather it is attempting to see if anything unites them or holds them together.

    And be sincere, Steve, most religions say, “Here is the revealed truth, believe it.” They don’t say, “Well, you ought to study all the other religions first, then study some philosophy and science, and finally make up your own mind.”

    Be a little more charitable in your interpretations, otherwise you’re the guy making strawmen, not me 🙂

    Sean,

    I don’t think we have any choice but to step back and evaluate the faiths on their on merits. While we will not be able to escape our biases entirely, we can become less biased. I assume [and yes, Steve, it is an assumption, but not all unprovable assertions are equally plausible. And if you want to stick to your guns on this, I think you’ve argued yourself into relativism.] that is unlikely that someone is 100% wrong, and similarly that each religion is likely to offer something that none of the other religions do. I do think a lot of people rationalize whatever tradition they were brought up in, but are able to get a broader perspective on things and weave together various ideas from various religion, using their own individual judgments. Pursuing truth is not easy, but I think it’s worth it, and I feel the reward is worth the effort it.

    Melanie,

    Don’t feel bad about your reasons. I think in many cases, intuition may be a better criterion for determing what religion is best for a particular person. I take intuition to be a particular form of inner experience.

    But do you really believe every little last detail in Catholicism? Doesn’t it bother you that it predicts that 2/3’s of the world could possibly be damned under its criteria? And what about the whole plot line? Doesn’t it seem odd that God would require human sacrifice (Jesus’ cruxifiction) to clear away sin? And doesn’t it seem odd that after supposedly God came to earth, the earth is still in pretty bad shape. And what does it say about God’s creative skills, that his first humans, screwed up so irrevocably from the get go.

    I can understand that other religions may rub you the wrong way. I think they have their problems too, just like Christianity has its. A Buddhist is very much turned off by a religion that has as its focus the slow and painful death of another person. So what I would say, is that, while you probably wouldn’t want to convert to another religion, you might things of beauty there that you might want to incorporate into your religous thinking and practice. A little bit of spiritual eclecticism. Some may say this is the smorgasbord approach to religion. It can be. But if it is approached with due humility, it can be very rewarding. I just don’t think any religion fully captures the divine, and that each religion can provide a unique outlook of spirituality. I tend to think warnings from, say, Catholicism to beware this practice, is merely a way to consolidate their power over you. I believe God’s love is so great that hell doesn’t exist and that He would never punish someone who sincerely pursued the truth. (If someone were totally irredeemable, say Hitler, I think God would just destroy that soul as a lost cause. I can’t see a God of Love torturing anyone. Christians may say that it is Satan who tortures. But that’s just like the US saying we don’t torture, we just hand people over to countries that do.)

    Thomas Jefferson said:

    “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

    Posted 17 Nov 2005 at 11:39 pm
  27. Funky Dung wrote:

    “But do you really believe every little last detail in Catholicism?”

    Yup. If I ever decide to embrace “Jesus was just a groovy guy.”, “I say Jesus; you say Buddha. It’s all the same.”, or some similar tripe, I’m sure the Unitarians, Quakers (modern, not Orthodox), or Anglicans will welcome me with welcome arms.

    Posted 18 Nov 2005 at 5:14 am
  28. gbm3 wrote:

    “I’m still very intersted to hear more responses to my question, ‘has anyone considered that I may be right?’, even (or espically) if you disagree with me.”

    “Now we really get to my question. I say religion is a matter of circumstance, and if you step back to evaluate all religions from scratch it is impossible to select one as superior to the others, particularly when they all say they are superior.” -Sean

    I’m glad you finally mentioned that you were raised Catholic. I didn’t want to divulge personal info until you did.

    As you know, I am in the same boat. I was born and raised with the Catholic faith. My Dad, however, is protestant, a non-believer in organized religion. I wondered about other religions ever since I had real rational thought regarding my Dad never receiving Communion at Church.

    I looked at the facts of other religions from an early age, especially in (high) school. To this day, I am very interested in comparative religion.

    I came to this conclusion sometime in college:

    1. The major religions based on the faith of Abraham claim to be based on history, or fact: the God of Abraham through Moses set Israel free, Mohammed was shown the Koran, Jesus died and rose from the dead, etc.

    2. Most other religions are based on story, true legends (Greek Myth/Hinduism)/fairy tales(Druids)/personal revelation(Buddha).

    From there, discovering which is the true history is next. *They can’t all be right*: they contradict each other in fact/history. In reality, it does take faith to determine which is true (I believe the Holy Spirit is needed for guidance) just like faith is needed to believe that Plato, or St. Paul, or anyone from antiquity actually existed.

    I believe the Catholic Christian history: It might not necessarily sound more superior, just is true. The consequences of this reality (beliefs/morals) are a result of looking at the facts.

    (I still respect other religions. They all require faith of belief just like I have. None is certain until the quest is over after death.)

    Posted 18 Nov 2005 at 1:09 pm
  29. gbm3 wrote:

    “A Buddhist is very much turned off by a religion that has as its focus the slow and painful death of another person.”

    He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.
    He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
    At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

    Mark 8: 31-33
    http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/mark/mark8.htm

    “Thomas Jefferson said:

    ‘Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.'” -eustochius

    I really don’t like TJ’s intellectual elitism as a whole (the unitarian/universalist he was).

    “This reminds me of 1 Corr 1:17-31.”

    http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/1corinthians/1corinthians15.htm
    ( http://www.haloscan.com/comments/funkydung/2045/#149995 )

    Posted 18 Nov 2005 at 2:15 pm
  30. gbm3 wrote:

    The second to last link should be

    http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/1corinthians/1corinthians1.htm

    Talk about unwise.

    Posted 18 Nov 2005 at 2:29 pm
  31. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Ack, looks like this discussion is still on-going… better get in my digs before it falls off into the archives…

    Sean, listen to yourself:

    Can we evaluate religions from scratch? I admit it would be difficult to put aside our own bias so I’ll have to think this one through. At least I can say its always diffiuclt to put you bias aside though, but to navigate throught life you simply have to accept you have a bias and that it will affect you decisions.

    This admission is tantamount to admitting that the entire experiment, i.e., evaluating religions “from scratch”, is useless! For “from scratch” is an a priori impossiblity. This supposed “fair” evaluation cannot possibly result in a person selecting a religious viewpoint to which the person is already most predisposed. Surprise, surprise, I just evaluated all religious viewpoints “from scratch”, and found out that my own religious viewpoint conformed best to my preconceived biases.

    To wit…

    from my perspective if you believe your religion is superior to all others, it is a strike against it.

    The only way that this could be true is if one starts out with the presupposition that no system of axioms ought truly be believed. Say religion Alpha believes propositions A, B, C, and D. Religion Beta believes propositions B, C, D, and E. Religion Gamma believes C, D, E, and F. The devout member of each religion actually thinks that their 4 propositions are right, i.e., “best”. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t very well be members of religions Alpha, Beta, or Gamma, now would they? Yet you hold it against them as a fault. Aside from being ridiculous, which it is, you are simply applying your biases (see above) to the judgement–the bias in this case is that only some of the propositions could possibly be true, say C and D, which perhaps all civilized men agree with. But this just means that you are a “believer” in the religion whose only propositions are C and D. Obviously religionists of Alpha, Beta, and Gamma are wrong. But not because they think they are right, but because they actually believe variously propositions A, B, E, and F, which you presume to be false because either you know so, or feel so, or just don’t like the way they look or taste.

    What you’re saying is that you’d respect, e.g., Religion Alpha so much more if they just didn’t think they were right. I.e., it would be so much better if they both believed propositions A, B, C, and D, and simultaneously DISbelieved them. They they would, apparently in your economy, at least be honest. But they wouldn’t be honest. They would just be stupid. And there is very little to respect in that!

    Eustochius, I don’t really know where to begin or in the space allotted respond constructively. You seem to be coming at religion as a customizable consumer product, and to a large extent Sean seems to suffer from this same malady. No major world religion (AFAIK) doubts that there is substantial truth in other world religions. In fact, I specifically included in my example above in my hypothetical religions the fact that certain propositions were believed by all. If one’s biases dispose one to therefore believe that the principles shared by most if not all religions are more likely true, then fine. But then again, those are just one’s biases, and you have merely formed a different religion (or at least a religious viewpoint) based on them–a religious viewpoint whose propositions compete with all others on some level: E.g., I accept propositions A, C, and F, but propositions B and D are absurd and I’m agnostic toward E. Similiarly, if you choose to disregard what it shared in common, and instead simply pick and choose those principles which merely seem right, or suit your fancy, again you are still choosing based on a preconceived set of biases. Again, you are forming a religion (or religious viewpoint) that competes at some level against all other religions.

    Which is all a long and drawn out way (sorry) of saying you aren’t so much proposing an objectively superior way of “forming a religious viewpoint” as you are proposing a “religious viewpoint” that says take from the world’s buffet of religious viewpoints whatever it is, in due conformity with your preconceived biases & tastes, you want to believe. And that is all fine and dandy as long as we all know what we’re advocating here.

    I have to disagree (no duh ;-)) with your assertion:

    And be sincere, Steve, most religions say, “Here is the revealed truth, believe it.” They don’t say, “Well, you ought to study all the other religions first, then study some philosophy and science, and finally make up your own mind.”

    I am sincere that I know of no religion which fails make rational sense within the context of its own unprovable (and unfalsifiable) axioms. You seem to treat religion as nothing but a list of “leaps of faith”. The leaps of faith are the unprovable axioms, not every proposition that follows from them. Thus,

    While some degree of faith is required in almost everything, the term “leap of faith” is often used in contexts where you believe in something that makes little or no rational sense–like, if you don’t believe in Jesus, a God of love will send you to eternal damnation.

    is a complete red herring, a gross caricature at best. Christianity doesn’t ask anyone to take that on a sheer leap of faith. Within the uprovable (and unfalsifiable) axioms of Christianity, it makes perfect rational sense. Human free will is not an illusion. Therefore free will acts have actual consequences. Humans may reject God. Therefore humans may by practiced rejection of God ultimately deform to the point where redemption is no longer possible.

    Time permits no more… gotta go.

    Cheers!

    Posted 18 Nov 2005 at 11:24 pm
  32. Eustochius wrote:

    Many things to comment on:

    (I)Funky Dung,

    There is a large chasm between 100% acceptance of everything in Catholicism and a blow-with-the-wind universalist who denies the deity of Christ. On what grounds do you base this? It surprises me that anyone would accept everything 100% given the intellectual errors and gross behavioral failings of the Chruch in the past. There may be concentration of truth in the Church, but as a scientist how did you come up with this figure? Is there no uncertainty in your measurement? 🙂

    To me, it seems a distinct possibility that God led you to Catholicism because either (a)it was what you needed (and likely still need) spiritually or (b) because it was the most true religion around (Catholicism could be registering 20% truth while Shintoism 2%, say). Why do you discount these alternate hypotheses to the 100% one? Just because God is alive and well in a tradition doesn’t mean that everything that is said about God, even by the priests and the pope, is necessarily true.

    (II)Steve,

    You refer many times to the idea of religions making sense internally. But don’t you think a religion should make sense externally? I think this is where the “leap of faith” comes in.

    This is the plotline of Christianity I wrote above:

    “Supposedly, a perfect God creates two people that immediately screw up. Rather than starting over from scratch, He lets his failures breed for a while, and then he decides to wipe most of them out with a flood. Still no good. World still messed up. So his bright idea is to have people sacrifice some goats and sheep. Still not satisfied. His next bright idea is that he needs to send his Son down and kill him because he needs blood, or needs self-punishment to deal to forgive anyone!? Can’t he just forgive people? Why is the crucifixition necessary? After coming to earth personally, the world is still screwed up and filled with evil, and basically 2/3’s of humanity is condemned to either eternal damnation or maybe some limbo unless they accept the blood sacrifice of God’s Son!? And finally everyone’s gonna get resurrected and judged upon their acceptance of his blood!? Now don’t get me wrong. I know that wasn’t the most charitable interpretation. But isn’t it an accurate one of the traditional viewpoint? I know that you can dress up this story and fall in love with it–but I think acceptance of this story requires suspension of disbelief–you just agree not to ask certain very important questions about it”

    No one has attempted to soften or rebut this. Even if I make the leap into Christianity, it doesn’t even seem to make sense internally.

    Steve and others,

    I think you are mistaken when you characterize the methodology for pursuing religious truth I outlined as merely a smorgasbord approach.
    First, it must be realized that is properly used with due humility. Meaning God is the seeker’s companion as truth is sought. It need not at all lead to a religious orientation based on preconceived notions, especially if one attempts to be as honest with oneself as possible when one applies it.

    The strongest defense of it is that the method very closely resembles the method that is used to pursue truth in almost every other area of inquiry–whether it be science, history, public policy, etc. Furthermore, the notion that seems to be advanced is that one ought to choose from various pre-existing religions. However, this is akin to the Kuhnian (very famous philosopher of science) notion of proto-science. This is not even normal or revolutionary science (to use Kuhn’s definitions). It is the state of a discipline when it is young and immature. Psychology used to be this way, but now it has moved beyond ideologies. Most psychologists today are of the eclectic orientation. IOW, use whatever has been shown to work best in the situation you are in. It just seems very reasonable that each religion has a piece of the truth and that if one desires truth one ought to harvest truth from each one, just like one would in any other human endeavor.

    (IV)To all,

    Denying a fair hearing to Eastern religions because they have less emphasis on history seems silly.
    First, Christianity is quite allegorical as well: the Garden of Eden, the Flood–even Exodus may not be secure historically. From what I understand the evidence for it is very tenuous. The Egyptians don’t have any clear record of it. So on closer inspection the greater emphasis on “historical narrative” may merely reflect the cultural tendencies of the Semetic people. It’s an interesting idea that should be explored, but it’s not sufficent grounds to rule out Eastern notions.

    (V)To gbm3,

    It seems that Peter was being rebuked more for attempting to prevent Christ from fulfilling his mission than anything else. But here’s the real question? Why do Christians focus more on the crucifixition than the resurrection or the ascenscion? Why is the crucified Jesus the major symbol of Christianity?

    Posted 19 Nov 2005 at 3:19 am
  33. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    “Supposedly, a perfect God creates two people that immediately screw up. Rather than starting over from scratch, He lets his failures breed for a while, and then he decides to wipe most of them out with a flood. Still no good. World still messed up. So his bright idea is to have people sacrifice some goats and sheep. Still not satisfied. His next bright idea is that he needs to send his Son down and kill him because he needs blood, or needs self-punishment to deal to forgive anyone!? Can’t he just forgive people? Why is the crucifixition necessary? After coming to earth personally, the world is still screwed up and filled with evil, and basically 2/3’s of humanity is condemned to either eternal damnation or maybe some limbo unless they accept the blood sacrifice of God’s Son!? And finally everyone’s gonna get resurrected and judged upon their acceptance of his blood!? Now don’t get me wrong. I know that wasn’t the most charitable interpretation. But isn’t it an accurate one of the traditional viewpoint? I know that you can dress up this story and fall in love with it–but I think acceptance of this story requires suspension of disbelief–you just agree not to ask certain very important questions about it”

    No one has attempted to soften or rebut this. Even if I make the leap into Christianity, it doesn’t even seem to make sense internally.

    Why cannot God “just forgive” people? Forgiveness is meaningless unless it empowers the forgiven, i.e., forgiveness, at least that of the redeeming type, must be sought. Love desires the perfection of its object. If it does not, then it is not love, but mere sentiment. As I’ve said, God gave man free will, and will is not free if it is not free indeed. Revelation records, and if we don’t accept revelation, history ratifies the fact that mankind is fallen. So what’s there to soften? What’s there to rebut? You have it right, more or less. Tho’ you fail to mention that to live, to subsist, for an animal species is to feed upon the life of another (plant or animal). It makes perfect sense given the axioms of the Christian faith: by way of review: man has free will; man is fallen; God loves man; God wants to bring man back; God needs blood (i.e., sacrifice) to make that happen. The goats and sheep were just an object lesson in advance of the real thing, which was Christ, who says except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye shall not have life within you. Hence the crucifixion.

    Do I think a religion should make sense externally? Hmmm… If enough of the foundational axioms (biases, aesthetic judgements) are shared by someone outside, I’d say yes. Failing this, no. The only way across such a chasm is by pure aesthetics. The outsider must simply see in the competing philosophy something that strikes them as compellingly beautiful and/or good and/or true. Such is a perfectly valid conversion experience, but I suspect it is as rare as is it inherently possible.

    Islam doesn’t make sense to me, primarily because their view of man is defective (IMO), viz., not in the image of God. Sure, I’d be much more likely to give Islam a more thorough hearing if they’d drop this bit of dogma. But then it wouldn’t be Islam would it? I might assent to some syncretistic Islam/Christian/Jewish fusion, but this would put me on a philosophical island without community or tradition. Then that would conflict with one of my other preconceived biases, namely that a religion should be communal in both time and place.

    Anyway I slice it, whenever I step back and look at things “from scratch”, in toto, I keep coming to the conclusion that Christianity, specifically small-o orthodox/small-c catholic Christianity best conforms to my checklist. It is almost as though it is a self-fulfilling algorithm. One could easily and plausibly assert (tho’ never prove) that my preconceived notions about good, truth, and beauty have been thoroughly (perhaps unduly) influenced by traditional Christianity. And one might very well be right about that… but one would not, on this basis, be any closer to telling me whether or not I’ve been deluded.

    G’nite!

    Posted 19 Nov 2005 at 5:38 am
  34. Eustochius wrote:

    Steve,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I am not asking these questions to pester, I am asking them because I really have trouble understanding why Christians believe what they do. (And I was raised Christian)

    (1) I can accept that man needs redemption and is fallen. But I believe that the transformation can occur internally by awakening the spark of the divine that is placed in each human heart.

    (2) Why must forgiveness occur through blood? I agree that some mushy forgiveness is not genuine. But if we truly repent of our actions, why is this not enough? I can genuinely forgive my child for wrong-doing if he sincerely regrets his actions and resolves to change his ways. Why cannot God do the same? I don’t believe that an infinite God requires an infinite sacrifice. I believe that an infinite God would be above requiring blood sacrifice to satisfy some weird cosmic requirement.

    (3) I DO find much beauty in Christianity; I even have love for Jesus; I just don’t believe that Christianity has all its details right–which shouldn’t be surprising because the details did not come from Jesus but from theologians centuries after his death.

    (4) I understand the need for community. But why can there not be diversity of belief within a community? And what is wrong with forming new communities? In fact, there are many belief communities whose views are, more or less, in harmony with mine.

    So here’s the problem, I see beauty in Christianity, I understand that some have a communitarian impulse, but you are not attempting to justify Christianity. You are more saying that people should believe in it because of their feelings, the beauty, intution etc. I can understand that. In fact, I hold my religious views, in part, for similar reasons, as do most religious believers. But I attempt to use my rational faculties in equal measure.

    But what is so disturbing, and I suspect Sean might agree, is that this is not enough for you, I think. You, I assume, want to go further and proclaim that Christianity is wholly true, and what’s worse that those who do not believe similarly could be damned forever.

    Do you really think Thomas Jefferson and Gandhi are in hell? And it positively frightens me that you would accept my account of the Christian story as basically true. A God of Love would not set up the rules so that 2/3’s of humanity will spend enternity in eternal torment. A God of Love would not require blood sacrifice to appease Him nor would he allow hell to exist. If someone was so reprobate as to unable to be fixed, God should just destroy that one–not permit his torment forever.

    Doesn’t the high failure rate either suggest God’s incompetence in creating humanity or a crazed, draconian set of rules?

    Rather than trying to endlessly rationalize an ancient set of theological interpretation, if I come across something that makes little sense (and that even believers can’t explain well), I just assume that that particular belief is probably false.

    Posted 19 Nov 2005 at 5:56 pm
  35. Tom Smith wrote:

    I know that these questions weren’t intended for me, but whatever.

    “(1) I can accept that man needs redemption and is fallen. But I believe that the transformation can occur internally by awakening the spark of the divine that is placed in each human heart.”

    Just to flesh this one out, are you saying that we basically have a power to transform ourselves? Or to activate some sort of prevenient grace?

    “(2) Why must forgiveness occur through blood?”

    According to the Franciscan Schoolmen and much of modern theological thinking, it doesn’t. Christ’s grisly death allowed for our forgiveness as well as made available a superabundance of divine grace. According to this idea, Christ wouldn’t even have had to be divine, nor would he have had to die. His death is merely the result of his love for us — a lesser deity (if one could exist) could’ve chosen merely to make salvation available but irreachably difficult by not making available this superabundance of grace.

    “I agree that some mushy forgiveness is not genuine. But if we truly repent of our actions, why is this not enough?”

    You conflate repentance with forgiveness. For example, I’m sorry I stole a pencil in fourth grade. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m forgiven.

    “I can genuinely forgive my child for wrong-doing if he sincerely regrets his actions and resolves to change his ways. Why cannot God do the same?”

    He can. But there’s an important distinction between *resolving* to change one’s ways and *actually* changing one’s ways; God has the luxury of taking this into account while parents don’t.

    “I don’t believe that an infinite God requires an infinite sacrifice.”

    Again, God doesn’t require an infinite sacrifice.

    “I believe that an infinite God would be above requiring blood sacrifice to satisfy some weird cosmic requirement.”

    Like I said, God didn’t require a blood sacrifice to satisfy divine justice; He simply chose that as a way to make available the graces that He did.

    “(3) I DO find much beauty in Christianity; I even have love for Jesus; I just don’t believe that Christianity has all its details right–which shouldn’t be surprising because the details did not come from Jesus but from theologians centuries after his death.”

    Other than the ones above, which details do you differ with?

    “(4) I understand the need for community. But why can there not be diversity of belief within a community?”

    This is going to sound very mean, here, so bear with me. If, in a community, person 1 holds (A), and person 2 holds (-A), one of them has to be wrong. Through reason, we can often determine which position is correct. This is the reason that progressive people in the Church feel so left out — drawing from its previously-established Tradition, the Church has stated that they are wrong. If they provide better arguments than traditional thinkers, they might have a point. But they don’t have any arguments at all.

    “And what is wrong with forming new communities? In fact, there are many belief communities whose views are, more or less, in harmony with mine.”

    See above — sometimes we just have to forget what we *want* to believe and start believing what’s true.

    That probably comes off as a highly conceited statement. For that, I apologize. The reason that I remain Catholic is because the doctrines of Catholicism form the most completely internally consistent philosophical and logical system that I’ve encountered (I’m a philosophy student); even though some things the Church teaches have made me uncomfortable in the past, they’ve all proven to be misunderstandings on my part; I realize each doctrine is a mere piece in a larger puzzle, and necessarily true because it is are constructed upon true axioms and IS part of an overarching, self-supporting system. Basically, I believe it because no one’s ever been able to poke a logical hole in it. (And because the movement of grace has transformed my soul. That too 🙂

    Posted 20 Nov 2005 at 2:03 am
  36. Tom Smith wrote:

    One more thing.

    “Rather than trying to endlessly rationalize an ancient set of theological interpretation, if I come across something that makes little sense (and that even believers can’t explain well), I just assume that that particular belief is probably false.”

    I think you probably have the wrong idea of what theology is/does. Although I can’t be considered an authority on the matter, I think the proper way to view theology is not as an interpretive tool, but as a tool for discovering truth, in the same way as philosophy or science. So one ends up not “rationalizing” “theological interpretation,” but attempting to understand the logic behind certain beliefs rooted in theological reasoning. I humbly submit that if something doesn’t make sense on its face, one shouldn’t blithely dismiss it, but read a book about it from someone in the know.

    And if you’re looking for a believer to explain something in a satisfying manner, I’d say the best one to look at — at least for Christianity — is Thomas Aquinas, the still-resepcted philosopher who wrote a philosophy book about almost the entire corpus of Christian doctrine.
    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/

    Posted 20 Nov 2005 at 2:42 am
  37. Eustochius wrote:

    Tom,

    It should be noted that I am fundamentally outside of all major religious traditions. I have a particular worldview that is influenced by Theosophical principles. The most important one to note here is that I think each religious tradition has only partial knowledge of the truth. However, I tend to hold that Eastern metaphysical systems are far more robust and sophisticated then their Western counterparts. The Eastern traditions, too are partial, and too need to be rehabilitated, but I think they are much closer to identifying fundamental religous truths than Western religions.

    As I wrote above, and as a philosopher you should understand this, I tend to think that religion is in a pre-paradigm state (to think in Kuhnian terms) wherein a broad array of methodologies and theories flourish. IOW, it is like psychology when it was dominated by warring schools, instead of an overarching unitary theoretical perspective. To move to the next stage in religion, I hold that we need to creatively combine and refurbish elements in pre-existing religions.

    I generally accept a large part of the occurrences of the New Testament: the miracles, the resurrection, etc. I merely interpret them from in an eastern light. In Buddhism all have the Buddha-nature and all are called to become Buddhas, to become enlightened. Likewise, I hold we all have a divine, “christed” if you will, nature that can unfold and grow with nourishment, discipline, and devotion.

    IOW, I hold with Hinduism, the we all are divine–atman is brahman–but that we are all very spiritually immature. Jesus was a glorious example of man when he is spiritually mature. I hold that Jesus was able to realize his intrinsic divine nature, that is shared by all, and to manifest it. The miracles performed were just a natural unfoldment of latent spiritual capacities in man, and the crucifixition and the resurrection were to demonstrate that man, through realizing his divine nature, is even able to overcome death. Thus, along with Buddha, I hold that, “each must be his own savior, no one can do it for another.”

    This is often deeply misunderstood, and taken to mean that humans, in their present egotistical form, are God. This is not so. Rather, through humility, discipline, and love towards the divine one is able to surrender one’s lesser nature, and allow the inner divine nature to blossom. It is not egotistical for all share in it. This I consider the true “mystical body of Christ.”

    To me, this is the good news of Jesus Christ, that this glorious destiny is the true hope and promise of all humanity.

    Thus, when I say that man is fallen, I mean that he has forgotten his true divine nature. When I say he needs redemption, I mean he needs to realize the divine within himself which is his true nature.

    As to differing beliefs within a community, don’t forget the possibility that both members may only be partially right and that by combining their perspectives greater truth may be reached.

    However, I do agree that liberal Christianity, in the main, is not nearly as intellectually rigorous as its more orthodox brethren.

    However, one alternative theology I do like is that of universal salvation. It is not perfect, but at least it avoids Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson being in hell or in some weird limbo.

    See http://www.tentmaker.org/ for an example.

    Since you’re trained philosophically and you believe that the Catholic tradition is logically sound, let me pose some questions to you.

    These are among the reasons why I became an atheist for a while and remain major reasons why I reject traditional Christianity today.

    The plotline problem as I mentioned above is major one.

    Problems and contradictions:

    (1)God is supposedly a perfect being, yet he creates two people who screw up pretty quickly.
    (2) Rather than fixing the problem or starting over, he lets them breed for a while and then kills most of them with a flood.
    (3) Sends Jesus down as his bright idea of providing a superabundance of grace. Couldn’t just announce it or something?
    (4)God comes down to earth, but it still sucks when he leaves.
    (5) Before finally getting around to fix the place, it pleases God to allow human suffering to continue some more. Let WWI, WII, and numerous genocidal campaigns occur.
    (6) And while we wait and suffer, God is biding his time when he can cast all the nonbelievers (i.e. most of humanity) into a lake of fire, or at least deny them the best spriritual real estate.
    (7) Finally, we will remain in our human state forever, and waive palm fronds or something in heaven.

    While one can always say God’s ways are mysterious, I consider the invocation of mystery to be hand-waving and to be a hole in the theory. The plotline is just not plausible, or at least consistent with a wise and loving God–at least if you want to use wise and loving in the ways that humans are accustomed to.

    It just seems crazy and depressing to believe that the entire universe is predicated upon belief in one person, Jesus Christ. And that this is ticket to heaven.

    Furthermore, the notion that Jesus actually was fully God seems strange. For a being that supposedly created galaxy after galaxy, Jesus’ accomplishments are pretty minimal. And how did the creator of the universe escape notice from the age of 12 to 30?

    Now if you give me some notion about how Jesus is fully God and fully man but want to insist at the same time that there is a fundamental difference between man and God; you’ve contradicted yourself. And thus your entire logical system collapses.

    Furthermore, the theodicies of Christianity are pretty tenuous, and thus you have another problem of a the contradiction of an all-good God and an imperfect world.

    But again and again, the most bothersome thing is the contradiction that a perfect, loving God would allow such a high failure rate for humanity. The system seems quite cruel. He made the rules and the rules don’t seem very fair. A one-shot deal with very poor odds. If you say who are we to judge how God created the rules, that is pure question-begging because what is at issue is your notion and understanding of God.

    My major problem with Christianity is that it proposes, in my view, a very disturbed and strange notion of God. I believe there is something deeply special about Jesus and retain my childhood devotion, but I cannot accept the scary and bizarre theological notions that have sprung up about him.

    The notions I advanced above seem so much more beautiful and elegant, and truly worthy of a perfect and loving God. The Christian notions seem like a horrific caricature of the true nature of God.

    Earlier in my life, I had a very dramatic conversion from atheism to the view that I outlined above. For about six weeks, I felt a very intense closeness to God–I was in deep bliss. And I still feel close to God today. But the traditional Christian notions deeply sadden me–I feel as if they mar the face of God and horribly misconstrue the true purposes of God. My beliefs may be wrong, but if they are wrong, it is because God has an even more beautiful plan in store. However, the Christian view is far from beautiful–it is quite grim–especially when you consider how few are believed to be saved. And it supposes a very strange notion of God who dispenses grace with blood and who bides his time while humanity suffers.

    Posted 20 Nov 2005 at 3:55 am
  38. Eustochius wrote:

    Thanks for taking the time, Tom. If ever I seem rude, I apologize for not phrasing properly, for that is not my intention. Ah, the great Doctor of the Church, Aquinas. But you prove my point. Thomas was the one who said that philosophy ought be the handmaiden of theology. IOW, the role of philosophy is not to question revealed truth but to justify it. Which pretty much means rationalize it. Right?

    You’re right that I shouldn’t blithely assume that Christianity provides no good answers. However, when I was young I posed all my skeptical questions to a bishop who was at Harvard divinity school. He couldn’t answer them. And as I said above, even if come to understand that there is much subtlety and nuance within the Catholic tradition–which I certainly expect–I don’t see how I can ever accept Catholicism if I reject its core propositions.

    Since you’re Catholic, much of the Christian plotline has been absorbed. Try to read my above plotline as if you were an outsider to Christianty. It really shocked me that Steve thought I had it basically right. That’s what I think happens with Christians. They are so immersed and in love with a story that they become deaf to how crazy it is and become blind to its obvious holes. Seriously, try to evaluate the plotline as if you had never heard it.

    I believe in God. I just reject the Christian plotline and theology. I venerate Jesus, I just ignore what I consider to be the faulty interpretation of his life and mission. If the interpretation were so critical, Jesus would have spoken plainly about it. Instead of speaking cryptically and in parables, he would have wrote a clear theological pamphlet, if belief in him were so critical. He would not have left it up to chance, if he truly wanted people to avoid hell.

    You may mention Jesus contacting Paul, but even Paul is not so clear. See my link above for more details. Besides, Paul’s is only one interpretation. Again, Paul was a human being and thus fallible. If it were so critical, Jesus would not have been so vague. I mean he even tries to keep his being the Messiah hidden at times! Seems strange if one could be damned forever for not recongnizing his being the Messiah.

    Posted 20 Nov 2005 at 4:21 am
  39. Tom Smith wrote:

    First off, Eustochius, you’re not coming off as rude in any way. So far, it’s been a pleasure to debate these things with you. If I come off rude at all, don’t take it personally — I don’t mean it.

    “I tend to hold that Eastern metaphysical systems are far more robust and sophisticated then their Western counterparts.”

    This isn’t directly salient, but I’m wondering why, exactly, you think this? I once tried to to pick up an introductory book on Eastern philosophy. The introduction informed me that I would need to try and forget all I was trained to think regarding consistency and systematics. Prejudiced as I am, that was enough to get me to put the book down. Anyway, the point is that I don’t know jack about Eastern philosophy. However, I’m really curious about metaphysics from an Eastern perspective, because you make it sound like the Easterns could mop Leibniz’s floor (and that’s a tall order, because me and Leibniz are like this [crosses fingers]). Anyway, I need to get to bed, so I’ll try and pull a response out tomorrow.

    Posted 20 Nov 2005 at 10:20 am
  40. Funky Dung wrote:

    Eustochius’ beliefs are really starting to remind me of what I read in “The Seat of the Soul” by Gary Zukav. *shudder*

    Posted 20 Nov 2005 at 1:14 pm
  41. gbm3 wrote:

    “(IV)To all,

    Denying a fair hearing to Eastern religions because they have less emphasis on history seems silly.
    First, Christianity is quite allegorical as well: the Garden of Eden, the Flood–even Exodus may not be secure historically. From what I understand the evidence for it is very tenuous. The Egyptians don’t have any clear record of it. So on closer inspection the greater emphasis on “historical narrative” may merely reflect the cultural tendencies of the Semetic people. It’s an interesting idea that should be explored, but it’s not sufficent grounds to rule out Eastern notions.

    (V)To gbm3,

    It seems that Peter was being rebuked more for attempting to prevent Christ from fulfilling his mission than anything else. But here’s the real question? Why do Christians focus more on the crucifixition than the resurrection or the ascenscion? Why is the crucified Jesus the major symbol of Christianity?”

    -Eustochius

    This is why:

    This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
    No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
    You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

    Jesus used the cross as a perfect example of v13. When we look upon the cross, we are reminded of this and esp. v14.

    Further, it is traditional to include instruments of death in depictions of the saints (Ex: sword with St. Paul and upsidedown cross with St. Peter) as a reminder that through Christ, they conquered (the instrument of) death.

    “I’m still very intersted to hear more responses to my question, ‘has anyone considered that I may be right?’, even (or espically) if you disagree with me.”

    “Now we really get to my question. I say religion is a matter of circumstance, and if you step back to evaluate all religions from scratch it is impossible to select one as superior to the others, particularly when they all say they are superior.” -Sean

    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/funkydung/2045/#151159

    Sean,

    Please get back to this (after you wade through the rest of the type).

    FD, can you repost this, so people can join?

    Posted 21 Nov 2005 at 3:33 pm
  42. Eustochius wrote:

    Not sure if this thread is dead, but in response to Tom. Yeah, I know it is often said that Eastern philosophy is contradictory. But Christianity likewise revels in contradiction: Jesus being fully man and fully God; etc.

    I haven’t studied Eastern philosophy as deeply as I would like, but I would say this. Some traditions do traffic in contradictions but they are only seeming in my view. They describe two ways of looking at the same thing: IOW they could be described using non-contradictory propositions. A lot of what I have studied are actually religious philosophies that incorporate a great deal of eastern philosophy at their foundation–namely theosophy.

    I rejected Christianity when I was twelve because it made no sense–it was so easy to pick apart.

    However, Theosophy just worked so better; it was so clean, pure, and logical. To give some concrete examples, if one construes karma and reincarantion properly, it makes for a much more elegant and moral system.
    The way Christianity stands, we get an infinite reward for accepting Christ and an infinite punishment for rejecting Christ. That doesn’t seem very just. Even were Christianty true, why couldn’t I change my mind in purgatory or hell–now I believe, so let me out! If that’s impossible, what is the purpose of us being here on earth. Why did God keep the experiment going after the fall, why couldn’t God create humans who would freely choose to do right–just like God. [Supposedly God could do evil because he is free, but his innate goodness prevents him from doing so.]

    The whole explanation of the fall and its transmission via original sin seems bizarre. It seems that early theologians accepted several wrong hypotheses–that the Jewish bible was largely accurate and two that Jesus was literally God. Then to justify those wrong-headed notions, they spun all sort of strange theologies to support them.

    Furthemore, what is our purpose here? To have God be amused while we play a cruel and high-stakes game? The link I provided above on hell puts it like this. If indeed failure to accept Christ has such horrendous consequences and a child cannot be damned before attaining the age of reason, it would be better for children to be slaughtered than to grow up. God may punish you from preventing the game from occurring, but from the kids’ point of view, they’re much better off.

    And if indigenous peoples were not exposed to Christ, they would go to heaven or limbo, it would have been far better not to have been exposed to the “good news”–because now they have a substantial chance of going to hell.

    I just think if anyone thinks carefully about the doctrine of hell, they will reject it as absurd because it makes God complicit in torture. Even if you weaken it in some fashion, it still seems odd and unfair.

    And if you reject the doctrine of hell, then what did Jesus die for? The people above say to save us from sin. But doesn’t that imply that the default was hell, and then you still have problems. I would accept that Jesus’ death may have provided a reprieve from “world karma” and in that sense he took on the sins of the world. But as soon as you insist that belief in Jesus is required for heaven, you’ve lost the deal for me.

    Christianity, in my view, lacks good answers to many questions and its views raise more difficulties than they solve.

    Don’t get me wrong–theosophy has its problems and strange ideas, but at its core, it’s a sweet drink of sense and beauty.

    My system in much simpler. Karma: “You reap what you sow.”
    Reincarnation: “If at first you don’t success, try, try again.”
    Purpose: To understand the material world, manifest virtue, realize the divine within yourself, become enlightened.

    You also get to throw out all of the crazy notions of eternal damnation, blood sacrifice, original sin. Problems of theodicy become easier. Problems of purpose are clearer.

    Don’t get me wrong: eastern systems need rehabilitation, and I throw out some of the crazier and more unenlightened elements. I also try to incorporate the viewpoints of other religions as well. I approach religion just as a philosopher would approach devising a philosophy. Come up with the most beautiful, elegant, and sensible system you can. If you practice it, and it you become more moral and closer to God than an alternative system would permit, that’s evidence in its favor. Think out of the box and apply your reason, your experience, and your personal relationship with the divine to guide you.

    Let’s not constrain ourselves to the old systems. I’m sure we’re all glad that Galileo and Einstein were allowed to triumph. Let’s do the same here. Some may complain that it is arrogant to do so. But that is just begging the question. What is at issue is whether the old religions are right. You just can’t refer to them for justification. You have to provide external grounds for their correctness. If traditional Christianity is true, surely I ought not be doing this and am deluded and, in fact, am a pawn of Satan preaching false doctrines [there’s a scare tactic for you, just like hell]. If it’s false, however, I’m sure God would want us to see the light and get out of a flawed system and move forward.

    I don’t trust any religious system that traffics in fear.

    As humans advance, so should their understanding of God. My particular views may be wrong, but I encourage you all to think enough of the mercy of God that he will not torment you forever if you make a theological error.

    Posted 22 Nov 2005 at 11:53 pm
  43. Funky Dung wrote:

    Didn’t Chesterton say something about the paradoxes of Christianity being something that appealed to him as expressions of truth?

    Posted 23 Nov 2005 at 12:04 am
  44. Tom Smith wrote:

    I think the one firm example of a contradiction you’ve set forth — the Incarnation — can be explained fairly easily in metaphysical terms. In fact, the Fathers did the same thing — in the Nicene Creed.

    Using this admittedly Western, pseudo-Aristotelian understanding of metaphysics, we can talk about Christ’s “substance” (or “essence,” if you prefer). Substance, as you probably understand, is that which makes something what it is — the element of a being that causes it to be itself; in philosophical terms, this is called a thing’s “haecceity,” or, in layman’s terms, it’s “thisness.” We humans all have a substance. I, according to this model, have a certain TomSmithness. You, presumably being human, have a Eustochiusness. Christ received human substance from Mary. But the human substance did not replace the divine substance. This is why we talk about Christ having dual natures — not because He’s some weird blend of humans and divinity as fourth-century heretics would believe — but because He possessed both human and divine substances, which were united without mutual contamination in the incarnate Christ.

    Some notes about your plotline:
    “(1)God is supposedly a perfect being, yet he creates two people who screw up pretty quickly.”

    You seem to agree with Leibniz that God created the best of all possible worlds. I also agree with Leibniz on this point — so I’m glad to see that we can at least agree on that! Anyway, I would say that the limitation that caused the first people to screw up was not a problem of their Creator, but of themselves. God, having all the substances before Him, chose the human substance to enflesh. He did not create some non-human creatures to be the primary inhabitants of the Earth. The substance of humans, being less than divine, caused Adam and Eve to do what any non-divine substance would — screw up.

    “(2) Rather than fixing the problem or starting over, he lets them breed for a while and then kills most of them with a flood.”

    And…?

    “(3) Sends Jesus down as his bright idea of providing a superabundance of grace. Couldn’t just announce it or something?”

    Didn’t He? What were all the Messianic prophecies about?

    “(4)God comes down to earth, but it still sucks when he leaves.”

    Really? Now people can be saved, so that’s a bright spot.

    “(5) Before finally getting around to fix the place, it pleases God to allow human suffering to continue some more. Let WWI, WII, and numerous genocidal campaigns occur.”

    Does it please God to see these things? He seemed to have a thing against killing and whatnot, seeing as how he left the ten Commandments, and they’re all against that and whatnot.

    “(6) And while we wait and suffer, God is biding his time when he can cast all the nonbelievers (i.e. most of humanity) into a lake of fire, or at least deny them the best spriritual real estate.”

    I take issue with the notion that one can know how many will be saved or not — and most of humanity damned, eh? I think you’re arguing against a certain branch of fundamentalists. Our Judgment is God’s final act of respect for our free will — salvation and damnation are not arbitrary, and we are not entitled to anything, because God had absolutely no need to create us in the first place. Life is an unmerited favor.

    “(7) Finally, we will remain in our human state forever, and waive palm fronds or something in heaven.”

    Yes, we will remain human forever. But palm fronds? Come on; I think you could come up with something a tad more fulfilling. But that’s what Heaven is anyway — not doing lotsa fun things, but being fulfilled. Anyway, how else would it be? We can’t all become divine; there can only be one God in order for omnipotence to work.

    Posted 02 Dec 2005 at 8:46 am

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  1. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » John Henry Newman on Faith (and Doubt) on 22 May 2006 at 11:19 am

    […] Faith here is rightly treated as both a virtue and a gift of God that might be refused. Faith, or the absence thereof known as doubt, is not the intellectual process we moderns generally conceive it to be. It is rather, as I’ve been known to blather from time to time, a moral process. Newman puts it so much more ably than I ever could […]

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