the circular runner

what we talk about when we talk about God…

In life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm

lilywhiteamongthorns , a blogger who read my recent post about the God-haters on Facebook posted this comment:

I have a question. I would like for you to answer it, but I will understand if you don’t. What is your defiinition of a believer? Because you say you are one, yet you say,

“I just don’t get the idea that I have to believe that a man died on the cross for my sins, and even if I do believe it, I really don’t get why I have to think that the next guy is damned because he doesn’t. That just sounds tribal to me and against any notion of the infinite nature of divinity.”

So my bottom line question is, what DO you believe in?

It’s a good question, and I am going to try to be as direct (read short) and honest (read I’m digging deep) as possible. But to do so, I think I better clear up a couple things first.  1. I think I should remind people that my previous post about the Facebook Atheists, for lack of a better word, was pointed at the facile way they dismiss belief, and the quote above refers to a smaller point I was making that these Atheists are not the only ones guilty of condescension.  There are a lot of conservative religious people out there who can be just as dismissive of positions that aren’t their own. For the sake of this post, let me also say that when I refer to “conservative” religious folk, I am referring to Christians not because they are the only ones, but because I know that tradition best. I am sure that there are conservatives of the kind I am referring to in all traditions.

The other point has to do with the words, “believer”and “belief”. In the other post, I was using a very broad definition for the first word–something like, anyone who believes in some thing, some force in the world that is greater than any one of us and that is greater than the physical world. Yes, it’s vague, but I was using the term in opposition to people who don’t believe in any such force, or God, or whichever word you think appropriate for divinity.

As to the word, “belief” and how I use it, (OK, wake up,lilywhiteamongthorns, because this is what you were looking for) let me say that I think of belief in terms of hope. There are a lot of Christians (they are probably not the only ones) who use the word belief when they really mean knowledge. For my taste, they are just a little too confident in their proclamations. When it comes to God-talk, I think vague is the best any of us can do. So if you ask me what I believe when it comes to God and to an afterlife, to the metaphysical, to the spiritual, my general answer is, I hope for a lot, but I know nothing.

Now,if that sounds like I’m being safe and non-committal, let me be more specific. Let me put to you a scenario that sounds like a joke, but isn’t. I think this story will get at what I hope for when it comes to God.  So, imagine a bunch of mystics from all the religious traditions of the world coming together in a room to discuss the idea of God. You pick the panel.  Can you imagine it? A Sikh Guru, John of the Cross and his grimace, some Buddhist sage–it’s like a collection of religious superheroes from all the ages. At first, all of them argue with each other. The Buddhist says there is no God, the Christian claims that God can be known in three aspects: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Jewish mystic thinks all of that is mishegaas. The Hindu looks on amused and imagines that all Gods are just some version of Vishnu. But as they keep talking, as they keep trying to boil down what they are after, all these individuals find that their language is the problem, their words are the obstacles to their coming together. In other words, their ultimate concern, in order for it to be ultimate, is actually the same thing.

NOW, I AM NOT SAYING THAT ALL RELIGIONS ARE THE SAME. Religions are made out of culture and they speak to the concerns of the culture they come out of. They are for this world, at least that is what I believe, by which I mean, that is what I hope. So, to loop back to the question above, the blogger points to my reference to Jesus. As a Christian, I should say that I believe in the resurrection–by which I should be saying I KNOW Jesus rose on the third day. I cannot say that, but I can say that I hope he did. I hope for this not because I think that that event washes away my sins if I accept it, but because it is an act of God piercing through the cold rationality of this world, a type of proof that there is something greater out there that awaits us. I hope for this with all my heart, but I also hope that God spoke to Mohammed and told him to recite, and that the Buddha was able to grasp Nirvana through contemplation one day long ago, etc. I believe/hope in things unseen, but I know nothing. Is God some old guy with a beard sitting on a throne surrounded by angels? Maybe, but maybe he is not a He. Maybe God is some force in the world that acts in the world, or maybe He/She/It is none of these things.

This hopeful doubt is the only way I can imagine a God that exists without also thinking that my Jain friend, or my Buddhist friend, or even my Facebook, condescending Atheist friend is going to suffer hellfire because they don’t share my beliefs. Again, I might be wrong. Maybe God is a his-way-or-the-highway kind of God, but I hope that is not so. I hope so more than I can express here. But who the hell knows? (pun intended.) I know I don’t. That much I know. And I’m wiling to bet that no one else does either.

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  1. Wonderfully said. And I agree. It’s not the beliefs of the many/myriad around me, it’s the conviction that THEIR belief is The Truth. That they KNOW, when none of us really knows anything.

    But hope, ah, hope; that I can believe in.

  2. […] believer.  I tried to explain my beliefs once already on this blog, if interested, please see this.   If you are still here, I commend you: good choice.  Let’s live in the […]

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