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Having Faith, Losing Religion

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I was raised to believe faith should be a private affair. To me, it's a personal relationship with a higher power which improves and nurtures the person who experiences it. I don’t believe you have to attend church, declare a denominational preference, or support the church financially in order to have faith.

I don’t believe religion and faith are the same thing. Organized religion is mere trappings. It's the pomp and circumstance of earthly traditions that have little to do with faith. Having faith, to me, is believing there is a higher power and trying your best to live as a caring being in accordance with your better instincts.

I have little use for those who try to project a 'holier than thou' image. I’ve seen too much in my life to believe anything but that all men are fallible and imperfect beings. I’ve never trusted anyone who said God spoke to him. I found it curious that these pious men usually got messages from God requesting more money in the collection plate.

My dad used to tease my mother by saying Catholics got out of Mass so early so they could beat the Baptists to the liquor store. I laughed, Mom didn’t. I have my father’s skeptical outlook on religion as an institution, but I do have faith. I believe there is something much greater than myself out there, somewhere. I wouldn’t bet on it being a big guy with a snowy-white beard. I think it’s personified only by the inner voice that guides my actions. But I do believe it’s there.

I no longer adhere to a specific denomination. I don't claim to know the Bible inside out, nor do I particularly care to. I remember the most important parts and try to follow them. I treat the people I meet with dignity, I try to be charitable and kind, and I do the best I can to be a good neighbour to my fellow men. I’m convinced I should consider my own life and failings before consigning anyone else to Hell for their beliefs or lack thereof.

Maybe I've become jaded, but I believe the interpretation of religion contributes greatly to the upheaval and unrest of our times. I don’t believe in injecting religion into our political process, and I despise attempts to classify our political differences as a battle between good and evil. I'm quite sure that God will not ask what party I belonged to on Judgement Day.

Looking at the world today, it's not difficult to find examples of religion run amok. There are so many twisted ideologies pitting different faiths against each other, and each party in these conflicts believe absolutely in the rightness of their cause. Is this truly what religion is? If you're different from me and if you don't believe exactly what I do, is it my Christian/Muslim/Catholic/Protestant duty to kill you?

If so, you can have it. You can kill and maim in the name of your gods. I can't stop you, as much as I'd like to. And because of such madness I've chosen not to have any religion at all.

What I have elected to have is faith. I have faith that people will someday rise above cherry-picking scriptures from the Koran or Bible that justify murder and hatred while they ignore those that expressly condemn them. I have faith that each day is a promise and a gift, and that what I do with it is up to me. I have faith that God is benevolent, and won't sentence me to an eternity of suffering if I've truly attempted to treat men, His greatest creation, with dignity and respect.

And I have faith that for every Osama Bin Laden, there are a million like me who refuse to kill in God's name. I hope that the maniacs murdering innocent people in suicide bombings will realize God won't rewards such acts with Paradise. I have faith that Muslims will reclaim the mantle of Islam from the lunatic fringe that’s taken it over, and that they find a way to co-exist in peace with other denominations.

To all the people arguing over what the Bible or Koran says or means: I don't care. I'm tired of wars being fought, young men dying, and people suffering over the supposed Word of God. If that's all God does for society, then society would be better off without Him. I have a feeling that those who have all the answers about what God wants now will someday see His sad face turning away, as He says, “depart from me, I never knew you.”

Jesus defined true religion simply: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength and mind, and love thy neighbour as thyself." He never advocates killing someone who disagrees with you. But Christians and the rest of mankind have perverted the scriptures of the gods they believe in to serve their own worldly purposes. So I'll keep my faith, and you can have your religion.

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  • Vern Halen

    Nice article Mr. M – makes lots of sense. Unfortunately, good sense doesn’t seem to go too far these days – maybe I and a few others can join you in your jadedness – we’ll just have to work hard not to make a religion out of it again.

  • Claudine Williams

    You don’t care about the bible and yet you quote Jesus?? The One who said He was exclusively they way to finding God. Have you really loved God with all that you have? have you turned your mind, soul and strength to Him? Seeking His will and purpose for your life.You say that you’ll get into heaven by treatng others with respect. If you go through the ten commandments you’ll find you have (as we all have) broken every single one. lied, stole, lied againt others, lusted after a married woman or man in your heart which jesus said was the same as adultery? have you hated anyone in your heart?jesus said this is the same as commiting murder. Have you really treated your neighbour as you would wished to be treated yourself? How could you then stand in front of a good and just God and believe He will just let you walk. You would not expect that from an earthly judge, let alone God. Ever heard the ‘Good News’- Jesus said that you don’t get to heaven by being a good person as no-one is good.you get to heaven by believing that he was sent into the world to die so as to pay for all the sins that you and the whole of mankind have and will commit. So that in God’s eyes you are pure and sinless and therefore able to have eternal life with Him.
    p.s more wars and suffering have occured in the name of Man than in the name of God.(ww1,ww2,fascism, communism,dictatorships, colonial empires, ancient empires(rome,greece) civil wars, trade wars etc etc etc.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Just a thought: How about not having faith in anything at all? What about relying on your senses, and empirical observation? And requiring proof before making any conclusion? There is no, nor has there ever been any credible evidence of a ‘supernatural’ or an ‘afterlife.’ Afterlife belief devalues the one life we do have–this one.

    I applaud you for rejecting organized religion. It is a crock of dung, and needs to be consigned to the ash heap of history. Religions do nothing for humanity that humanity couldn’t do for itself minus the pompous overtones.

    But you only go halfway, because you are still clinging to things religion teaches as a hedge against our inevitable death. Why not look for human derived morality, minimize human suffering, and find meaning in our own self-actualization? That is the true path of courage, my friend. When the majority of the world realizes this, we’ll finally see and end to the religious insanity.

    But kudos to you for at least going halfway!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    I am pleased to tell you this article is being featured in the Culture Focus today, November 2nd.

    Diana Hartman
    Culture Editor

  • Nancy

    This is a really, REALLY good article, very thought provoking, even if it does contain some cherry-picking ;) I agree totally with the author: religion is bad, even evil; faith is a whole ‘nother matter, a quantum leap difference from mere religion. Religion is indeed a crock & a scam, & the sooner eradicated – all of them – the better for the human race if not the entirety of creation, so to speak. What needs to be fostered is a sense of goodness, kindness, caritas/agape, & justice, for their own sakes, and not for the putative eventual ‘reward’ of Eternal Life, which after all is just a bribe reducing us all the the status of trained squirrels begging for peanuts if we’re good. We should do right because we WANT to do right, because it’s the right thing to do, not because we think we’ll get to heaven, or attain Nirvana, or for any other reason involving personal gain.

  • Vern Halen

    In some respects, religion is the social aspect of faith, and says more about us as a people rather than each of us as individuals. The way I see it, religion isn’t so bad if the society in which it is based is good. A people who are basically two faced, cheating liars for instance will end up with that entrenched in their religion or religions, despite all good intentions. Hmmm… how badly does that reflect on current culture, or any culture in recent memory?

  • Nancy

    So far the ONLY population I’ve seen that embodies the good of their religion are the Amish. Their behavior following the slaughter of their little schoolgirls was SO kindly, so (I hate to use the term) “christian”, I was deeply touched let alone appalled by the extent of their charity, especially to the family & widow of the murderer. Their example of how truly good, non-violent, & caring people act shook me quite a bit. I know I couldn’t do it with the grace that they did, if at all.

  • Donnie Marler

    Nancy, the Amish people amazed me in their reaction to such a horrific crime. I wrote of it in another article, which I won’t plug here.

    Claudine, I didn’t say I don’t care about the Bible. The point of the article is my despite for what people do in the name of religion.

  • Nancy

    I have to say they outright shocked me by their reactions. I’ll ask: what was the name of your article? I’d like to read it, and I missed it. Thanks.

  • Donnie Marler

    Nancy, ‘Some Wounds Never Heal.’ It’s in the Culture Focus this morning, along with this article.

  • duane

    Donnie says: “…will someday see His sad face turning away, as He says, “depart from me, I never knew you.”

    So, although you don’t believe that there is a god with a “snowy-white beard,” you have still anthropomorphized “It.” What makes you think a god has a face to turn away? What makes you think that a god would use familiar human body language?

    Isn’t it all just a big confusing mess of wishful thinking?

    Good points, BlackSun.

  • Leslie Bohn

    Faith is belief without eveidence. Who needs it? I’m with BlackSun in urging the author to take te next logical step.

    No gods.

  • Donnie Marler

    Sorry, Duane. “Someday see God’s sad, poofy, nothingness turning away” just didn’t catch my fancy.

  • duane

    Then it is all about what you “fancy.” That’s what I thought.

  • Donnie Marler

    Duane, I have no idea what a god would look like, so I used the only reference I have for his appearance in likening him to ourselves.
    The point of the article is not God’s form, if any, it’s the evil done in his name by the misguided application of religious beliefs.

  • duane

    Donnie, I get the point of the article. Trust me. Have faith in me. And good for you for throwing off some of your shackles. But like all Blogcritics posts, the responses shouldn’t be expected to address only the main point(s). Sometimes the comments address other comments, and that’s the fun of BC.

    My snide remarks were just an attempt to draw you out a bit. You still seem to have some hazy notions that there is something somewhere that “sits” in judgment of you … and us. To what do you attribute this belief?

    Also, you said this:

    “Having faith, to me, is believing there is a higher power and trying your best to live as a caring being in accordance with your better instincts.”

    Instincts. huh? What did you mean by that? I think instincts are evolved patterns of thought and behavior a la Darwin. At one level, we have physiologically based instincts, fear of falling, fear of fire, the desires to survive and reproduce, territoriality, etc. At another level, we have psychological/sociological instincts, the golden rule, for example, which provides a reasonable ethical guideline for setting up and maintaining a civilized society.

    So, if I interpret your comment by my definitions, there is no need to believe in a higher power. This belief is ancillary to experience. What more than wishful thinking is there to your belief?

  • Vern Halen

    Certainly God’s appearance is not the point of the article, but each of us references Him in the way that makes most sense to us. For instance, what do each of these people with whom we discuss things on blogcritics look like – some shiftless 20 something living in mom’s basement or someone at a Manhattan law firm trying to squeeze in posts when the boss isn’t looking? Old, young, handicapped, frustrated, happy, whatever? We put a face on them, and yet we don’t – and we do believe they exist, yet we have little evidence to prove it. Perhaps I’m actually a rock band pretending to be an individual and running posts between vocal takes on our new album. Or a sophisticated computer progam. Or God.

    Recall the parable of the mustard seed, and try to figure out the point of the story – that’s about faith, and the church as well.

  • duane

    Vern, you believe we exist because you yourself, with your own eyes, have seen examples of living, breathing humans. Probably most every day you see a human face and communicate with said human. In your vast experience, you imagine posters and commenters to be (more or less) humanoid bipeds with bilateral symmetry, five to six feet tall, male or female, sitting next to a computer. The rest are details.

    If you adopt the position that I may not exist because I cannot prove to you that I exist, then we may follow a reductio ad absurdum down to “you can’t prove that anything exists.” This is not a useful approach. I’m guessing that you don’t live your life in such a fog.

    Have you ever seen a supernatural being? Has one ever talked to you? Do you get email from them? Do you see any purpose in a god posting at BC, remaining inscrutable? Why would you presume that an inscrutable being is watching you?

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Actually, Nancy, the Amish dishored those girls with their beliefs. They claimed the girls were in a better place. The girls are DEAD. Here is the reference to the article, where an Amish woodworker claims the funeral is more important than the girls’ day of birth. He also claimed the murders were part of ‘god’s plan.’ I posted about this on my blog: Black Sun Journal

  • http://transylvaniandutch.com John

    Jesus may have said those words at the end of your article, but they appear in Leviticus as well, and are accepted by Christian, Muslim, and Jew alike. Excellent choice.

  • Vern Halen

    Duane – sorry to get back to you late – got busy.

    So, to paraphrase yourself, if I interpret your comment by MY definitions, there is no need NOT to believe in a higher power. This belief is ancillary to experience. What more than wishful thinking is there to your belief?

    The fact that the universe exists in oppositon to the scientifc principle of entropy makes us all supernatural beings, I guess. As for inscrutable beings watching us (I assume you mean some version of an omnipotent being), I don’t think “watching” is the word I’d use – “sustaining” maybe?

    As for being able to prove anything exists – I don’t worry too much about that. I got good fog lights, if you take my meaning.

    Remember the mustard seed that grows into a mustard tree – there’s more out there than what we see, but we see what we want to see.

  • Baronius

    Donnie, here’s my problem. You’re rejecting religion because of humans, not because of God. Yet you’re choosing to put your faith in humans.

    To delve a bit: religion is worthless, you say. Religious people don’t act in a way that they should. So you’re going to avoid religion. That may make sense if the only scum in the world were religious. But humanity is packed with scum. Look at the ‘net. If you only went to sites with good people, you’d be playing Pong offline. Humans corrupt everything.

    But you’re putting your faith in humans. You count on them to correct the errors of religion. You may as well count on e. coli to repair the errors of meat.

  • duane

    Thanks for the reply, Vern, and the tough questions. But just a couple of quick things, before I go on a rant.

    The fact that the universe exists in oppositon to the scientifc principle of entropy makes us all supernatural beings, I guess.

    Where did you get the idea that our existence violates the scientific principle of entropy, also know as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It doesn’t. I will explain further if you need me to.

    As for inscrutable beings watching us (I assume you mean some version of an omnipotent being), I don’t think “watching” is the word I’d use – “sustaining” maybe?

    My choice of the word “inscrutable” was deliberate. You implied the possibility that a god could be anywhere at anytime, mixing it up with us humans, even posting at BC. Although I appreciate the humor in this specific example, I am taking your comment as being serious insofar as you believe that a god is among us, but that it hides itself from us. Your god is unknowable. Its wishes are not made clear. Its intended purpose for us is not made clear. People argue over its possible existence, but it chooses not to show itself. It surrounds itself in mystery. It is inscrutable.

    Given that, why do you believe in it? Why do you believe that such a being is “sustaining” us?

  • duane

    OK, Vern, here are my responses to your post #21:

    …there is no need NOT to believe in a higher power.

    Surely, you jest. The power of religious dogma to steer the masses onto narrow paths of arbitrarily defined straits of behavior and belief is well known. I hope you won’t deny that there is something very silly about bowing down towards a city, imagining that there is a big meanie with horns that is chomping at the bit, waiting to torture us for all eternity if we don’t behave, not being allowed to write the word “God,” and so on and so forth.

    So, maybe you believe in a higher power but don’t go in for the ritual. I still must ask why you believe that. You may ask what is wrong with that? Well, books have been written on this topic, and I’m not up to writing my own, so just a few things: Belief in a higher power is tantamount to a denial that we are alone, and that we alone will decide what we do with our time on Earth. It is a shirking of responsibility. It is a failure to exploit our full mental capacity for the betterment of mankind. It is self-delusion. It is a waste of time. It encourages unnecessary factionalism. It retards intellectual growth and maturation. It confuses causes and effects. It affects behavior in a groundless way. It is living in a fog. It’s a drug. It’s a crutch.

    This belief is ancillary to experience.

    Lack of belief in something for which there is no basis for belief is fully consistent with my experience. Lack of belief adds nothing to my world view, so cannot be considered as ancillary. There is nothing to which the label “ancillary” can be attached. I have no belief, as you say. I have only an absence of belief.

    What more than wishful thinking is there to your belief?

    I wish there was a godlike creature. It would make the universe, which is already unfathomably interesting, even more so. I also wish there was a Loch Ness monster, and a Bigfoot, and visitations from extraterrestrials, and ESP, and time travelers, and real magic. How much more fascinating our world would be, no? So, against my wishes, I exercise reason to the best of my ability to identify and absorb into my world view what is real and present.

    I would like to hear your answer to this question, as well.

  • http://elusiveallusions.blogspot.com Roberta S

    I couldn’t agree with you more that we need more faith and less religion. Knowing God is love, believing it so that we idealize that love in our relationships with others leaves no room for religious bickering or religious wars. When the righteous are so confident that they think they are right and everyone else is wrong, there is no openess to understanding other’s faith. Besides loving our neighbour’s, the Bible wants us to be humble and to be humble we cannot assume how we think is the only absolute right way to think. God gave us exceptional intelligence but not the wisdom of Gods.

  • Vern Halen

    Well, Duane, you debate well. Many of your points are ones that no reasonable person would care to parry with you. However, as I mentioned, in post #21, I am using MY definitions, just as you have pointed out at the end of post #16 that you have used YOUR definitions. And yours may be what you understand to be the usual or normal definitions, but mine are normal by my own standards. So, we may never be able to finish this one up, but I’ll try to make myself clear.

    At random:

    There certainly is something silly about ritual if one doesn’t understand the symbolism behind it. But it can be very powerful if it helps one understand something about the nature of one’s existence. I don’t bow to a city, but I understand how it could be a very powerful sign of respect.

    You said, “Lack of belief in something for which there is no basis for belief is fully consistent with my experience.” Me too. But in my experience there’s been plenty on which to base belief. Perhaps you would interpret the same experiences differently, but of course, that’s the nature of our different opinions.

    Belief in a higher power is, as you said, “tantamount to a denial that we are alone, and that we alone will decide what we do with our time on Earth. It is a shirking of responsibility.” I disagree: it is an acknowledgement that we have a choice to share in the responsibilty or shirk it. There’s always a choice. And yes, you can make the choice whether you believe in a higher power or not, but then both choices are equal – building the universe is equal to destroying it. And frankly, it takes more thought & energy to build than destroy.

    Which brings me to entropy – then tendency for maximum randomness or lowest energy state – I’ve seen it defined both ways. Life itself and the basic organization of the universe is in opposition to this – what power works against it so hard? And the Big Bang, which I also accept – what was before that, and why did the Big Bang happen? Those are questions that science can’t always answer convincingly.

    Does God blog on the net? Like everywhere else in the world, God works through people – many Christian denominations refer to the church as the Body of Christ – Christ can want to do all the good He wants, but it only gets done if the Body does it. And that the social aspect of religion perhaps. Unfortunately, God isn’t the only one that knows how work MSN. (I got a good joke about how “Jesus saves” that I myself will save for another time!)

    How about miracles (don’t think that was mentioned anywhere, but it fits in and this is my rant after all!)? I don’t know about all that in the Bible – I wasn’t there – it’s not part of my experience. But as the Bible progresses, there seem to be fewer and less grandiose miracles. In fact, in the gospels, you often read Jesus saying to people, “YOUR faith has made you well (my capitals).” And in the modern world, with technolgy & medicines & surgeries & stuff, well, a lot of that is pretty miraculous. To me it’s an example of people sharing in the wonders of creation. it’s like, for instance, when you’re younger, your parents are Godlike – they can fix anything. But you rely on them less and less, til you get to the point that you become the person that can fix anything – at least your own kids think so. And your own parents don’t necessarily have to be dead, but they are less involved with your family. Maybe as a human family, we are expected nowadays to solve our own problems and make our own miracles. As for the “magic” arbitrary, goes against the laws of science miracles – I don’t deny they can happen, but I don’t know of any that have happened to me. Just the regular sort of things, like air conditioning and running water.

    Well, I’ve got to start work now. Thanx for your time, Duane – get back to me if you want – I’m pretty reasonable about most things, but I just figure there’s more here than we can know with our senses. And congrats – I think you just got my longest ever post out of me.

    V.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    I am pleased to tell you this article is part of the Culture Editors’ Picks of the Week.

    Diana Hartman
    Culture Editor
    Melita Teale
    Asst Culture Editor

  • Donnie Marler

    Thanks, Diana & Melita.