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How To Lose Faith Without Really Trying:
January 30, 2002 9:04 AM   Subscribe

How To Lose Faith Without Really Trying: I lost mine when I was 13 and only recovered it twenty years later. I slowly read my way back to God. James Grimmelman lost his the same way. Reading Kierkegaard did it for him. Faith doesn't come easy but you can certainly lose it in a hurry...[This article from the Killing The Buddha webzine. Other good stuff by Grimmelman can be found on his web site, Laboratorium.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (94 comments total)

 
Thanks for the link Miguel, I enjoyed the article.
posted by revbrian at 9:18 AM on January 30, 2002


I lost my faith in college. Haven't gotten it back,yet. It bugs me, though, to think of some of my heroes (Bob Dylan, Bono, David Letterman...) and how they've kept the faith. I mean, if THEY can believe, why can't I?

I keep thinking that I need some kind of proof (which is, of course, the opposite of faith). Religious people seem weakminded to me at times. Putting trust in and invisible force is a scary idea to me. Still, sometimes I think it would be nice to know that SOMEONE sober's at the wheel.
posted by ColdChef at 9:19 AM on January 30, 2002


Never had it. Don't want it. I do respect your beliefs though. I wish more people respected mine.
posted by jeblis at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2002


Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

- Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
posted by grabbingsand at 9:30 AM on January 30, 2002


Very intersting, but I think it's the exact opposite though. Growing up in an aethiest household, I was never "taught" faith, so it is hard for me to comprehend it. I don't mean to belittle faith when I say that for 6 years I believed in Santa though, so I can sort of undertand where the belief in God starts. I hope that makes sense without offending.

Miguel, I have been reading about God since I attended my first Bar Mitvah trying to understand God. I am one of the few out there that actually want to believe. So in my case, finding faith has been an extremely long process.

I just finished reading A The History of God by Karen Armstrong ( not the lightest of reading ), which I thought would help, but it just pushed me further away.
posted by remlapm at 9:33 AM on January 30, 2002


Lost my faith right when the hormones started kicking in, like so many other angst-ridden teens, and then got it back when I realized I had just confused the Church and its Bible with God and religion.

Anyway, the article was pretty good. Kierkegaard is a difficult subject, and the author of this piece, though he had a nice way of turning phrases, did sort of fall victim to a lot of the writing cliches of amateur philosophers. Not to say that it was bad, just that it was a little too personal to stand up to much analysis, if that is indeed what he intended it for.

Which I am inclined to doubt.
posted by Hildago at 9:35 AM on January 30, 2002


Catholic schools made me an atheist.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:39 AM on January 30, 2002


Organizied religion provides a societal framework by which to live your life. Many people need such direction. If it helps you, great. Keep a good thing going.

If you are an outsider, it is perplexing to see large groups of people following rulesets that don't always make sense to you. What concerns me is their divisive nature. They create a distinction between "Us" and "Them" and encourage Us to make Them part of Us. If you want to experience this in a big way, move to Utah.

It's interesting that some religious people lament non-believers because they follow their own arbitrary man-made rules/morals. Well, if you're atheist, you believe all religious systems are man-made - and that it's possible to be a good person without being Christian (or whatever).
posted by fleener at 9:39 AM on January 30, 2002


Grabbingsand -- I always took Highway 61 Revisited to be about the Vietnam war. If so, it's interesting (well, maybe not) that the biblical analogy to Abraham and Isaac gets used repeatedly to refer to this time in our history.
posted by Hildago at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2002


well coldchef, i heard it from my parents, and my wife heard it from hers, and i've heard it before...

Be careful what classess you take in college. Especially Philosophy.

i lost my faith about 10 years before i ceased the actions, but not because of college.

I really hope this thread doesn't degenerate into another big religion bash/defend thread. Faith as a concept is interesting, if we can examine that rather than what it leads to...that would be nice.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:51 AM on January 30, 2002


miguel:

very interesting you mention kierkegaard, since in The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus bags on Kierkegaard for his bizarre support of god after compiling a large treatise on logic and the explanation of the world through it. (i'm paraphrasing, so i may be slightly inaccurate in what K. did.) i'm not really sure how people "leave" god, unless they become atheists (which i do not believe Camus was, if you draw any comparisons between Dr. Rieux and the author in The Plague).
posted by moz at 9:54 AM on January 30, 2002


(if you care, Camus called what Kierkegaard and similar philosophers did -- including Chekhov -- "philosophical suicide.")
posted by moz at 9:57 AM on January 30, 2002


"Be careful what classes you take in college. Especially Philosophy."

Whew. Now THAT is a spooky line, and one of the main reasons organized religions give me the willies.
posted by Perigee at 9:58 AM on January 30, 2002


[Well, if you're atheist... it's possible to be a good person without being Christian (or whatever).]

I'm a "Christian" and I believe that.
posted by revbrian at 10:04 AM on January 30, 2002


I lost my faith at a young age, like many, but regained it in another form over the last few years.
posted by bkdelong at 10:11 AM on January 30, 2002


Thank God I'm an atheist.
posted by D at 10:17 AM on January 30, 2002


I lost my affinity for Christianity my senior year of high school, when I took a theology class - at a private, Episcopalisn school -- that covered the great religions. The belief systems hold great beauty and power, but many preach hate under the guise of all-consuming love. I contemplated all the harm done in religion's name and became a secular humanist/deist.
posted by Vacaloca at 10:28 AM on January 30, 2002


James Grimmelmann has a Metafilter account. He's also written some good stuff for Medianstrip.
posted by lbergstr at 10:36 AM on January 30, 2002


The only thing I took away from my college readings from Kierkegaard is that doubt is the necessary pre-conditon for faith. Doubt is the field in which the flowers of faith bloom.

This is a powerful claim (and to the believer it must be a comforting one), because it distinguishes faith from knowledge.

Then I made the mistake of trying to read Wittgenstein and decided that religion was all semantics anyway.

Seems like our monkey brains are hardwired to perceive patterns, and to impose patterns where none are evident. This fact is relevant to this disucssion, but my boss is heading this way with a determined look in her eye....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2002


I went atheist late in junior high, and by the end of high school was dabbling in Buddhism.

Much like fleener commented above, I saw great potential in using a religious form to make my life better, to complement my weaknesses.

But I don't agree that all religious folk draw divisive, black-and-white lines. If you look at the people I keep company with, you'd find Wiccans, Christians, Jews, one Hindu, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and two Muslims that I know of. We politely disagree on religious matters, and we can be friends in spite of it.
posted by rocketman at 10:58 AM on January 30, 2002


Great positive thread! I'm going to read it on my Visor on the train today.

Some people don't believe, but some people don't understand that faith and reason can co-exist, and that there's a difference between beliefs which cannot be explained by reason, and beliefs which are contradicted by reason.

Anyway, I consider myself Jewish, but only in an untraditional way, which might be viewed as being in denial about losing my faith. If so, I lost my faith over time, especially upon concluding that I could never relate to the the vast majority of observant Jews. Then again, I'm not sure I can relate to the vast majority of people, so...
posted by ParisParamus at 11:10 AM on January 30, 2002


Religion: "We are the chosen people." "No, WE are the chosen people."

Faith: The sun will come up tomorrow.

Faith and imagination are the same thing. Without them we are not human.
posted by joemaller at 11:12 AM on January 30, 2002


i think the dinosaurs sort of did it for me, but then i was in a book store (in college :) and out of curiosity read the last page of mere christianity. that and talking to the brothers.

i've never read kierkegaard, but someone was explaining the "man of faith" to me one time. it kind of sounded like some stuff c.s. lewis said in mere christianity. it also reminded me of this other thing he said:
[t]he heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle…. God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about "parallels" and "pagan Christs": they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren't. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic?
shades of PKD :)

113 His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"

"It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or 'Look, there!' Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it."
posted by kliuless at 11:17 AM on January 30, 2002


It's an interesting topic. I've been thinking a lot about faith lately. I don't think I ever really had faith. I can remember being a very small child asking my mother how she knew there was a god. She said something to the effect that you just have to have faith, and I accepted that and paid lipservice to it until about fourth grade.

In fourth grade I got hard core into greek and roman mythology, and I remember noticing that the bibles and the myths were in the same category of the dewey decimal system. That blew my mind. It was a pivotal moment as a young child. A few years later I read Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains which instilled in me a lasting antipathy towards organized religion, and an interest in books that deal with religion as a controlling force (or perhaps the story simply resonated because those feelings were in me already). Interestingly, I reread the series a few months ago and realize that with 20+ years of additional perspective its actually a series that supports the idea that faith might be important.

Now that I'm in my 30's, I find myself confronting the idea of my own mortality in ways that never seemed very real to me when I was younger. I find myself ill equipped to deal with those thoughts. When I see people with faith, I think that generally they do seem a lot happier, and I occasionally toy with the whole act like you have faith and it shall be granted way into the whole deal. I just can't seem overcome my arrogance. It's too central to my sense of self, and the whole thing feels like a comfortable lie. I'm not sure how or if I can get past that feeling. I would be interested in how other thinking people have found their way into faith.
posted by willnot at 11:44 AM on January 30, 2002


calling any lax catholics out there:

as a former lax catholic, I would like to inform you of 'the hail mary trick'. when you are very bored or very angry, and you want to kill the person who is talking to you, you simply say the hail mary over and over and over again. i think that it's sort of like what was going on in franny & zooey with that jesus prayer, but i find that the hail mary works much better.

There is a feminist version too, I believed that I had created it myself, until mlang's mother told me that it had been around since before I was born...
posted by goneill at 11:51 AM on January 30, 2002


I was an atheist/humanist for over 12 years, belonged to Unitarian church during this time. I then converted to Catholicism three years ago. Facing mortality in my case had a lot to do with this and seeing the positives of what faith could bring to my life. I read, studied and thought my way out of atheism. Facing death, realizing evil was real as a social worker and other factors all played a part in my change of mind along with growing older.

Life with God in it has been far superior. I understand why some people dont believe in God from my days as an atheist but have to admit for me its been a positive experience to have regained faith.
posted by Budge at 11:54 AM on January 30, 2002


Faith dreams mountains. - [me]

Sorry if my opinion jibes.
posted by walrus at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2002


"Belief" obliged me to suspend my critical faculties. Belief made literally anything possible. And I just didn't want to live in a universe in which literally anything could be possible.

In fact, the consequences of abandoning reason to belief are, I think, so toxic (fleener's Us/Them thing) that a God that punishes belief is just as likely, and a lot more reasonable, than a God that punishes disbelief. It seems just as likely that the "good" human beings are those that follow the natural light of reason, which is given to them to control their beliefs. These good human beings follow the arguments, and hence avoid religious convictions. The ones with the strength of mind not to believe in such things go to Heaven. The rest go to Hell! (with thanks to Simon Blackburn for organising the words more eloquently than I could have).
posted by RichLyon at 12:12 PM on January 30, 2002


When did Christians begin considering "happiness" a significant outcome of faith? I'm not being snarky, but genuinely curious. I spend a lot of time immersed in nineteenth-century Christian literature, of various varieties (evangelical Dissent, Anglican, etc.), and "happiness" is never mentioned as something Christians should aspire to, or even expect. (The contrary, actually.) Rather, these writers usually advocate "calm," or "serenity," or, at most "cheerfulness" (by which they didn't mean a state of ecstasy, but, rather, the ability to remain in good temper). Faith was something that kept you from "despair"--non-Christians, which for most of my writers included Roman Catholics, were thought to despair a lot--but it didn't make you "happy."

(One thinks of Graham Greene's response to the question "Are you happy?": "Not really. Who is?")
posted by thomas j wise at 12:40 PM on January 30, 2002


Faith begins where reason ends.
posted by benh57 at 12:54 PM on January 30, 2002


I more or less lost what little budding faith in humanity -- pretty much the only faith I've ever had -- at an early age. Watching one screaming parent chase the other around wielding a nine inch butcher knife and a murderous glint in the eye will do that for you.

I really only started to rediscover my belief in the existence of goodness another 25 years later, after running almost completely accidentally across "This I Believe", which is really more of a pep talk than philosophy or theology.

I am but a simple bear of very little mind, and the words of most great philosophers soar far above me.
posted by majick at 1:03 PM on January 30, 2002


RichLyon - The idea you seem to be working toward was floated here a while back:

"It is an insult to God to believe in God. For on the one hand it is to suppose that he has perpetrated acts of incalculable cruelty. On the other hand, it is to suppose that he has perversely given his human creatures an instrument-their intellect-which must inevitably lead them, if they are dispassionate and honest, to deny his existence. It is tempting to conclude that if he exists, it is the atheists and agnostics that he loves best, among those with any pretensions to education. For they are the ones who have taken him most seriously."
Galen Strawson (b. 1952), British philosopher, literary critic. Quoted in: Independent (London, 24 June 1990).
posted by NortonDC at 1:08 PM on January 30, 2002


maybe it's not so much as losing faith, as it is opening the spirit.

(p.s. killing the buddha? wtf? what he ever do to harm you?)
posted by jcterminal at 1:08 PM on January 30, 2002


I suppose it's a mental lack on my part, but I can never understand how someone goes 'back' to faith from atheism. Not to be offensive but to me that seems like going 'back' to believing in Santa.
posted by HTuttle at 1:27 PM on January 30, 2002


Why, once you'd managed to free yourself from faith, would you ever want it back again?

Faith: The sun will come up tomorrow.

It seems sad to waste faith on something so mundane. All you need, to understand how vanishingly unlikely it is that the sun wouldn't come up tomorrow, is a rudimentary understanding of gravity and inertia.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:28 PM on January 30, 2002


Religious beliefs are best kept to one's self.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 1:34 PM on January 30, 2002


hildago: use of the Abraham story as a war parallel is not new. Check out this poem by Wilfred Owen (WWI) ... the first time I read it, I was just like... "woah."

About the article, it made Kierkegaard seem way too much like my ex-boyfriend. Maybe he was a lot like that.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:05 PM on January 30, 2002


Religious beliefs Trolls are best kept to one's self. This thread is about religion. If you didn't want to read about it, you shouldn't have clicked on it.

I remarked that Catholic schools made me an athiest, but it doesn't change the fact that I have respect for other's religious beliefs and challenges of faith.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:06 PM on January 30, 2002


i'm lost and confused... but why must there be answers and why must there be a purpose to anything?

it's not the warmest or fuzziest outlook on life but i'm doing my best to accept my relatively insignificant existence.

the one major flaw i find with this relativist view is that i can hardly finish posting anything before i no longer agree with myself.
posted by ggggarret at 2:17 PM on January 30, 2002


Fleener basically expressed what I would say here already, so... I've never had faith and never wanted it, though it does seem to be a good thing for some people, so that's cool.

The idea of faith is an interesting one to me though - I mean it is blatantly defined as the ability to believe something to be true that there is no reason to think is actually true - no reason except your desire that it be true. So it's a kind of weird thing to hold as a high ideal. On the other hand it's considered a kind of strength, to have that level of confidence in your projection of the world or something. "you gotta believe" - sometimes you need determination to make something true... maybe that's like tom robbins' book where the old gods get hazy and start disappearing when no one believes in them anymore...

Faith and imagination are the same thing. Without them we are not human.
There is a significant difference. All writers / artists / filmmakers etc use imagination to create their worlds. Many of my favorites create worlds just slightly different from reality (surrealism, magical realism, etc) All of this is vital to me. However, I distinguish it from reality. The fact that I can imagine something has utterly no bearing on whether or not it actually exists (disregarding for the moment the ridiculous ontological argument...). Faith is a belief that something actually is, independent of any reason or evidence that it is, and even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

(p.s. killing the buddha? wtf? what he ever do to harm you?)
The idea, I think, is that any buddha you actually meet is not the real buddha, or not the essence of buddhism / enlightenment, and that it will get in your way if you don't destroy it - it's all about not holding on to anything. Obviously this doesn't apply to actual people. Though I felt some connection to buddhism in high school, I've since realized that I've got a western heart and that though dispassionate letting go is useful to keep in mind sometimes, it's not the central tenet of life for me. Everything in moderation, including moderation.
posted by mdn at 2:28 PM on January 30, 2002


Why is it that we 'lose' faith and virginity? I certainly don't have a sense of loss regarding either.
posted by groundhog at 2:30 PM on January 30, 2002


i'm lost and confused... but why must there be answers and why must there be a purpose to anything?

Because randomness does not offer a satisfying, or plausible explanation for the universe. Or us being here. Or Metafilter. (although randomness might be enough to explain Metatalk...)
posted by ParisParamus at 2:34 PM on January 30, 2002


NortonDC - quite possibly - for those of us that don't hang off MeFi's every word it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the traps of double posting and double commenting, and I can only apologise.

I have been reading Simon Blackburn's "Think", who's writings on this aspect crystalise some of the thoughts that I seem to remember going through my head around the time I lost my faith. This was in the context of Pascal's wager and the implication of metaphysical uncertainty that any scenario regarding the nature of faith was equally likely.
posted by RichLyon at 2:40 PM on January 30, 2002


i'm lost and confused... but why must there be answers and why must there be a purpose to anything?

Because randomness does not offer a satisfying, or plausible explanation for the universe. Or us being here. Or Metafilter. (although randomness might be enough to explain Metatalk...)
posted by ParisParamus at 2:41 PM on January 30, 2002


That's one of the big things that sucks about being an atheist - the lack of fun ideas that explain the unknown. Wanna kill a conversation about the afterlife? Just pronounce quietly but firmly that you believe death is final - the lightswitch goes off. One minute you're you, the next a big hunk of meat, and/or a disposal problem. No magic, no Heaven, no nothing.

It even depresses me sometimes. Makes me wonder if someday I might let go of this need to believe what I think is true (that the universe is a cold indifferent place), and embrace what is more comforting. How much nicer it would be to look forward to being with loved ones in paradise than it is to imagine a cold, abrubt fade to black. Honestly. Atheists usually aren't much fun. Atheists who broadcast their views are usually less so.
posted by kokogiak at 3:18 PM on January 30, 2002


Peter Bernstein wrote an interesting book recently, Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk. As part of his discussion about mankind's evolving understanding of risk, he explored the reason people believe in God.

Basically, he interprets it as an efficient risk management tactic. Believing in God requires little effort or cost and returns the benefit of a low probability high cost outcome: hell.
posted by Real9 at 3:30 PM on January 30, 2002


RichLyon - I was not remonstrating you. I was pointing to an additional resource.
posted by NortonDC at 4:25 PM on January 30, 2002


"...I never told my religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I am satisfied that yours must be an excellent religion to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be judged...." What Thomas Jefferson said pretty much covers matters of religion for me.
posted by Lynsey at 4:41 PM on January 30, 2002


Uh, that's not all he said.

"The clergy...believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion."
Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, 1800. ME 10:173

...and he compiled a book of what statements he actually thought Jesus spoke in the Bible. His relationship with religion might have had more nuances to it.
posted by NortonDC at 4:54 PM on January 30, 2002


I've always had faith, and I don't think I can imagine life without it. Someone mentioned above: "Belief made literally anything possible. And I just didn't want to live in a universe in which literally anything could be possible", well I had the same realization but came to the opposite conclusion. I have faith in possibility, if not a god.
posted by Nothing at 4:58 PM on January 30, 2002


"Be careful what classes you take in college. Especially Philosophy."

I'm just finishing up my Philosophy core, and I've found that it's actually made my faith stronger. The dissenting opinions they talk about have always made sense to me, but never have I seen any truth in them. It makes me think, and the conclusions I come to are usually theistically based.
posted by tomorama at 6:04 PM on January 30, 2002


...and he compiled a book of what statements he actually thought Jesus spoke in the Bible.

For some reason, my copy of the "Jefferson Bible" was reprinted in a series featuring assorted evangelicals and The Imitation of Christ. It's as if the editors didn't understand (or refused to understand) what Jefferson meant when he singled out Christ's words as the "diamonds" lost among the "dung hill" that was the rest of the Bible. The dung hill, incidentally, included all the miracles, as well as the resurrection. (And, if I'm remembering correctly, the young Jesus talking back to his parents when they come to fetch him from the temple. Jefferson must have thought this was a bad example for impressionable youth.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:28 PM on January 30, 2002


Thanks for the details, thomas j wise. I was operating on memories from junior high. :)
posted by NortonDC at 7:58 PM on January 30, 2002


At Ohio State University, the anthropology department is housed in a building called Lord Hall. The irony was not lost on my friend John, who called them "the biggest bunch of atheists on campus." I was more or less an atheist or agnostic already, although I hadn't "come out" yet. A few years later, he was too.
posted by kindall at 8:53 PM on January 30, 2002


When did Christians begin considering "happiness" a significant outcome of faith?

I'd always thought it fell into a similar category to the (Western) idea of 'God wants you to be rich'. Not all xians think that happiness is a major outcome of faith. In fact, most that I know, including myself, are more into the traditional ideas (peace, cheerfulness, etc).
posted by eoz at 8:56 PM on January 30, 2002


When did Christians begin considering "happiness" a significant outcome of faith?

I'd always thought it fell into a similar category to the (Western) idea of 'God wants you to be rich'. Not all xians think that happiness is a major outcome of faith. In fact, most that I know, including myself, are more into the traditional ideas (peace, cheerfulness, etc).
posted by eoz at 8:57 PM on January 30, 2002


I'm in the middle of a book called The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. He's a journalist who starting doing some research by interviewing leading scholars, trying to find both sides (religious and atheist) of the answers to the hard questions. His approach to the material is honest, skeptical and critical. He addresses eight questions in this book:

1) If there's a loving God, why is there so much suffering and evil?
2) If the miracles of God contradict science, then how can any rational person believe that they're true?
3) If God is morally pure, how can he sanction the slaughter of innocent children as the Old Testament says he did?
4) If God cares about the people he created, how could he consign so many of them to an eternity of torture in hell just because they didn't believe the right things about him?
5) If Jesus is the only way to heaven, then what about the millions of people who have never heard of him?
6) If God really created the universe, why does the evidence of science compel so many to conclude that the unguided process of evolution accounts for life?
7) If God is the ultimate overseer of the church, why has it been rife with hypocrisy and brutality throughout the ages?
8) If I'm still plagued by doubts, then is it still possible to be a Christian?

It's interesting reading. Strobel's a good writer, a Yale grad who won awards writing for the Chicago Tribune, and was an atheist. In the process of his several years of research for his previous book, The Case for Christ, Strobel became a Christian. The books are aimed at a layperson, but there are excellent scholarly references at the back.
posted by JParker at 1:58 AM on January 31, 2002


I went to a Church of England primary school, but I have never been religious. I would like there to be an afterlife, but I would also like to be sunbathing in the French Riviera, with sun cream being rubbed into my body by a bevvy of naked page 3 models, if you know what I mean..

I'm interested in those who found faith after considering their own mortality. How can you change your beliefs on what you want to be true? For me, the absence of an afterlife is pretty much self-evident.

"Are we too far gone, are we so irresponsible
Have we lost our balls, or do we just not care
We're terminal cases that keep talking medicine
Pretending the end isn't quite that near

We make futile gestures, act to the cameras
With our made up faces and PR smiles
And when the angel comes down, down to deliver us
We'll find out that after all, we're only men of straw"
posted by salmacis at 5:35 AM on January 31, 2002


1) See 3)

2) Faith shouldn't be based on the observation of miracles which were observed by a small number of people and are not credible.

3) Everyone dies. Souls don't die. What if God wills that some people die early to improve the world?

4-5) Find a different God.

6) Who/What set evolution in motion? Why must the bible be taken literally, as opposed to metaphorically? What if the "seven days" of the bible were not seven days because, until Day 8, there was no earth rotating around a sun spinning on its current axis?

8) Probably not, but you can be, at the very least Jewish (which is what you get when you remove the most "out there" parts of Christianity. Including Christ.)
posted by ParisParamus at 5:52 AM on January 31, 2002


This really happened:

A million years ago when I was in college, I was taking a philosophy of religion class. It was spring, and the classroom was stuffy, so all the windows were open to the quad. On the quad, neighborhood moms and dads and nannies had brought their kids out to play (I attended an urban university, and the campus was the biggest expanse of green grass and sunshine these kids had nearby). Anyway, in class, the prof is doing his best impersonation of some athiest thinker, refuting point by point all of Aquinas' proofs of God's existence. He summed up by saying, "Thus it can be shown definitively that God cannot and does not exist."

There was a second of silence. Then a little voice from the playground below came wafting through the window, "He does too!"

The classroom dissolved in hysterics, and the prof immediately took us all out for a beer, saying, "You can't argue with coincidence."

Not really on topic, but anecdotally amusing, I hope.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:57 AM on January 31, 2002 [1 favorite]


BitterOldPunk - You're failing your name! :)

Good anecdote.
posted by NortonDC at 7:30 AM on January 31, 2002


Not really on topic, but anecdotally amusing, I hope.

Actually, it rather perfectly sums up what's wrong with philosophy....
posted by mattpfeff at 8:29 AM on January 31, 2002


Because randomness does not offer a satisfying, or plausible explanation for the universe.

Why assume there must be one?
posted by walrus at 10:08 AM on January 31, 2002


JParker: a smaller set of nasty questions/answers for your edification:

(1) Is He willing to prevent Evil, but not able? then he is impotent;
(2) Is He able, but not willing? then he is malevolent;
(3) Is He able and willing? [from what place] then is there Evil?

(NortonDC - understand. Thanks)
posted by RichLyon at 11:03 AM on January 31, 2002


RichLyon - Theodicy is the central theme of James Morrow's Blameless in Abaddon, a satirical (yet deadly serious) work of fiction. It's the middle work of a trilogy that starts with Towing Jehovah and concludes with The Eternal Footman.

Blameless is a very good book, with fewer flaws than Towing Jehovah, but it also lacks some of the sparkle of that earlier work. Morrow is probably most humane to his characters in The Eternal Footman, and the entire trilogy is highly recommended.
posted by NortonDC at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2002


6) Who/What set evolution in motion? Why must the bible be taken literally, as opposed to metaphorically? What if the "seven days" of the bible were not seven days because, until Day 8, there was no earth rotating around a sun spinning on its current axis?

i remember a day in my high school english class where we analyzed a poem about a conch (i can't seem to find a link to it but anyway...) and our teacher told us to figure out what it was about and support our claims with specific references found in the poem. so i did this and determined that the poem was about a slave ship and supported my claims. i got a "C" while everyone else whose explaination agreed with our teacher (and the textbook) got an "A." the whole poem was a big stinky metaphor that apparently was not in agreement with my interpretation. the point being... metaphor shmetaphor - if existence relys on our interpretation of a bunch of metaphors then how can anything truly be known?
posted by ggggarret at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2002


if existence relys on our interpretation of a bunch of metaphors then how can anything truly be known?

Because bricks are heavy.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:39 AM on January 31, 2002


Faith is a door. There really is a lot on the other side, but you have to go thru the door to get to it.
posted by bunnyfire at 11:48 AM on January 31, 2002


Norton, what an interesting quote. I hadn't read it before, and I've been thinking about it a lot.

An analogy, and probably a flawed one, but aren't they all: If I walked into an art gallery and beheld the most beautiful painting I had ever encountered, and inspected it and found no signature, would it be reasonable to assume that the painting created itself, since there was no evidence of a creator and I myself hadn't witnessed its creation? And if a man were standing there next to it, and I said to him, "Isn't this painting fantastic? It's amazing how the paint fell onto this canvas quite by accident, and yet the result was so eloquent that its description almost defies words. Indeed, a wonder to behold!" If the man I said this to turned out to be the artist of the painting, do you think he would like me best of all those who contemplated and complimented his painting?

I too lost faith as a child, the seed of doubt was also the dinosaur thing at odds with the creation story taught in Sunday School that did it, I think I was seven. Getting my Bachelor of Science was the final nail in the coffin (and minoring in theology didn't help). For years my doubt was too strong to believe in any higher power. But I too regained faith, only recently, by reading my way back to God. I've realized that science, while beautiful and praiseworthy in its own right, is itself a continually evolving process under constant revision, and one can never be sure that today's "facts" won't turn into tomorrow's discarded theories.
posted by David Dark at 12:04 PM on January 31, 2002


If I walked into an art gallery and beheld the most beautiful painting I had ever encountered, and inspected it and found no signature, would it be reasonable to assume that the painting created itself, since there was no evidence of a creator and I myself hadn't witnessed its creation?

1)This "painting" is abstract, in the sense that it isn't representational of anything else but exists only as itself.
2)It took 4,500,000,000 years from the formation of the earth until the "painting" you see. Do you have any comprehension how long that is?
so how do you know the painting is not just an interesting pattern of mold that's grown across an old canvas?

When did Christians begin considering "happiness" a significant outcome of faith?
It was around 1500 I think. The reformation.
posted by mdn at 12:26 PM on January 31, 2002


David Dark - "Dispassionate and honest" intellectual analysis does not directly tell us that an uncreditted work is a the result of natural forces.
posted by NortonDC at 12:42 PM on January 31, 2002


NortonDC - I know theodicy. My enthusiastic but brief return to the church in my early 20s was inspired largely by the reasoning that it was impossible to continue to attempt the understanding of God's goodness on the model of my idea of goodness, or God's intentions on the model of my intentions. This was my theodicy phase, and the crutch with which I temporarily got over my repulsion of the notion of a God that unleashed bubonic plague on babies and levitated minor Saints for miracles rather than terminating Stalin or AIDS. It was meaningless to be disturbed by the apparent existence of evil in his world, and even the apparent evilness of some of his actions.

Then, while wrestling with trying to understand why something that is incomprehensible to me should have any relevance in my life (!), along came the horrible juxtaposition of Occam's razor and Wittengenstien:

(1) one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything, and
(2) a nothing will serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said.

So: couldn't understand God, because I couldn't live with the sort of world that implied. Had to accept God was not understandable, at which point it was simpler, and therefore necessary to accept, that he didn't exist. And that, regrettably, served the so far terminal blow.

(I have purchased Blameless and am intrigued by your recommendation).
posted by RichLyon at 1:10 PM on January 31, 2002


I'm just grooving on the level of discourse and civility in this thread - thanks all.

I have to say that the 'watchmaker' argument has never made any sense to me - from a logical or gut-level standpoint. Just because some thing has structure or beauty or meaning does not (can not) imply that that thing was created by an intelligent entity.

To split the world into black and white (either it's "God's Universe", or "Science explains all") is equally troubling - I am very comfortable with the idea that A) Humans know very little about the Universe, and B) There are many things we may never be able to explain. So why not embrace the Universe as a beautiful mystery and revel in our short, fortunate visit here.

The compulsion to find or create some "first mover" behind everything feels anthropomorphic and false. Can you conceive of time extending infinitely into the future? Then why can't time extend infinitely into the past? Why did things necessarily need a "start"? What if the "Big Bang" was just another step in a larger process - it's just the furthest back we can look from here?
posted by kokogiak at 1:25 PM on January 31, 2002


It all boils down to this: if you have faith, then what you mean when you say "God" is NOT the same as what someone who has no faith terms "God". Do not expect to counter faith with reason, because faith by its very nature lies outside the realm of the rational. Do not expect believers to present cogent rational arguments to support their positions because belief is not knowledge and it is not empirical.

There can be a dialogue between the faithful and the faithless, but there can never be a meaningful debate: it will ALWAYS come down to semantics.

I lack faith (some would say I also lack reason, but let's not get into that). But I do find it interesting to notice that the universe is constructed in such a way as to contain parts of itself (us) capable of perceiving some of the other parts (everything that isn't us). We are parts of a whole we call the Earth, to quote a great philosopher (the late lamented d. boon of The Minutemen). That's all I've got. It's enough.

Any mental construct that helps you be a better person without harming anyone else is fine by me. Just don't come to my door with copies of The Watchtower.

The painting analogy, by the way, is simply the argument from design, and it is flawed. It presupposes what it purports to prove. When you inspect that painting for a signature, you are doing so with the assumption that someone painted it. But let's say that that guy standing next to it IS the artist. So who designed him? Reductio ad absurdum. The argument from design also is problematic when dealing with the problem of evil, buts that's another (long-winded) post.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:27 PM on January 31, 2002


there can never be a meaningful debate.

This is true. And isn't it just particularly maddening for the faithless to have to contend with a construct in which, the more unlikely a belief is to be true, the more meritorious is the act of faith required to believe it?
posted by RichLyon at 1:41 PM on January 31, 2002


RichLyon - that construct you mention flies in the face of reason (which usually serves humans well), and begs comparison to the patently absurd (by those of us who cling to reason). The further from provable or demonstrable a concept might be - the better a person is for embracing it fully.

What I find more maddening, generally, isn't the chasm of difference in understanding, it's the smugness on either side (one for assuming higher intelligence, the other for assuming higher enlightenment). It's rare to see that posturing set aside, especially in a non-academic setting.
posted by kokogiak at 2:00 PM on January 31, 2002


Sorry, fellas, I really wasn't trying to use the analogy as an undeniable proof to the existence of a Creator. (Ha!) I was only making an analogy to NDC's quote, which presupposes that God exists and then reasons that He is insulted by those who believe in Him and likes those who are "smart" enough to deny Him the best of all.

I used the same starting point in my analogy, and meant only that if in fact a Creator exists, then my disregard for that Creator and assumption that the creation in question happened by chance or accident wouldn't make that Creator proud of my superior intellect or profound honesty because, in fact, I would be wrong. That's all.
posted by David Dark at 2:13 PM on January 31, 2002


David Dark - Then I guess the main problem is that the painter didn't make you. The Strawson quote depends upon the idea that the creator is pleased to find his creation making the greatest use of its intellectual endowments, even if that use leads to an incorrect conclusion.

I find the Strawson quote interesting and initially intriguing, but of course its ultimate nature is to deny its own relevance. It's a good conversation piece, but little more.
posted by NortonDC at 2:22 PM on January 31, 2002


Gotcha. You're right, it is interesting to think about and a good conversation piece.
posted by David Dark at 3:13 PM on January 31, 2002


Wow. Reading this thread, and seeing such a frank and friendly discussion of what could easily be a polarizing topic really renews my faith (no pun intended!) in the MeFi community. This is MeFi at its best, is it not? Thanks, all.

I basically turned my back on my Christian faith because of my (continuing) struggle with my sexual identity. I was a very active, very involved Christian ever since having a gin-u-wine "born again" experience in college. (And although such experiences are often associated with charismatic groups, my college group wasn't one; its leaders were Ivy League-educated, from a Dutch Reformed background, and strongly influenced by pedigreed apologists like C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and R.J. Sproul.) I was also living what was basically an asexual existence, because the conservative beliefs I'd bought into forbade same-sex relations, and that's the way I've always felt wired.

A few years after college, I went through a year of ex-gay "deprogramming" to try to make me straight (after trying on my own, intermittently, all my life). A great deal of it resonated with me on an intellectual level (still does, in fact), and I thought I was in the process of changing. But my same-sex attraction endured, and I felt that trying to go in the two directions at once -- toward God in my faith, and into intimate relations with men -- was tearing me apart.

So I made a conscious decision to turn my back on faith, even though it'd meant a lot to me for a long time, to see if I could figure out my sexuality on the basis of reason and my personal experience alone, apart from faith's influence or the bias of other believers.

Fast-forward to today, a few years later: I'm more accepting of my homosexuality than ever before... but the teaching that it's sinful, rooted so very deeply within me, still holds me back. I've never considered one of the more "liberal" Christian denominations that celebrate more open-minded forms of sexual self-identification, because I've always felt they're merely watered-down, bogus versions of "the true faith" that I had before. Now, I'm more inclined to look into them... but I still haven't, not yet. Hopefully I will; writing this reminds me that it's past time I do so.

I wish I had a nice, tidy way to tie up this story, but I don't. I'm still very much on the fence.
posted by verdezza at 2:27 AM on February 1, 2002


(P.S. - I should add, though, that I still believe in God. I feel that a sense of God's existence is hard-wired into me even more strongly than is my sexual orientation.)
posted by verdezza at 2:34 AM on February 1, 2002


[I'm way late to this thread but thought I would spew]

I started having doubts about religion when the whole Adam & Eve/Dinosaurs timeline was not exactly "scientific" to say the least, but even then I was sort of like "okay...".

But then my mom had a heart attack in '95. She is the most kind, giving, God loving person I know who doesn't have a shred of selfishness or hatred in her soul (that all went to me!). While she sat in the hospital with her chest sliced open for an emergency bypass, I decided that if this God who she was so devoted to would have the nerve to let murderers and rapists run around with full lives but this woman who touched so many lives (her hospital room usually had 15+ visitors at a time, way over the "limit") - well that's not really a God I could believe in.

Of course, irony being what it is, the whole episode has made her even more religious as she sees it as God saving her when he could have let her die.

Glass empty/full I suppose.

I'm not really an atheist (too hard line for me), but I do have a Darwin fish on my car. I classify myself as agnostic, because Lord knows (hehe) I believe life is to be lived for now as opposed to building up points for the other side. But hey, if the whole religion thing turns out to be real (God, Buddha, PancakeGuy) I've got my ass covered as well. I figure if I'm "good" he/she will let me slide on the whole "going to church on Sunday" thing.
posted by owillis at 3:21 AM on February 1, 2002


Seems like our monkey brains are hardwired to perceive patterns, and to impose patterns where none are evident.

Exactly. To try to explain anything about yourself or your thought processes without an understanding of how your brain functions is absurd. Personalities can be totally transformed by relatively minor chemical or physical alterations in the brain (Phineas Gage and LSD stand as blatant examples on the non-minor end of the scale), psychologists (and con men) can manipulate your perception of the world through a variety of simple techniques that take advantage of the way that brains operate (optical illusions being one very simple example), and these brain structures exist as they do for very good evolutionary reasons. I think it's bad to admit something implausible and unverifiable, but how much worse to deny oneself and one's very nature!

What is the difference between "faith" and "delusion"? This is not a troll, nor is it rhetorical; can anyone distinguish between the two in any meaningful way? It seems to me that the only way people differentiate between the two is through subjective measures. The trouble is, to the objective observer, that doesn't wash, since the delusional also often make the very same claims based upon their objectively indistinguishable experiences.

Reading this thread, I see what I always see when people attempt to explain/defend their faith beyond the more usual "just because." Reasons like "confronting my mortality," which have NOTHING to do with truth or evidence, and everything to do with fear. How can anyone, in good conscience, choose to believe something simply because the notion is attractive to them, or preferable to certain other ideas? Using only this criteria, one can literally believe ANYTHING, because it's entirely based upon imagination and wish-fulfillment.

Example: The world can be a scary, dangerous place, and it might give me great comfort to believe that there was a "guardian angel" who followed me around, intervening to protect me from the threats of the physical world, but which is more important: 1) that I feel thus comforted; or 2) that I maintain a correlation between the reality that I perceive/experience and my conception/mental model of it?

I think HTuttle's "Santa Claus" comment is dead on: How can one "regain" faith? When speaking of delusion, that would be termed "relapse." Surely such a phenomenon can only be understood in terms of defeat, of relinquishing reason in response to overwhelming stresses and difficulties of living life and maintaining the intellectual rigor required to fend off the superstition and illogic hard-wired into our brains and heavily promoted by our culture.

It seems to me that there is nothing more self-centered and immature (and I use those terms in their literal, definitional sense, not as insults) than putting one's perceived needs for comfort, security, purpose, meaning, hope, etc. above the mandate to discover and understand the nature of reality to the best of our ability and to accept what is true to the degree that we can perceive/deduce it.

And this would be true even if there were a God sitting behind the curtain running the whole show.
posted by rushmc at 8:02 AM on February 1, 2002


ggggarrett: your teacher was an idiot for saying any interpreration is invalid if you backed it up from the text. most high school english teachers are, because they really don't know much of anything and want to hide that fact behind a veneer of absolute rights and wrongs, behind worksheets and an utter lack of discussion over interpretation, because discussion means differing opinions. I have yet to meet a college professor, however, who hasn't done the exact opposite of what your teacher did.

i don't think we can see the world except through metaphors. science is a metaphor, religion is a metahpor, art is a metaphor.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:10 AM on February 1, 2002


Sounds to me like rushmc is worshipping at the altar of reason. :)

It seems to me that there is nothing more self-centered and immature (and I use those terms in their literal, definitional sense, not as insults) than putting one's perceived needs for comfort, security, purpose, meaning, hope, etc. above the mandate to discover and understand the nature of reality to the best of our ability and to accept what is true to the degree that we can perceive/deduce it

Doesn't this discount the existence of altruism? And isn't foraging for food for your family more important than understanding the nature of reality (though the two are not unrelated)?

And the difference between faith and delusion seems distinct to me: faith is shared, delusion is not. But when two people share the same delusion does that mean they share the same faith? Only if they are Red Sox fans.....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:39 AM on February 1, 2002


History records many shared delusions. This was discussed in a story previously linked about clinically induced "religious" experiences. The theory mentioned in the article was that electromagnetic conditions in some areas create the same effect as the researchers equipment. Putting a bunch of people in the same location lets them all share the experience.
posted by NortonDC at 9:31 AM on February 1, 2002


And the difference between faith and delusion seems distinct to me: faith is shared, delusion is not.

But then once a charismatic person starts preaching his delusion and it becomes shared, it becomes a faith.

than putting one's perceived needs for comfort, security, purpose, meaning, hope, etc. above the mandate to discover and understand the nature of reality to the best of our ability
who mandated this? Some people put contentment first, others put comprehension first. Personally, I value comprehension more, but especially after having gone through some rough periods in my life, I can see why people sometimes choose to simply feel comforted.
posted by mdn at 11:31 AM on February 1, 2002


BitterOldPunk: "If Boston rooted for gravity, we'd all be floating three feet off the ground."
posted by David Dark at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2002


Doesn't this discount the existence of altruism?

How so? I'm not a big believer in the concept of altruism, but I don't see the direct link you're apparently seeing here.

And isn't foraging for food for your family more important than understanding the nature of reality (though the two are not unrelated)?

I would argue that not only are they not unrelated, the one is strongly dependent upon the other. It's hard to hunt/forage effectively if you do not have a pretty good grasp on the realities of your world, and the more accurate your model, the more successful you are likely to be.

And to approach your question from another angle, what is the point of eating, if it only allows you to survive another day so that you can eat again? Existing in a fog of bewilderment does not strike me as worthwhile in and of itself.

And the difference between faith and delusion seems distinct to me: faith is shared, delusion is not.

I think a lot of delusions are shared: mass hallucinations; conspiracy theories; urban legends; etc. So I still don't see a distinction.
posted by rushmc at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2002


who mandated this? Some people put contentment first, others put comprehension first.

I would argue that it's the defining charateristic of what it is to be human, based upon the fact that it is the distinguishing characteristic of our brains which separates us from other life forms, and that to deny our birthright is to deny not only our potential but our humanity and to settle for the life of dumb brutes--or, in extreme, to seek the stasis of the inanimate.
posted by rushmc at 11:44 AM on February 1, 2002


I would argue that it's the defining charateristic of what it is to be human, based upon the fact that it is the distinguishing characteristic of our brains which separates us from other life forms,

we seem to be the only life forms that engage in religion - perhaps that's what distinguishes us from other beasts. Your interpretation is closer to how I see the world, but it's still a construct you've created about what humans are "supposed" to do. People who value their emotional engagement with the world at a level which outranks their need for knowledge, and who find emotional fulfillment in religion, will perceive the world through a different lens.
posted by mdn at 8:41 PM on February 1, 2002


we seem to be the only life forms that engage in religion

I'm not sure that that's true. There have been studies identifying "superstitious" behavior in many animals, including birds who perform very intricate and bizarre rituals prior to pecking the levers in their Skinner boxes because they have correlated coincidence with reward. If you define religion as requiring cathedrals and bibles and passings of the plate, then obviously only humans are going to meet your criteria, but if you allow it to be defined sufficiently broadly to possibly include other species, I think it can be argued that it might.

People who value their emotional engagement with the world at a level which outranks their need for knowledge...

So, to be clear, you are speaking of emotion based on either ignorance or falsehood? I have nothing against valuing either emotion or emotional engagement, but only when it's genuine and prompted by something real.
posted by rushmc at 9:05 PM on February 1, 2002


I'm not sure that that's true. There have been studies identifying "superstitious" behavior in many animals

That's really interesting. I'd like to hear more about that, if you have any links or anything. But really, it's not the same as religion; if we equate that with religion, we should conclude that animals have reason too, as they try to escape predators, save up for the winter, or leave for warmer climates, and all sorts of other sensible things.

The part of religion which differentiates it from animals is the emotional intensity of belief, & the ritualized symbolism and tradition, that connect humans with all those who came before, with our dead. Acknowledging and recognizing individuals leads us to mourn our dead and to worship them, and eventually they started to become gods and you know the rest of the story - but what it derived from was the ability to recognize individuals and remember them after they're gone.

So, to be clear, you are speaking of emotion based on either ignorance or falsehood?

I think it's probably more emotion based on generalization, initially a feeling of sanctity about existence, which then becomes ritualized through various activities and personalities, so a person worships and goes through the rituals to awaken that sense of awe.
posted by mdn at 7:29 PM on February 6, 2002


[dead thread, but I couldn't resist]

Ever gone psychotic? I have. Religious ideas exploded into my head (along with all sorts of other really bizarre stuff) about a year ago.

I believed all kinds of strange, sometimes mutually contradictory things all at once. And I've been an essentially life-long atheist.

But I got on medication, and I got better. In the past eleven months, I have had a couple of periods of mild to moderate relapse.

For awhile there, I was even on my way to converting to Catholicism, but I returned to my usual phase of rationalism and dropped out of the class I was in.

I've been able to put things into perspective, thinking of the various religious ideas I've had in terms of: "gee, wouldn't it be interesting if the universe worked this way....", or "hmm, that might make an interesting basis for a story...."

I think when it comes down to it, it's weird chemical/electrical stuff going on in our heads, and we silly little monkeys just try to make sense of it all.

But ask me when (if) I start to relapse again, and I'll tell you that this world really *is* a magical place... :)
posted by beth at 9:28 PM on February 11, 2002


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