One of the reasons I started this weblog was to develop a decent theology through writing and good feedback that will eventually land me somewhere between the two extremes of Reformed Theology (Calvinism) and liberal forms of Arminianism. Part of my quest for answers includes reading literature by authors who fall into the Reformed Theology camp who have beliefs that I am repulsed by. But, just in case I misunderstood the few men who I discussed the subject with, I thought I would go buy a book by one of the leaders of the movement and make sure I understand. I don’t want to be tripped up by semantic confusion.
Archive for October, 2006
If there is no hope in the spiritual life other than to acknowledge that it theoretically exists, then the longing for more and the desire for the mysterious will never be satisfied. The longing is all that there is to be had. Is simply the longing for something mysterious enough to give meaning to my life? I would argue most definitely not. Not in my experience. Hope and longing without fulfillment breaks the heart.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Prov. 13:12)
To be drawn to the mystery and the joy we find in our pursuits is not enough. After experiencing all pursuits, they come up empty to me. They were not what I was looking for. I must find the source of the mystery or desire that was behind them.
I wanted to add some notes about my final dream / short story fairy tale I spoke about in my last post. I read it and realized that nobody would be able to understand how it defined my life.
The grandmother represents the Christian church I grew up in similar to how C.S. Lewis describes the allegorical character of Mother Kirk in his book Pilgrim’s Regress. This was a complete coincidence (or was it??) – I read Pilgrim’s Regress years later. The church told the stories (the Bible) about God (the princess), but only managed to put within me the desire. They were simply the messenger, and the stories were only stories, testimonies of something or someone beautiful and real.
Even after I came to believe in God, it was hard figuring out what to do with Him amidst the pulls of the world and culture around me. I was drawn to all the different kinds of pursuits a young, shy, and intellectual guy could find to do. I dove headfirst into the arts – drawing and painting, and literature: SF, the classics, and then spiritual books – mostly C.S Lewis and crowd (the Inklings), the sciences (astronomy and physics), and creative writing. Each new area I encountered, I would engorge myself on it. For instance, when I first got into fantasy and SF – I would read 2-3 200+ page books a week.
Each pursuit had something exciting about it, some mysterious quality that attracted me to it. But the closer I got to it, the more its mystery and exciting qualities seemed to wane. Eventually they would all settle into the role of comfortable pastimes rather than passionate pursuits. So I would jump and engorge myself on the next thing.
John over at MindonFire.com helped me remember that not only reading, but also writing, has had a huge impact on what I believe. I thought I would actually write about this experience, and how it shaped me. I have written a collection of short stories that blend the spaces of SF and fantasy. It is in the strange marriage of these two genres, where the worlds of magic and theoretical science come together, that my imagination has always been most stirred. To me, the two are one and the same thing, only in different contexts.
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I have a funny background.
I was brought up Christian, but it is not the kind of Christianity that most people think of when they think “Christian.” I grew up in rural Pennsylvania among Amish and Mennonite folks who were very moral, and who to some degree removed themselves from the larger society to seek God more closely as their own community. Our whole region was very religious. I grew up in Evangelical Free Churches mostly. My church was usually someone’s house, a school, a room in the local town hall, etc. We were always a small group that just loved each other. Our “official” beliefs where usually just that we believed in Jesus, and that the Bible was true. That’s it. No strict dogma. No concept of membership – if you came and kept coming, you were a part of the group. It was all about relationships – we just loved each other. Often times these little churches would break up because our part-time pastor got another job in a different city, or that people just gradually drifted away. It was always sad when this happened – I remember the adults crying about it. Such great people. I have the fondest memories of this part of my life.
In a previous post, Elise responded with some great questions and doubts about repeatable proof of the existence of God based on the spiritual experiences of people of faith. I responded, but my reply was so long I had to turn it into another post, which seems to be a common occurrence. This is a humble and probably bad attempt to explain what I mean in my own experience when I say the existence of God and spiritual truth is measurable and repeatable on a personal and spiritual level. Some optional prerequisite reading would be a previous post- “Empirical evidence for spiritual truth?” which was inspired by parts of Sam Harris’ book – The End Of Faith, plus the comment dialog that followed.
My basic motivation behind this post is to give more concrete examples of what I mean when I talk about spiritual truth being measurable and repeatable, specifically involving the unique problems that come along with proving the existence of a person when physical proof is not available.
Piggybacking off of my previous post, Dear God?, I wanted to try to tackle a couple of interesting issues that arose there. I pulled the whole faith-based reasoning that I did there out and put it in this new post because it didn’t really belong there. All I really wanted to do was ask the question and explain in detail what I was confused by, and hopefully someone would come along and explain things. The discussion that follows is just my humble attempt at making sense of something that is a controversial subject, so if you find it doesn’t help you, as C.S. Lewis would say, just throw it out and don’t read it.
Anyway, out of the song, Dear God, the singer comes across as angry at God for not acting in a loving way towards His creation, which made me think about the nature of love and God and His interactions with us, a subject I wanted to give more depth to here. The argument is that through either His perceived inaction to rescue innocent people from the harm of others, or though His direct action to hurt innocent people through “acts of God” or natural disasters, He comes across as unloving.
*faith-based discussion removed on Oct.17th*
I recently listened to a song by Sarah McLachlan called “Dear God”, and I must admit, I was really confused. Can someone explain this to me? Anyway, here are the lyrics:
Hope you got the letter,
And I pray you can make it better down here.
I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer,
But all the people that you made in your image,
See them starving on their feet,
cause they don’t get enough to eat
I cant believe in you.
Sorry to disturb you,
But I feel that I should be heard loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in amount of tears,
And all the people that you made in your image,
See them fighting in the street,
cause they cant make opinions meet,
I cant believe in you.
Did you make disease, and the diamond blue?
Did you make mankind after we made you?
And the devil too!
Don’t know if you noticed,
But your name is on a lot of quotes in this book.
Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look,
And all the people that you made in your image,
Still believing that junk is true.
Well I know it ain’t and so do you,
I cant believe in,
I don’t believe in,
I wont believe in heaven and hell.
No saints, no sinners,
No devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
You’re always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found,
And its the same the whole world round.
The hurt I see helps to compound,
That the father, son and holy ghost,
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax,
And if you’re up there you’ll perceive,
That my hearts here upon my sleeve.
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in…
So what am I confused by? Well, the song, on the surface at least, is about a beef the singer has with God. So far, that makes sense, but the confusing part here is that she doesn’t believe in God. By the song’s bitter and angry tone, it obviously isn’t a parody about the ironic nature of an imaginary loving God in an awful world, nor is it just an intellectual look at the ironies of a non-existent God, it is an angry song about an imaginary God. That’s what confuses me. Why is anyone angry at a God who doesn’t exist? I must admit that I am not too good with understanding poetry or song lyrics and must turn to others who know better than I to understand, so I am hoping someone will help me here.
So I have reached an interesting conclusion in my previous post. To successfully live a true spiritual life, I must believe in God by a direct revelation, and I will best acquire new spiritual truths by divine revelation. Believing that God exists without divine revelation is like believing in Russia when I have never experienced or seen the planet Earth. Such beliefs are hard to keep, and for the most part erode over time since they cannot be seen or touched or felt, and otherwise have no interaction with my daily life. Given enough time, I will tend to not think about them and instead worry and spend my time with other more tangible pursuits, and in the end will abandon them entirely, or at least push them out of the active part of my mind to a place where no creative thought is applied.
In a previous post, “Empirical Evidence for Spiritual Truth” , John R. posted some great comments about the subject, which made me think more about it. I responded to his comments in yet another comment, but to me, the subject was still lacking something. In another recent post on MindOnFire.com, he gave me more insight into his faith struggle. The interesting part of the discussion in this post revolved around his internal struggle with the validity of core truths of Mormonism. With all reasonable effort, he tried to test these beliefs to see if they were true or not. One method, proposed by a Mormon elder, was just to verbalize them through witnessing, and through this process, belief is instilled in the believer. Another method proposed within the Book of Mormon itself, which seemed more reasonable, was to read the scriptures and then pray about them, and belief will follow. John’s openness about the methods he used to internalize spiritual truth led me to analyze how I came to believe the spiritual truths that I believe today. I was surprised by what I discovered.
Once new knowledge and spiritual truth get into our heads, however it is that it happens, reason is now available to do its work. Even though reason works well within both the spiritual and physical dimensions in the confines of the same wordview and knowledge set, I believe it cannot work well across different knowledge sets and worldviews. Reason is inexplicably tied to it’s bearer’s presuppositions and set of knowledge – removed from them it has no context and therefore no effectiveness, like a hammer without a person.
It seems that for people of differing worldviews to criticize each others beliefs using reason, they are jumping the gun. They must instead start by examining each other’s worldviews that reasonably lead to their beliefs before progressing to the beliefs themselves. Both parties are to a lesser or greater degree reasonable according to their presuppositional framework, so the frameworks are the only things that people of opposing worldview can argue about. For reason to work across frameworks, the parts of the frameworks that are agreed upon must be the knowledge that it works off of. In the case of the deist and the atheist, the common denominator would be a belief that the existence of empirical evidence is required for something to be true.
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How do I find empirical evidence for spiritual truth? I believe we can take our lead from the philosophy of science – the formulation and testing of a hypothesis through repeated, environmently controlled, evidence. Whatever worldview you might have, either you believe in God, no God, or aliens from a higher dimension, you need empirical, and at best repeatable, evidence that something is true and real. Take an example from daily life: it doesn’t matter what your worldview is, if someone runs in to tell you your car has been stolen, you’ll check it out for yourself (empirical evidence) before you believe it. Sometimes you have to do a double or triple take at your empty parking spot, stand in the empty space and let it sink in slowly, but the whole time, you are trying to get all the evidence you can before jumping to a conclusion.
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He [John] turned to Reason and spoke.
“Tell me, good lady. Is there such a place as the Island in the West, or is it only a feeling in my own mind?”
“I cannot tell you,” said she, “because you do not know.”
“But you know.”
“But I can tell you only what you know. I can bring things out of the dark part of your mind into the light part of it. But now you ask me what is not even in the dark part of your mind.”
“Even if it were only a feeling in my mind, would it be a bad feeling?”
“I have nothing to tell you of good or bad.”
Most people with a background in western spirituality will have read, or at least have heard, of the book by John Bunyan called The Pilgrim’s Progress. But in the 20th century, a similar but no less great book came out called The Pilgrim’s Regress. It is an allegorical story of a man named John whose spiritual journey that started with him having faith as child soon turns to doubt and then to rejection of his faith. Most of the story is about what he encountered on his journey to understand life afterwards.
There is a good chance that most of us will grow up in a household where one or both of our parents are religious to some degree, or at least the sub-culture we find ourselves in is religious, and we just kind of adopt it as best we can and believe it to be true. However, those of us who are prone to thinking sooner or later must come to grips with the reality of this thing called religion. We must either adopt it as true with our new independent minds or throw it out and start on our own spiritual journey to find the truth. The author, C.S. Lewis, took the latter road, and so did the protagonist. This book is an autobiography of his spiritual journey – a journey from childhood religion to atheism to the real spiritual life.
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If you have been following some of my previous posts, I have been working on a short series on religion and the spiritual life. So far, I have concluded that to live a thriving spiritual life, “religion” has to go. In an amatureish attempt to explain the spiritual life allegorically, I concluded that it is simply living in a fiery romantic relationship with God. Attempting to live a spiritual life other than this way is like putting your spouse in a glass case and visiting once a week, being entralled by his/her beauty, saying some nice things to them, and then walking away, never even listening to hear if they are speaking back to you and ignoring the tears running down their cheeks as they watch you walk away.
The problem with living the spiritual life in the world we find ourselves in is that by being human, we are by nature drawn to understand and relate to God not in a love relationship, but through the system of religion. Even for those of us who hate religion and are drawn towards God and enter into a relationship with Him, we are still sucked unconsciously by our culture into their mindset, and are thus drawn away from the intimacy and slowly put God back into the glass case.
So what does this religious system look like? What are the signs that we will see if we are slipping back into it? I have tried to come up with a list of common signs and how to avoid them.