Foundations of my belief

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.

When I was older, one thing my father always taught me was how to think, and never what to think. If he ever told me what he believed, he always told me it was his best guess and the reasons why he believed it. Most of what I learned from him was through him sharing his life with me by telling me about his spiritual life and its struggles and insights as if I were a peer of his and not just a dumb kid. He taught me how to read the Bible and the best ways to interpret it, but he left it to me to do the interpreting. I usually trusted him though. After all, he could read, speak, or write in 10 or more near-eastern languages (Ancient Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian, Egyptian, Ugaritic, Greek, Latin, modern Arabic, Sumerian, etc.) He was quite fond of the Old Testament, and would often sit in church and follow along in his Hebrew-only bible. He passed this on to me. He likes to joke that the New Testament is an appendix to the Old. :) I’m up to about my 20th reading of the Bible, and I must say that I really like the Old Testament the best. I’m not saying that the new is bad or anything, just that it was heavily influenced by the Old. A careful reading of both will give you the picture that Jesus of the New Testament is exactly like the God in the Old. I’ve learned how to read it and receive such great spiritual truth from it.

So I grew up differently than most. Christianity has always been about a close relationship with God, and involves a close-knit group of friends who just love hanging out a lot. My experience never involved tons of rules, unquestioned dogma, boring rituals, and large impersonal churches, or most of the time, any church building at all. When I became a Christian myself, I took up studying and personally experiencing God very seriously. At first, I was very religious and the world was black and white – drinking alcohol was evil and I had a rock-solid theology that I would debate everyone who stood in my way if they disagreed. I thankfully grew up.

There are many authors that have influenced my spiritual beliefs and my understanding of God in a concrete way. Some, if not most of them, are not Christian books or written by Christian authors. The following is a list of all the ones I can think of:

The Bible is at the top of my list (of course). My favorite Christian authors include C.S. Lewis, C.K Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, Phillip Yancy, Henri Nouwen, John Eldredge, Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, and George MacDonald, and anything by Gorden Fee. Out of the atheist authors I have read and listened to many debates on – my favorite is Dan Barker.

Regarding philosophy, I have just recently started reading it and love it. These authors include Plato, Epictetus, Descartes, and Nietzsche.

I have also been greatly influenced by Steven Hawking and other writers of the study of theoretical and practical physics on a universal or sub-atomic scale. I used to subscribe to Discover magazine, which just fueled this passion. I used to read tons of books on cosmology and astronomy. Quite naturally, I also love science fiction and fantasy intensely. To name a few: Issac Asimov, Greg Bear, Robert Heinlein, Stephen Lawhead, Madeleine L’Engle, Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, Orsen Scott Card, Frank Herbert, and David Eddings. I would have taken up physics as a career if it weren’t for my poor performance in math. Science and the scientific process has had a strong impact on how I see the spiritual life, both in a practical sense and in a theoretical one.

But then I discovered the classics: Beowulf, Gilgimesh, Le Morte d’Arthur, The Illiad & Oddessy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Joseph Conrad, Sir Walter Scott, Elie Wiesel, H.G. Wells, Ann Rand, Chiam Potok, Shakespeare, Harper Lee, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Dante, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I have not had as much exposure to poetry, which is a shame. Some of my favorites are Longfellow, Robert Browning, and Emily Dickinson.

Although all of these books have affected me, most of my strongest beliefs are ones I read about in these books or others, but I have been additionally revealed to me in a divine way. (I talked about this in some past posts) Regarding exposure to other religions besides Christianity, I have not had a whole lot, except for Greek philosophy, which is the equivalent to something like Christianity, and therefore, a religion. This “religion” has affected me greatly in the last 6 months. I have very little knowledge of Eastern religions, and have studied a little about Mormonism, Islam, and Greek Mythology, but none of these studies have had any impact on me.

Anyway, these things have been the building blocks that make up the foundation for what I believe. Hopefully I will be done with my next post soon that talks more about God’s nature in terms of his transcendence vs. closeness and how He interacts with the natural world and us through it. It’s part of my 2-part series where I wrestle with the question of God being loving through natural disasters.

If you are interested, I have written part 2 in this series about the foundations of my belief.

    3 Responses to “Foundations of my belief”

    1. John Remy

      Your upbringing sounds almost idyllic!

      I wonder if one of the reasons I’m drawn to you and your opinions is because I share so many of your same influences and fascinations. Dickinson and Homer and others rank as personal scripture. Asimov is a prophet of sorts in my life. It makes me want to look into the ones that I don’t know about, like Lawhead and Barker. I’m looking forward to your next building block post.

      It also makes me want to write more about science fiction on MoF.

      Jonathan, do you write any SF?

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    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      John – No wonder I’ve been reading MoF for so long… we have a lot of background in common 🙂

      Now that you mention it, I have written a lot of stuff – all of it over a decade ago. I have forgotten how much my writing influenced what I believe. I decided to write an entire other post describing that.

      You should definitely write more about science fiction! It is filled with pictures of the spiritual life. At least for me, it was definitely integral to how I think and what I believe today. It contains within it pictures and possibilities of the undiscovered universe that science can only scratch the surface of, and is a larger part of reality as a whole, in contrast to our small set of known scientific understanding. Its appeal is in its mystery. There is more to this existence then what we have discovered so far, and we seem to know this. Somehow in knowing there is more to our world, and then in imagining what that “more” could look like, our spiritual side is awakened. A longing and desire within us is born and we are drawn to this realm. There is something there, even though it may or may not be real, that stirs us. This is not an ontological argument for the existence of the spiritual world, but just a personal internal observation. To read about magic and dimensions and hyperspace travel, something in me comes alive. The world comes alive again.

      Man do I love Issac Asimov’s writing. He is probably my favorite SF author of all time. While most of Christianity was thinking we will be raptured any second, I was thinking about a future where we would populate millions of worlds across the universe and that humanity would never come to an end in this dimension. When we die, we are removed from time and the 3rd dimension where we go to be with God and are reborn into a newer dimension like the 3rd but with more of the divine as being part of daily life. Yeah… I know I’m weird. My guesses about God and heaven come heavily from SF. 🙂 They are just guesses that are probably wrong, but who knows? The universe is a wild place, much of it is still mysterious and undiscovered.

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    3. Asara

      Wow, you just gave me way too many authors to add my “investigate later” list. And the way you talk about the Old Testament almost makes me want to attempt a more focused reading of it.

      I’m glad you shared more about your upbringing. I sometimes wonder what type of belief system I would have now if mine had been different.

      I love your description of science fiction in your comment. My science fiction experience is limited to fairly recent readings of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series, Asimov’s Foundation series, and a few of Asimov’s robot novels, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I must read more.

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