Saturday, July 17, 2004

On wanting to believe versus believing...

I was doing my part to make Slashdot a better place, metamoderating away, when I came to a comment on Pascal's Wager: an argument for believing in God, basically. Well, in reading the context of the comment, I came to a reply by Dunbar the Inept that echoed my thoughts on belief.

My religious experiences didn't touch on this wager, or any other argument for believing or not. It's as if it was assumed that I believed because I was in Sunday school, because I was confirmed (O.K., maybe there was an argument for the assumption in that case) and because I read some of the Bible, when, in fact, I was conflicted.

And these experiences aren't limited to my United Church of Christ days: as I briefly discussed last month, I quickly became discouraged as I read the Qur'an, with its strong language against anyone who doesn't hold belief in their heart. What's amusing is that, were I able to flick belief on like a switch, I would be insane (as Dunbar pointed out).

14 comments:

Mitch said...

Count me insane baby! I believe that belief is a choice you have to make.

Since it wasn't nice of me to say to do exactly what you said you couldn't do, please forgive me and allow me the following explanation.

Belief in God, in Jesus and being a Christian is for some of us a belief in: a version history, miracles that defy scientific understanding, specifically the resurrection of a God's only son born of a virgin woman and free of original sin, original sin, life and afterlife, hell, heaven.

It is quite frankly hard to swallow and that is why so many of us fail. You've got to have faith baby!

Again, I apologize for that directive, especially considering that is precisely your point.

I really hate all the rhetoric, catchy phrases, waving of hands, laying hands, and general empty headed and often hypocritical bullshit surrounding most of our religious experiences.

The choice I make is to choose a system of morality; that which is taught to us by this super guy named Jesus. Start with love (Jesus’ example of love) and go from there.

You are only a Christian (root word “Christ” if you didn’t catch on) if you choose to accept and perform by his moral path. No amount of being saved and kneeling and hand waving is going to save you from this fact. God (regardless of his existence, I’ll make the assumption) knows if you are really a Christian and knows those who are not.

I'll put it to you this way: what is going to hold the world together when all hell breaks loose? Diverse and conflicting beliefs and historical accounts of a supreme being? Or Jesus' example of Love?

George Bush chooses his version of many diverse and conflicting beliefs and historical accounts of a supreme being. Here come the bombs. I choose Christ’s example of love. At least I’ll die knowing that I put a smile on some poor guy’s face before he was evaporated by Bush’s anti-terrorist-tactical-missile. That his boy-hood friend is perhaps less likely, because he saw me reproduce this example of love, to get pissed off and join an anti-American terrorist group, perhaps to learn to fly planes,

Enjoy the global destruction and mayhem Mr. Bush. Do try to leave a few of us alive to enjoy our moral exercises.

(I only used Mr. George Bush as the “bad guy” because he is a well known public figure claiming to be a Christian and yet displaying very un-Christian like tendencies. This serves the point of the essay. He is to say, easy at hand. As an aside however, I’ll say “Christian at home, Satan abroad”. I am sorry to offend Mr. Bush, however your actions have me confused. Christ didn’t slap back. For Christ’s sake, literally, don’t call yourself a Christian and then go to war.)

As to whether you can choose to believe a specific moral framework, consider. You do believe that you know what is right or wrong. You were taught and you learned these by yourself through life. You can choose to actively review what you believe to be right and wrong. The next time you see someone doing something that is wrong ask yourself why you believe that what they are doing is wrong. Talk to someone about it. Read books about it. Do that for the rest of you life. Boom, you’ve just stepped on different moral ground. It’s that easy. It’s a choice. That choice to examine is the choice to believe something different.

Here’s a metaphor you can probably relate to: you chose to drink, you choose to drive, and you choose to kill the little girl on her tricycle. You chose to question and open yourself to change, and you choose to believe.

Alright, most of that sounds off topic. You can’t decide whether or not to believe in God. No wait, you don’t believe that you can *decide* to believe in God. I beg you instead to believe in the morality of what God represents (ignore the hypocrites). I beg you to make this choice an active choice. And finally, because I’m biased towards Christianity, I beg you to choose Love as the base for your new or revised morality.

John said...

First, thanks for your comments, Mitch. I can use all the help I can get in thinking this through.

Second, personally, I distinguish between ethics and religion. I agree that a person can, and should, alter their perception of right and wrong based on their experiences, and I also agree that what I remember of the ethics professed by Jesus Christ is beautiful; certainly something to aspire to follow.

What I have difficulty with is connecting my "Love thy neighbour as thyself" philosophy to a religion. I have some serious doubts about the version history, to use your phrase, of Christianity. I mentioned what I found to the prescriptive nature of Islam. However, even the scientist in me has doubts about the theory of evolution.

So where does that leave me? Trying to be thoughtful and tolerant in everything I do, without a religion.

Mitch said...

The purpose of a religion is to codify and propagate a moral standard. Catholicism, Protestant, Baptist, Muslim and such are like industry standard moral standards: popular choices. In giving this metaphor I am saying that you cannot separate the ethics from the religion. In doing so you are attempting to separate the name and delivery system from the set of ethical decisions. The name itself is inconsequential, while the delivery system is in some respects a part of the code (your responsibility to bring Jesus to others for example).

The Catholic Church has a clear and well defined set of moral standards for which Catholics are expected to adhere. Ask a priest and he should help to find reference material. The Catholicism is defined by that set of moral standards.

That said, you are like Linus Torvalds rejecting Microsoft. Instead of Microsoft you look at BSD, then UNIX but still can’t seem to accept the whole of any of these.

In seeking a particular religion you are in a sense seeking a group of people with whom you share common ground. With these people you will feel comfortable sharing your “faith” (the sum of your moral code with or without the leap). In the end, you may have to gather that group to yourself, as Mr. Torvald did in his creation of Linux.

It’s ok to not accept the current religious trends and to seek that moral ground on your own terms. I would argue instead that accepting a popular choice without due personal attention would be a spiritual failure. It is your responsibility to seek God on your own terms. To do otherwise is spiritual sloth, spiritual apathy and inactivity, while merely attending church on a regular basis does not constitute spiritual activity.

If you are willing to share, I’d like to know what drives you to search.

Part Deux: The inconsequential

Are you repelled by the inconsequential details of a religion? Historical fact or fancy? Moral code removed from situational context? Ethnic affiliation? Does your spiritual growth depend on whether or not Jesus turned water into wine? How can you justify an eye for an eye? What’s the deal with the turban (will a toque do)?

I tell you that the moral code represented is what is important, that the challenge is to discover this, that the rest is human creation. Morality is God’s domain. Water, wine, turban’s and toque’s are human domain.

Part Three: God

God’s existence is a very personal exercise. I was trained to believe in God. I cannot expect others to have learned that training, or to accept it easily now that they are older. Others do try to give that to you. Go seek those who would bring it to you.

Does that mean God doesn’t really exist? No, and no one can take that away from those of us who have it.

God for me is a seed in my heart, not the beating one, the awareness one. It’s there, it pulses and I respond to it. It’s a blanket that protects who I am from evil. It’s a tool that I have to use to keep myself from falling to despair. It was given to me.

You can not prove the physical existence of God because God is not a phenomenon that we have so far observed, conclusively. It hasn’t been reproducible for the masses. Proof requires physical reproduction. I doubt never much that we ever will find proof.

God is spiritual. God requires a spiritual journey. On that journey it is expected that you will find the seed within yourself, the source of your spiritual guidance, God. There are places you can go to open yourself to a spiritual awakening, to awareness. Retreat houses. The Catholic Church has these. The Villa Madonna in St. John NB is one such place. They provide a schedule of retreat events, usually booked a year in advance. Spiritual retreats are guided and unguided; solitary or in groups; specifically designed for young people, for old people, for married people, for men or for women, for abused, for sick.

That is where you will find God. Set your life aside for a time, your wife, your children, and your job and go on that journey which is like a camping trip into the deep woods: secluded. Empty yourself of everything else. Be just you.

In addition to seclusion, I understand that other situations can bring awareness:
- Great pain and suffering (also known as “the way of the cross”)
- Despair, extreme mortal unhappiness

Part Four: Evolution

I don’t doubt the theory of evolution, or any of the scientific discoveries that are purported to be supported by sufficient evidence. God is spiritual, evolution is physical.

If God exists, existence being a physical attribute, then he chose to create the universe, planets, animals and humans in exactly the way that we correctly observe that creation. To deny this is a spiritual refusal to accept truth. As best as we puny-girly-wuss humans are able to determine, God created through this mechanism.

Mitch said...

I feel the need to offer a practical example of focusing on and seeking the ethics presented by a religion instead of its historical and ethnic contextual foundations. This is the sort of exercise I perform in order to understand religious teachings.

I’ve chosen text from the Evangelical Catechism found at the UCC site you cited (http://www.ucc.org/faith/ecatechism.htm), particularly those passages that address the salvation of man through Jesus:

Quoting directly from the text:

“1. What should be the chief concern of man? Man’s chief concern should be to seek after the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

“2. How do we obtain righteousness? We obtain righteousness through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we are saved.

“3. What then must we do to be saved? We must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

“4. Where are we told what we must do to be saved? God has told us what we must do to be saved in his Word, the Holy Bible, which was written by men who were moved by the Holy Spirit.

“29. What did God in his mercy resolve to do to save mankind from sin and its punishment? God in his mercy resolved from all eternity to save fallen mankind through his only begotten Son.

“56. Can we in any way escape the curse of the Law and be saved? We can escape the curse of the Law and be saved through the grace of God, by which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is given to us.

“57. What has God in his grace and mercy done to save us? God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16) But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal. 4:4-5.)

The questions I have to answer for myself are:

Why (Like a little kid, I always ask why) should I seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness?

This should be evident in the responses to my other questions below.

What does it mean to be “saved”, saved from my sin?

You are being saved from the long-term consequences of your sins, those moral failures that you’ve committed. These include such consequences as self-consuming guilt, social ostracism, backlash, and (speaking to the less measurable) eternal damnation. You are also being saved from committing additional sins through an infrastructure of moral guidance which requires your own personal effort and the effort of a fellowship of Christians.

What does it mean to be saved from my sin through Jesus? What does it mean to “believe in Jesus”?

Your salvation is presented in the form of a belief system. Specifically you are choosing to follow the example of morality presented by the teachings of Jesus. To believe in Jesus is to believe that your lot and that of others will be improved by doing as he does. You make an active choice to understand the teachings of Jesus, and to live by the code of morality he presents. The core of this teaching is the reproduction of God’s Love, that the Old Testament is a testament to God’s Love. Your faith, your choice, must be renewed regularly to make it an active choice. You do this most commonly through weekly devotional activities and, ideally, as the default in all your daily activities.

What is the grace of God? What is grace?
Grace is “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” It is our general opinion that we are not worthy to be granted salvation from the sins we commit. God none the less offers us a teacher and a teaching through which we can bring ourselves be worthy. This is God’s grace and further example of God’s Love for us, which we are to reproduce for others. This grace is summarized as “forgiveness”.

John said...

Speaking to your comments in order, I agree that much of a religion is setting down and propagating a moral standard. However, I would argue that you are oversimplifying "the delivery system" (i.e., as I see, the means of propagating your standard) when you compare religion with industry standards.

No religion that I've come in contact with is simply a code of ethics that stands on its own merit (like an industry standard). Always there is the history, the emphasis on how little we know, often driven home by an omnipresent being, who, by definition, knows more than any of us could ever know. All this is to say that part of "the delivery system" is that which demonstrates its legitimacy. (No industry standard worth its salt would legitimize itself in this manner. The realities of business may keep an inappropriate standard at the top - I'm thinking of the one that's getting this message to the world as a great example - but no one would argue that it's the best because of that ranking, or its history, or because von Neumann blessed it... O.K., I'm overboard now, but you know what I mean.)

I am open to the merits of living a humble life; it's something I aspire to. It is logical: our lives are complicated enough without adding to the noise. Could we hear and heed the voice of our code with a schedule of 23 press conferences per week? Sure. But it would be that much more difficult. What I don't need is to start from the position of feeling that I'm not worthy of spiritual peace (if I can capture the idea of being "saved" so) to see the value in the code.

It is the separating of what Jesus did and said from the reasons for his being among us and the reasons for what happened to him - even from the idea that something greater than us conceived of what he taught us - that I am referring to when I speak of separating ethics from religion.

*** ** ****

So, why this quandary then, right? What drives my search? Well, you were exactly right in saying that I seek common ground with my community, that I want to share the pleasure I get from living by my code with like-minded individuals, thereby increasing that pleasure. I seek a cure for what I've come to call my anomie (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomie). And maybe you're right: maybe I will have to set down my own code, although I suspect that studying some of the Eastern codes (e.g., Yoga beyond Hatha Yoga) will prove fruitful.

I'm driven by the idea that I've reached a plateau in my life, and, while it's higher than the one I was living on five years ago, there are many, many more above me, beyond what I see as a ceiling of clouds. I also believe that it requires great discipline to reach these higher plateaus. At times in my life I have clearly seen them, only to have them fade in the noise of life. (This is *the* major source of depression in my life, incidentally.) That's why warrior codes like the Bushido, with their constant discipline, have always appealed to me.

*** ** ****

I'm rereading Part Deux, and realizing that, yes, it's the human justifications and legitimizing that muddy the waters, in my mind. It wouldn't bother me in the least to learn that Jesus brought a cartload of wine to that feast, people got tellin' stories, and before they knew it, someone actually recorded one of those tall tales as fact. An eye for an eye is a terrible idea on my good days. It's only the beginning when I'm low.

*** ** ****

I am also open to the merits of a spirit journey. The Native American idea of finding the animal spirit that will guide you appeals to me, but any journey that quiets your mind would invariably bring revelations, as I see it. Again, it's very logical.

*** ** ****

I don't think I've heard anyone express that position on evolution. A marriage of theories, if you will. I'm used to adversarial positions like those in a series of lectures I attended in university entitled Created Or Evolved. I should pull out those old tapes, come to think of it.

Mitch said...

“No religion that I've come in contact with is simply a code of ethics that stands on its own merit”

This precisely the problem that you and I have with religions. The foundations upon which the church stands often detract from its believability. Aren’t you questioning that source of legitimacy the church uses to project itself? Perhaps the code would stand on its own merit if it weren’t for the foundations upon which it is presented. The history, the stories, the language used; these make for a difficult journey to faith, especially for someone who has not been raised from childhood to speak in those terms, but even so for those who are.

The foundations require faith. The delivery system is archaic. (At first I wrote “arcane” thinking “archaic”. Perhaps it is arcane because it is archaic). It’s a holdover of tyrannical and monarchical periods in which an individual or select group declared law. Faith in your lord, faith in your God. “I tell you, priests, deliver this message ‘that this is the law the people are to follow’”. Was Moses not a priest passing on God message to the people? The people didn’t think, they obeyed… or I should say, were supposed to obey.

That said, the church has developed into an institution that empowers personal spiritual growth. You live in a democratic society in which free speech and thought is required. Now, you are directed to think for yourself and in doing so you come in conflict with faith. Can you have it both ways?

This is what I tell myself: have faith in God, God wants me to seek the kingdom of heaven, that God expects me to seek the correct path, that God will correct me if I stray.

If you have to put your faith anywhere, I would have you put it in God. (Which begs the question of belief in God you first wrote about :). Not in human construction of God. The book is human construction; the laws of the church are human construction based on that book. Each of these is motivated by God but is none the less of human creation. Human creation is open for interpretation. Human creation comes with errors attached. 2000 year old human creation comes with 2000 year old situational contexts to interpret.

It’s a good time to say this again: God is personal. If you find God within you’ll be better equipped to recognizing God elsewhere.

“Could we hear and heed the voice of our code with a schedule of 23 press conferences per week? Sure. But it would be that much more difficult. What I don't need is to start from the position of feeling that I'm not worthy of spiritual peace (if I can capture the idea of being "saved" so) to see the value in the code.”.

With respect being saved and your worthiness, I hope you see that text I wrote was an attempt at translating the Evangelical Catechism. Moreover, I would clarify to say that guilt is an expression of unworthiness by the guilty, by those who feel that they have committed sin. Saying “our general opinion that we are not worthy” is equivalent to saying that “we are consumed by guilt” not “we should be consumed by guilt” or that God wants us to be consumed by guilt. If guilt were required then God would not have given us a path to salvation.

On reading the text I see how I implied otherwise.

“23 press conferences per week“

Spiritual renewal is necessary so that you maintain your awareness, to ensure you haven’t deviated from the good path. It’s like if you exercise your body stays fit, if you don’t you eventually suffer physical pains as a direct result of the inactivity. In addition, as you exercise you notice physical problems that need attention and so you are more likely to attend to them.

If you don’t maintain your spiritual fitness, you end up with many things you feel guilty about, problems you let accumulate. It builds up so that you become overwhelmed, depressed, hated and hateful.

23 press conferences, eh? How about individual prayer instead (perhaps less than 23 times per week)? Prayer is another topic entirely, and I have a few words to say to that as well, summarized as follows: prayer is for the one who prays, directed to the one who prays, for the benefit of the one who prays. You do not pray to God since, by generally accepted definition of God, God already knows your prayer before you know you have a prayer to speak. Prayer teaches awareness to the one who prays. Prayer is spiritual renewal. Some prayer brings a specific problem to the fore of consciousness so that a solution is recognized when presented. You may say “God please help me” but God hears “thank you for helping me to recognize the solution when it is presented”. “Please help my father to recover from his illness” is heard “thank you for helping me to come to terms with my father’s illness.

Forms of Prayer include:
Meditation
Contemplation
Centering Prayer
Mantra
Meditative Reading
Journaling
Repetition

“although I suspect that studying some of the Eastern codes (e.g., Yoga beyond Hatha Yoga) will prove fruitful.”

Americanized yoga is a lot like prayer, but with more focus on your body. It teaches awareness to the yogi. American yoga practices often include centering, mantra and meditation combined with physical exercises.

If you look to the east I believe you’ll find Yoga to be more of a religion than the Americanized version.

“I would argue that you are oversimplifying "the delivery system" (i.e., as I see, the means of propagating your standard) when you compare religion with industry standards.”

The analogy of religion to industry standard is an oversimplification. None the less, further to that analogy…

Peer review, acceptance, and technological relevance make standards stand without a foundation of faith. Standards fall to the side when they fail to receive acceptance and when they become obsolete. They are replaced with new standards, often reaching for the same goal (telecommunications for example) but reflecting a different technological position (SS7 versus IP based).

We expect faith and blind adherence when it comes to religion. We’ve kept the same religious texts for over 2000 years. Are you in the least surprised to find belief difficult? You are reaching for the same goal but in a way that is not compatible with the old protocol. I think that you are asking to have faith in a foundation you’ve already rejected.

”It is the separating of what Jesus did and said from the reasons for his being among us and the reasons for what happened to him - even from the idea that something greater than us conceived of what he taught us - that I am referring to when I speak of separating ethics from religion.”

I said: you can’t separate ethics from religion because a religion’s purpose is to propagate a set of ethics.

Ok, I change my mind; I agree that the ethics can be separated from the religion. The ethics that a religion presents can be removed and handled separately. I’m not sure now but I think I was trying to say that the religion is nothing without the ethics it presents.

I can’t conceive of believing in the story of Jesus if not for the example of goodness he represents. To be a Christian is to following the example. To be a Catholic is to believe in both the Catholic Church’s version of the story and the set of ethics drawn from it.

“That's why warrior codes like the Bushido, with their constant discipline, have always appealed to me.”

Bushido - a feudal-military Japanese code of behavior valuing honor above life

Replace “honor” with “love” and keep the discipline and you’d end up with a disciplined Christian (no pun intended). I like that: “valuing love above life”.

“I don't think I've heard anyone express that position on evolution. A marriage of theories… I'm used to adversarial positions”

The marriage only works if you refuse to take the bible literally or as an accurate source of historical fact.

John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John said...

Formatting issue with the previous comment... This system doesn't deal well with markup...

Finally getting around to commenting on the example Mitch posted...

"You are being saved from the long-term consequences of your sins includ[ing] self-consuming guilt..."

Now that's something a code of ethics cannot do; not on its own. Keeping you from further sinning or from becoming an outcast (as much as possible, of course) are still realistic goals of adopting a code. However, I can envision a life of suffering from guilt no matter what code I chose to follow; what's done is done, if you will, unless...

‘[W]e are not worthy to be granted salvation from the sins we commit. God none the less offers us a teacher and a teaching through which we can bring ourselves be worthy. This is God’s grace and... is summarized as "forgiveness"’

But, again, to be forgiven, you must *believe* in God (not just want to), and his grace. Even if I believe, as you said, "that [my] lot and that of others will be improved by doing as [Jesus did]" - if I accept the code, in other words - my past will still haunt me.

*** ** ****

"Aren’t you questioning that source of legitimacy the church uses to project itself?"

Yes. Absolutely.

"The history, the stories, the language used; these make for a difficult journey to faith, especially for someone who has not been raised from childhood to speak in those terms..."

And, see, that's where I felt like I failed; failed my parents, the United Church, myself... I was never quite sure who the feeling was directed at. I'd been confirmed, after all. That was "speak now, or forever hold your peace" moment, so to speak. Did I fail to focus in Sunday school? Should I have read both Testaments *before* being confirmed?

I've come to understand that questioning the history is healthy, but... Well, it leaves you with lots of questions. :-)

On the 23 press conferences, I realize now that it was an ambiguous - and inaccurate, in retrospect - reference to a less-than-humble lifestyle. There have been many famous people who lived humbly, so that reference to a life of making time for many people, being in the news regularly, etc. really doesn't capture my point. Your thoughts on prayer were interesting nonetheless, though.

"If you look to the east I believe you’ll find Yoga to be more of a religion..."

Yes, I got that impression, but even the Hatha Yoga writings I've read speak to me. For example, from the first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

"17. The ten rules of conduct are: ahimsâ (non-injuring), truth, non-stealing, continence, forgiveness, endurance, compassion, meekness, sparing diet, and cleanliness."

Well, everything except that refraining from sexual intercourse part. ;-)

"We’ve kept the same religious texts for over 2000 years. Are you in the least surprised to find belief difficult?"

That's a good point.

John said...

Oh, I forgot to mention this relevant thought from a Salvation Army officer's blog:

"I wonder what [Jesus] would write [in] his blog? What would his rants consist of? I wonder what he would call his blog? youmissedthepoint.blogspot.com."

http://urbanarmy.blogspot.com/2004/07/what-would-jesus-call-his-blog.html

Mitch said...

“But, again, to be forgiven, you must *believe* in God (not just want to), and his grace. Even if I believe, as you said, "that [my] lot and that of others will be improved by doing as [Jesus did]" - if I accept the code, in other words - my past will still haunt me.”

The purpose of God’s forgiveness is to teach you that you are worthy of that forgiveness. God would not offer you a path away from your guilt if you did not deserve it. The guilt will remain however until such time as you pursue the path: forgive yourself, commit to living without the sin and live without the sin. (Forgive yourself and demonstrate to yourself that you deserve that forgiveness). We all make mistakes, moral failures, and it is important to acknowledge them and commit to avoiding the same in the future.

Consider also peoples forgiveness toward each other. What reasons could others have for forgiving you the transgressions you commit? What reasons do you see to forgive others their transgressions towards you?

You are a sinner: you do hurtful things to yourself and others. It is in your nature. The church teaches this: original sin. Nobody is without it. Everyone is born with the nature to fail both physically and morally; and in failing, to hurt others. The concept of “original sin” is often interpreted as unworthiness, and to be born at fault. People become angry because they don’t believe that a child could possibly be to blame for anything.

“Original sin” means: the child has the potential to fail. We are born limited.

Why do you hurt others? Because you could not see or know everything. Because you were hurt and lashed out. Because you lacked and so took to fill the need.

I was reading a book recently where the author (Simon Brown) wrote in afterword “… pity, possibly the most destructive of emotions”. This I did not understand*. Pity is the most healing emotion a person can have. Pity diffuses anger. When someone hurts you and you become angry, you should attempt to recognize the source of their failure (usually some hurt of their own). Have pity for their failing and forgive.

*(m-w.com offers “sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow” as a possible definition for pity. I could see how disdaining or despising a person could be destructive. I refer to pity as “sympathetic, tender sorrow for one suffering”)

Your forgiveness is two fold beneficial: it releases you from your anger, your emotional pain, and it enables you to refrain from returning or propagating the hurt.

Why does God forgive? He knows why you failed. He does not take offense. There is no hurt in God. He takes pity on you, grants you mercy and forgiveness.

("Aren’t you questioning that source of legitimacy the church uses to project itself?")
”Yes. Absolutely.”

I chose to recognize the foundations as the church’s attempt to prepare a base upon which to teach. I didn’t find this effective. I believe the reason to be that I’m taught to do two conflicting things: think for myself and have faith (in the foundations).

Do not attempt to have faith in things you know, are taught or learn through experiences. Rely on them yes, you have no choice as this is the path of your life; but when some new knowledge comes along that does fit, when the world does not behave as you expect, where is your faith? Have faith instead that all is as it should be*. Your experiences and your life as it is presented are there to teach you. Learn from it and move on to the next.

*“all is as it should be”: this is an aspect of God, is it not?

“And, see, that's where I felt like I failed; failed my parents, the United Church, myself... I was never quite sure who the feeling was directed at. I'd been confirmed, after all. That was "speak now, or forever hold your peace" moment, so to speak. Did I fail to focus in Sunday school? Should I have read both Testaments *before* being confirmed?”

Failing to understand is not a sin. Failing to try is. You were created limited. You were created to try. You were created to be less and to become more.

Confirmation is a declaration of intent. Your intent is to pursue a higher calling, a good path. What were the words of you confirmation? “I believe in God…” “I reject satan and all his evil works…” What do you believe in and what are you rejecting? Understand that and I expect you will come to terms with the commitment you made.

“Well, everything except that refraining from sexual intercourse part. ;-)”

Sexual intercourse is seen as a distraction to spiritual growth because it is a very intense physical experience. The physical masks the spiritual.

Physical intercourse, physical pursuit, being a physical creature generates emotions, strong emotions, which can distract or blind you to spiritual truths. Emotions are blinding, burdensome, confusing, misleading. Emotions are overwhelming.

Sometimes. Emotions are markers to truth. They are responses to experiences.

If you identify yourself as separate from your physical and emotional being* you can also choose to use your physical and emotional responses:

• Physical pain warns you of physical harm and danger
• Emotional pain warns you of untruth (emotional pain is denial of what you perceive)

*often people, most people, identify themselves in terms of their physical attributes (obsessions with beauty for example) and emotional states

Sexual intercourse is a reproductive necessity. It feels good. We’ve sort of gone beyond biological necessity these days. Put on a condom and then what is sex? A distraction. Stress relief (release?). Emotionally uplifting experience? What negative emotions are we overpowering?

Intimate intercourse with a partner. A caring expression from one to another. “You are a wonderful person whom I love. This is how you make me feel by being who you are”.

“youmissedthepoint.blogspot.com”

I was disappointed to find that this wasn’t a real reference.

John said...

An aside on my comment that "[t]his system doesn't deal well with markup..."

I stumbed upon a good reason for not marking up comments:

"[It's] comment spam unfriendly. URLs or HTML code posted in the comments will not be displayed as hyperlinks and search engines will therefore not count them as referrers."

http://www.corti.com/weblogsascha/FormatPage.aspx?path=SiteConfig/disclaimer.format.html

I didn't know about this scheme for boosting a site's rank.

John said...

Much earlier: "[W]e are consumed by guilt," but, by acknowledging that (more recently) "[w]e are born limited," we can be saved. I like that. I've mentioned how I aspire to the humble life, and being mindful of everyone's limitation is certainly in line with it; keeping my feet on the ground, as it were.

"Have faith... that all is as it should be..."

This is our first reference to faith that I am comfortable with. To do otherwise is to waste energy and life on what has brought me to this point, keeping me from "mov[ing] on to the next [experience]," as you say. Now acknowledging the wisdom of these words, and acting on them is separated by discipline, as I see it. That is, whenever I wander from the path (e.g., when I lament missed opportunities), it is a failure of my discipline. Having a code to come back to - a map and flashlight to help me get back on the path, maybe? - may be what I'm lacking... May, in fact, be more significant to my search for a code than the need for a community that I mentioned earlier. That is, more than anything, I need help to keep moving on to the next experience.

"Sexual intercourse is seen as a distraction..."

One of many. It's so hard to stay focused... true... especially in this part of the world, I believe. Advertising is all about distracting you to another's advantage. I employed extreme measures last year in an attempt to stay focused on something I felt I had to do: I handwrote a note that began "I will remember or I will die..." and made it my desktop background so that I'd see it every day. Eventually I came to realize that: 1) it was unhealthy, and, 2) more importantly, that this move that I wanted to remember and always be working towards was really me wanting to run away from my problems, when all it would do is give them a new setting.

"I was disappointed to find that [youmissedthepoint] wasn't... real..."

No, no, Mitch. It's an opportunity, don't you see? Register it today and continue this thread. Seriously.

John said...

I'm happy to say that Mitch has done just that! To be continued at http://youmissedthepoint.blogspot.com.

Gordon said...

just caught up with your comment on URBANarmy. I'm glad someone took up the youmissedthepoint.blogspot idea. My finger was poised to register - but then I stopped - I waste enought time with URBANarmy!!