I am not really looking for a debate here. I am looking to learn from others opinions, insight, and experience regarding religion.
At around 17 I left the faith in which my parents had brought me up (conservative Christianity) and have remained agnostic all the way up to today at age 21. My reasons for leaving involve the unquestioned and unfounded nature of the faith I was taught. Maybe I'll come back into some sort of faith again, but if so I will hopefully have better reasons for my beliefs.
I am trying to learn about different religions and worldviews. Right now I am in the process of reading through various religious and philosophical texts. So if you are willing I'd like to hear from all of you why you hold your views. I am curious what your religious beliefs (or lack of) are, what you find appealing about them, what your reasons for holding onto them are, and what if any effect you think they have on you and your life.
I do not really plan to debate anyone here. I am merely trying to be open and absorb any knowledge or experience you all have.
I left my parents church around the same time, was more atheist than agnostic. Had a personal experience that shook me to the core, felt a presence that was unlike anything I have felt before or after. Since then, I still don't follow an actual established religion, but I have a strong belief.
I've never gotten closer by searching logically/educationally for belief. It had to come from outside of all of the texts and rules and practices.
I left the faith I was raised in (Baptist), and joined the Catholic Church. When I was going through the RCIA I realized I was in the right place. I like the order of mass, and how you know exactly what is going to be going on for years to come. I like how they are willing to accept what science can teach us, without feeling like it discounts God. I couldn't jive that with the Baptist Religion...
I am a Christian. I am also naturally skeptical. I ask questions. And, I need a reason to believe beyond good men telling me that I should. When you're a kid, indoctrination is fine -- start with the basics. When you get older ... it's important to have an answer to "why do I believe this?".
To me, Christianity boils down to a single 'yes or no' question. One. Is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ historical fact ... or is it not? If 'no', it's all nonsense. Maybe well-meaning. Maybe there's some wisdom buried in there. But, the faith is built on a lie. But, if the answer is 'yes' ... it changes everything. Not only that, but a 'yes' gives reasonable basis for believing the entire account from Genesis to Revelation. It's a literal game-changer. Based on one question, and one answer.
I believe the Resurrection happened. The most convincing evidence I have found is the behavior of Peter, James, and Paul -- a thrice-denier, a skeptic, and a Christian-persecuting Pharisee -- in the aftermath of the execution of Christ. These men were either non-believers or weak believers when Christ died. But, after Christ was executed, they all became extremely zealous followers of Him. Why? What changed?
We know from non-Biblical historical record -- Josephus, I Clement, Ignatius, etc. -- that all three were persecuted and eventually martyred for their trouble. Peter publicly denied Christ before he was executed. Why not continue to deny Him after his death? James was a skeptic. What convinced him? And, Paul -- by his own words -- was a Pharisee that believed Christians were heretics. Why didn't he continue being a Pharisee ... to live-on in judgmental comfort and die of old age? What caused such an extreme change-of-mind?
Why did any of these men not merely fade into obscurity or return to Judaism? Jesus Christ wouldn't've been the first false messiah. Why get themselves killed carrying the banner of a dead man?
The only explanation I can think of that makes any sense is that each of them saw something that shook them to the core. The Risen Christ, for instance. Men do not martyr themselves for something they know to be false. Martyrdom, if nothing else, is proof that these men were true believers. True believers in things they were reputed to have seen with their own eyes -- unlike, say, Islamic suicide bombers that 'truly believe' in things unseen. These were not matters of faith to these men. They were witnesses.
But, there's always the 'but the Bible is biased' objection to overcome. What if the church made all of this up hundreds of years later? But, the letters of Paul are universally accepted as the actual words of Paul himself (there are a couple of letters that are occasionally disputed, but, most are entirely undisputed). And, the martyrdoms of Peter, James and Paul are all verified outside of scripture. And, the church they built in the aftermath of Christ's death still exists today. So, their behavior and ultimate fate relatively undisputed historical fact. They built a church on the reputation of a dead man, and got themselves killed over it.
Which still leaves the question ... why? Were they crazy? Power hungry -- wanting to build a worldwide faith and control the minds of people for two thousand years? Was it the worst plan for world domination ever conceived? Was it a conspiracy? I don't see any evidence for any of that. To quote Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame ...
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
I found that incontrovertible. That is why I believe.
There is so much to tell here.
I'm a mix of Mr. Spock -- everything must be logical -- and someone who notes feelings (not as guides to truth, just as feelings). So everything must be internally consistent in a belief system or I can't accept it. For that, see JB's post: I can't believe otherwise.
But what I have is not a belief system; it's a friendship. It's a distant one. I keep forgetting he's around. I keep not wanting to hear what he has to say in case I want to do otherwise. But when I remember...
Madeliene L'Engle (The Irrational Season) writes of her "theology of failure." That is, get how often you f up and be OK with it; lean on Him. That's my entre now into closeness -- seeing how, although I like to be in control and kill it at work, home, wherever, I f up all the time so maybe I could let Him in once in a while. Or more.
But although belief system isn't what it's all about, I did have a sort of crisis of faith starting 4-ish years back. I never did in college. I was too well educated; while my friends were stunned by being introduced to heresy, having been protected in youth by well-meaning churches, I knew it and was not impressed.
But when my second kid got to the age of asking questions, I started seeing thru his eyes. "Can Jesus fly?" [A q that had never occurred to me--!] "I don't believe in God. I can't see him."
He currently does, because of the weight of authority (that is, everybody around him believes). As a belief system, and a system of ethics, not a relationship. But his skepticism made me for the first time actually be able to disbelieve the Gospel. So what did I do? I examined the evidence.
The result was like this: My reason said, basically, see JB's post. Done. My feelings said, oh, yeah, right, like that happened.
I think this is human nature. You hear something enough, it starts to be believable. The media, stories, and the blogs I wander through lean strongly secularist and atheist. Thus the Oh Yeah Right voice.
Also, although I avoided a crisis of faith over evolution (by not thinking I had to be creationist), I get problems with Biblical history. (This was driven also by committed, devout clergy who were certain that "this part of Mark is a later addition [to justify a position not to report what Jesus said'} or such.) The repeated stories of Abraham passing of Sarah as his sister. The Canaan genocide. By now I accept that just as some parts of the Bible are not history (Proverbs, Psalms) other parts are also not straight history (Genesis, Joshua). My one-time evangelical/fundamentalist soul still cringes at that -- wanting it all to be straight history -- but it's OK, I think, to take them at what they seem to be: something told the way ancients tell it, meant to tell a story rather than report what eyewitnesses saw.
I don't like mess. But life doesn't usually get resolved.
I've always believed there's a God, just not that the Bible is his word necessarily. In my opinion, there is a God, just not one we can comprehend. My grandfather, who has been a devout christian all his life has all of a sudden started asking the most mind boggling question; "Where did God come from?" Meaning, does he have parents? How does he exist? But then, you have to tell yourself, if God is real, then he is......everything. Again, it's beyond our comprehension, and we tell ourselves he must have parents and they have parents and so on, because here on earth everything has a creator. Someone made this chair, this laptop, desk, and so on. But when it comes to God, he is all. It's hard to think about, but that's life I guess.
About rejecting a belief system: be sure you're rejecting it, not a silly image of it constructed to be rejected, or that adult adherents leave behind at twelve.
Friend of mine said, "X is worried about my soul. It's like the South Park thing where people die and go to hell and say, 'Hey, why is this? We're not heathens!'
"St. Peter: 'What were you?'
"'We were Methodists!'
"'Um, I'm sorry. That's not the correct answer.'"
Friend continues, "I just can't believe in that sort of thing!"
Thing is, X doesn't either. Nor did its creators, the writers of South Park.
Children picture a bearded man standing on a cloud because they're children and have to picture something. Standard Christian belief is that he's not physical, so he doesn't look like a man or anything and is everywhere, not on a cloud. We leave that behind when we're grown up enough to see it's just an image.
It goes the other way, too. A believer may say, I don't see how anyone's crazy enough to look at the universe and think, "That just happened." It's a caricature, not something atheists actually say (in my hearing, anyway). We should look beyond the caricatures we create to feel superior to others and decide on sounder ground.
I suggest you look at the major religion around the world. Include Buddhism, Hindu and Shinto. Also read up on the Norse faith of Asatru.
Find what the central questions are as well as the solution to those questions. See what moral guides they provide in actual daily practice and see if there is differentiation between the initiated and uninitiated. Think about how it would be to be a member of the uninitiated / not of that faith.
That should give you some basis to review the faith.
Personally I'm Roman Catholic but I nearly converted to Episcopal due to the previous pope. I find the Church still has a long way to go take seriously the path's it's faithful have chosen. If they preach something and 90% of the body of the church rejects the teaching in practice. There is a serious disconnect and they need to figure out that something needs to be adjusted.
Also they need to work on social justice at a church by church level. But no major faith structure is without problems.