The Temptation of Faith

I want to believe. I want to have faith. I want to live like a child again, believing in things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and in fantastical worlds where one could wrap a cape on their shoulders and fly through the air, invulnerable to pain or threat...

But the truth is...well, we see it when we read these posts, and consider these arguments. We see and read Christians using convoluted arguments to either justify the lack of evidence or consistency in their religion...one which I used to revel in with them. Their theology, use of science, philosophy...all impressive. But I hear in their voices and arguments an anger at something...which I think may be the loss of innocence in their religion. They no longer share the magic of belief...they have encountered the reality of failed or non-existent evidence, God has failed them, so now they fall back on circulur, sophomoric arguments. They attack their opponents, they insult or challenge without reason the methods of discourse...all because their God has failed them, or they have lost the simple, innocent child-like quality of simple belief.

I understand. I wish I could believe. I wish I could:
- pray, and believe God was going to answer;
- pray, and actually see an answered prayer;
- lay hands on the sick and watch them recover;
- speak to mountains and watch them move into the sea (or, as an environmentalist, speak to deforested and denuded mountains and watch them become green again)
- raise the dead
- walk on water (hell, I can't even ski)
- command weather, save New Orleans
- walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil
- do these other things, even greater things, that Jesus did (and promised I could do)
- tithe, and see prosperity returned to me
- speak in tongues!
- prophecy about the future
- have visions (without pharmaceutical help)
- believe that a questionably historical figure actually died for my "sins" and that it meant something; and that it wasn't such a crazy idea to be so appealing
- absolutely know that my existence will continue when I die, or that my father is in heaven, ready to meet me when I get there (wink, wink).

I could go on and on. The promises of religion...no 72 virgins for Christians, but promises just the same...are multitudinous. But that one time, that first time, when the believer prays - not a shallow, vacuous prayer like "please let me be on time" but, with tears, "please heal my father" or "please save that nation"...and nothing happens...the dominoes begin to fall, and what is left is high-sounding arguments of convoluted philosophy. What I hear is a "melancholy, long-withdrawing roar."

The loss of faith is heartbreaking. The temptation of faith is strong.

15 comments:

goprairie said...

I will admit that the one thing I miss about letting people beleive I was Christian is being able to tell them I would pray for them. Now what do I say when someone tells me of an ill relative or an upcoming surgery?

I even wanted to beelive that it might work. I clung to those first prayer studies that claimed it did, not because I beleived there was a God to do anything, but because I wanted there to be human souls that could impact the world in a positive way by working together. I was pretty sad when those studies were refuted and it turned out that the people who knew they were being prayed for did worst of all!
Thanks for the honest and heartfelt post.

Jason said...

Right...

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Brother Crow wrote, "I want to believe. I want to have faith." But do we really?? Are we really willing to relinquish proprietary pursuits? Even that of being self righteous?

One of the problems I had with believing is that I never used to value what it promised - a solid foundation of "I am well and purely loved". Spiritual salvation was of no interest to me - God was not viewed as a priority or powerful - other people (who were insensitive and uncaring) were much more "in m face" and more impressive and important than the notion of a good God. I could have cared less that "Jesus loves me". Stupid and meaningless words they were! My values were firmly planted in the seeking of gratification from the seen world to heal my hidden woundedness. What I used to seek illicitly was already available and waiting for me.

At any rate, most people reject faith because they worry about hell and condemnation when in fact, by faith, they ought to be considering who they will encounter in heaven - that is a "problem" of faith.

MMM

K. Szklenski said...

I never really understood why anyone would want to believe something that is self-evidently false. I suppose "wanting" here implies that the world, or your life, or whatever, would be better if those things were true. But for me, believing in something that's false is anathema. It always has been, pretty much. Part of this may be because, "I can't stand being wrong", but it might also be related to having been raised Catholic. In the form that I was raised in, being wrong was not an option. If you were wrong, you were going to Hell, plain and simple. Even as a kid, I had more guilt/fear than any of the adults I knew (or thought I did, anyway). I still pretty much think that way, and wanting to believe in something that's false seems bizarre to me. I think in some way, though, I can understand how you feel. Nice post, Brother Crow.

JP said...

"I never really understood why anyone would want to believe something that is self-evidently false."

For many of us, our entire lives were in the walls of the christian faith. There was comfort. To one day renounce it all is a trying time. I could never go back but I admit to wishful thinking that there was this all powerful being that has a heaven waiting for me.

Again, wishful thinking. I am, however, quite content where I am and am thankful that I have cleansed myself from the religious dirt that has been holding me down all these years.

Brother Crow, I as well, appreciate your honestly.

akakiwibear said...

Brother Crow, it seems that a lot of what you really want is to have Harry Potter's magic wand.

Brother Crow said...

That is a fairly naive and meaningless comment, akakiwibear. Who doesn't? And tell me that the motivation for supernatural aid and comfort is not rated as close to number one in human need. "A very present help in times of trouble", and "he leadeth me beside still waters, he restores my soul" would not quite have the punch if that was not true, eh? A typical christian response..."I want Harry Potter's wand" - woooo, tough and challenging and in the face of the atheist. You big tough man!! But I call BS on that, because it is what it is. The promises are there. Let me ask you...what reason is there for faith at all if there is not the hope of some promise of something. You cannot seriously think that I or anyone else would accept this for an answer: "oh, I chose to have faith in God because the philosophical, scientific and intellectual themes of divine existence, supreme being, yada yada just compelled me to believe...dispassionately, of course." ?????? Yeh, I want Harry's wand.

akakiwibear said...

Brother Crow, perhaps I was too flippant, but I thought it was all your post deserved. I should not have been so rude, I apologise.

Since you challenge me with such aggression I guess I should to respond to your straw man in similar vein.

Your argument is largely based on a fundamentalist literal interpretation of the bible. The most obvious examples being. - speak to mountains and watch them move into the sea (or, as an environmentalist, speak to deforested and denuded mountains and watch them become green again)
- raise the dead
- walk on water (hell, I can't even ski)
- command weather, save New Orleans
.

I suspect even the fundies would laugh that lot of promises out of court!

Now you do preface your argument by dismissing any contra argument from liberal theists with We see and read Christians using convoluted arguments to either justify the lack of evidence or consistency in their religion... .

Well that is not good enough.

If theism is the non-sense you claim it to be then you should be prepared to meet it head-on and not hide in the shelter of fundamentalism or DC’s proclaimed mission of debunking Evangelical Christianity. Yet you seem quite happy to attack all theism by association with your straw man.

To attack fundamentalism is a straw man. The liberal theists have debunked it long before you came along. The big difference is that they have moved on, your atheism is still confined by fundamentalism.

goprairie said...

the problem as i see it of trying to debunk anything but fundamentalist christianity is that it is undefined. if we debunk a point someone made, then you can say 'oh, *I* don't beleive in that exact version of it'. Mainstream or moderates hide behind a vague misty undefined shapeshifting moving target. You can only debunk claims, not vagueness. So I will speak for those I am not authorized to speak for and issue a challenge to you. Go ahead and tell us what you DO beleive. About origins, who Jesus was and what his life and death meant, that the reuirements for salvation are, what the consequences of failure are, whther and how prayer is answered. THose are what I would consider the minimum claims you need to make to justify a faith. If your religion has other claims, go ahead and declare them. But unless you are willing to clearly state what you beleive up front, there is not point in trying to debate it. Take your time. Be as concise as you can. I am pretty sure once you define the claims of YOUR specific religion, someone here will be willing to rise to the challenge of specifically and successfully debunking it.

Brother Crow said...

Thank you, goprarie...good response to akakiwi. (and akakiwi...I did not mean to sound so aggressive, but I am frustrated). Your point is right on...so what do liberal theists believe about all those things, and why? I have always wondered about those who claim belief in Jesus or christianity but are also quick to point out they are not "fundy's" (what a horrible thing to call their brothers in christ) and are not "literalists." OK - fine. So what do they base their belief on? Where is their doctrine or dogma arrived from? Fundamentalists at least have an objective source for their belief system. The non-literalists are the ones most vulnerable to subjective, non-reasonable conclusions. So...akakiwi...I ask with goprarie..."Go ahead and tell us what you DO beleive. About origins, who Jesus was and what his life and death meant, that the reuirements for salvation are, what the consequences of failure are, whther and how prayer is answered." And if you say you believe it, please justify it by referencing why you believe it. Scripture, or some epiphanous revelation, or something else. You accuse me of building a straw man...hardly. I say that your non-literalist belief is based on the same thing as my post alludes to...an emotional need for wonder, for mystery, for meaning, for Harry Potter's wand. Don't avoid my original question to you...why do you believe? Are you seriously telling me that you don't have any hope in the promises of God made in the bible?

akakiwibear said...

Interesting response – no defence, but a request to give you a chance to attack my beliefs – I am sure you will delight in picking at the minutia and ignore the whole, just as you do in attacking Christian fundamentalism. But ….

What I believe is out there for all to see, visit my blog, most visitors are atheists and so you should feel at home. I have been called on this before on this blog and you will find my replies and beliefs here on DC.

What my blog has done, unintentionally, is chart my path from being an interested in atheism to becoming a committed theist. DC has played a big part in developing my theism (some posts have been more thought provoking than others).

I approached atheism as an answer to what seemed to be the unanswered questions of Christianity. Yes there were answers here (and on other atheist sites) but when stacked up against the answers of established liberal theologians they were clearly lacking. The Argument of Evil is a classic example. I have debated it both on DC (mainly with Lee) and my own blog. I see atheists as having to duck behind what amounts to “you can’t prove conclusively that you are right, so you must be wrong”. This is weak, as is the focus on evangelist fundamentalism.

The atheist evangelists (Dawkins, Harris et al – even perhaps JWL may be included in there ranks) have also helped me on my way to theism. They are no better than the type of Christian evangelists you attack on DC.

You said I was unkind to fundamentalists. I think some have a lot to answer for in setting their followers up as ducks in a row for atheist attack by not opening them to wider thinking. Certainly the cause of the fundamentalists and every other grouping is not helped by the nutters in their midst and those who exploit religion for their own personal ends. But there is a place for simple faith that leads to trying to live a good life, a case of “horses for courses” perhaps.

While I do not condemn fundamentalist out of hand, I certainly disagree with some of their teachings in the same way as perhaps you may disagree with some of your fellow atheists may say.

Because I am growing in my theism – unlike the DC brand of atheism it can grow, if fact it is theism looks to be better characterised as open minded, evolving and rational than is your atheism – you will not find a complete and definitive doctrine on my blog. Nor of course will you find proof absolute that I am right - wish I could offer it, but you know how it goes ...

What you will find is evidence that can weighed and either accepted for what it is or rejected on the grounds that for it to be true there would have to be a god. The great thing about theism is the choice – call it freewill if you like, an intellectually pleasing alternative to posts on DC the reduce us to biological computers unable to exercise choice beyond our ‘programme’ … but I digress.

For me, Christianity, perhaps all religion, seems to be mainly about the spirit (yes I do believe in a metaphysical realm, for which I argue there is a solid weight of evidence) and less about creature comfort. It provides us with good direction on how to live our lives in order to improve our spiritual well being. It offers us the opportunity to draw strength from the metaphysical realm through prayer. Importantly it offers us freedom to choose how to conduct our lives.

You ask “Are you seriously telling me that you don't have any hope in the promises of God made in the bible?” . The above may answer that, but yes I do see hope in the bible and in many other religious writings. I certainly see a hope that humanity may one day embrace a ‘love thy neighbour’ ethos (assuming atheists have not banned teaching it), I see hope that prayer for such an end may inspire and empower the spirit of more people to work for it, little by little, one day at a time in our own lives and I see hope that as we grow closer in purpose to that which we call God we will be better able to draw on spiritual power to improve the lot of our fellows through for instance physical healing (we may never attain the power to raise the dead or grow a new limb – we are like babes learning to crawl)

Hope is what I do not see in atheism.

goprairie said...

Bear:
First, YOU complained that this blog only addressed fundamental Christianity, so I merely explained one reason that is true: Fundamental Christianity is well defined and can be addressed rationally point by point. If one attempts to address points generally accepted by less literal types of Christians, as soon as the point is proven wrong, they slither out of it by saying well, that is not exactly how I interpret it, you didn't just debunk my exact interprtation or beleif. Thus, the only way to debate other than a Fundamentalist is to ask them to define their terms up front, then debate those terms. If you are unwilling to define your terms, you are not interested in serious debate on them, or are perhaps not really sure of them yourself and know they will not stand up to the debate. That kinda means we win by default.

Sedond if you find answers to be other than atheist here, you find what you seek, not because it is here, but because you want it so badly. By my accounting, every point brought forth in a serious rational manner has successfully BEEN debunked. If you found some snippets that you can use to build your brand of theism, well, you didn't read very thoroughly or follow the thread to the end.

Third, it is the nature of science and debate to put the burden of proof on those stating what IS. Once the others prove the claims for exitence are wrong, the argement is done. Won. If you say there is a duck in the room and no one sees a duck, the rules of debate and science say there is none until you prove there is. We don't have to poke a stick in every corner to prove there is no invisible mystery duck. You have to make the duck quack or block a paper airplane or in some other way prove it is there. If you can't, those who say there is no duck win. That is how science and debate work.

There is no god. There is no spirit. Done. Until you prove otherwise. Your burden of proof.

Hope in atheism? The hope in atheism is in people and nature and science, not in some false god and nonexistant spirits. When I am ill, instead of praying uselessly to a God for healing, which is blind hope, I am going to read all I can about the condition and call in all the experts and follow the program diligently and call in my friends to support me and keep my mood up and all that reliance on people and nature and science give me hope: Real hope. I prefer that kind of hope any day.

akakiwibear said...

"When I am ill, instead of praying uselessly to a God for healing, which is blind hope, I am going to read all I can about the condition and call in all the experts and ...."

Guess doing both would be too much of a burden on you.

"By my accounting, every point brought forth in a serious rational manner has successfully BEEN debunked."

By your accounting why would anyone expect anything else!

Be interesting to see where JWL is going to come from when he addresses liberal theology. Perhaps we should be patient.

Bill Gnade said...

Dear Brother Crow,

I don't know how you can be tempted to have faith, unless you mean you are tempted to have more faith. For you already have faith. We all do.

I mean, if we just take as a starting point the idea that light is the fastest thing in the universe, then we have a problem. If light is indeed the fastest "thing," then there is no such thing -- at least for humans -- as a "present" or present tense. For light's speed is finite; it is not instantaneous. Hence, we infer a present, a now. Everything we experience is thus past tense; there is no knowable now at all. And that's just ONE problem.

You might be interested in exploring this idea of faith some more in my essay, "A Letter To Christopher Hitchens." Also, parts of my November 9 essay might engage you. But I don't know.

I could be wrong: maybe you can show me a basis for knowledge that is rooted solely in reason. My gut tells me you can't. But that is perhaps because my gut is too reliant on intuition and too inept at comprehending the unlimited scope of reason.

Be well. I would pray for you, but the Lord asks that I pray that you not be led into temptation. But 'tempted' is exactly what I want you to be. Alas, paradoxes and problems everywhere, oh my!

Peace and mirth,

BG

Bryan Riley said...

Interesting thoughts I just read today:

If we could make the Creator of heaven and earth instantly appear at our beck and call, we would not be in communion with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and jacob. We do that with objects, with things, with idols. But God, the great iconoclast, is constantly smashing our false images of who he is and what he is like.

Can you see how our very sense of the absence of God is, therefore, an unsuspected grace? In the very act of hiddenness God is slowly weaning us of fashioning him in our own image. Like Aslan, the Christ figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, God is wild and free and comes at will. By refusing to be a puppet on our string or a genie in our bottle, God frees us from our false, idolatrous images.

Prayer, by Richard J. Foster.