Churchgoing Agnostic

Churchgoing Agnostic
Location
USA
Birthday
July 15
Bio
Curious African-American male seeking truth, rethinking Jesus and questioning "God" while living in the Bible Belt.

MY RECENT POSTS

OCTOBER 21, 2009 2:33PM

How I understand "faith"

Rate: 6 Flag

I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual who is willing to offer a listening ear to anyone on matters of faith and philosophy. But with that said, I am primarily focused on taking thoughtful action in the “here-and-now” to nurture and protect life in the “here-and-now.”  I admit that I am, at present, skeptical about supernatural and paranormal claims, doubtful about the existence of an afterlife and uncertain as to whether or not “God” exists in any way that makes a significant difference in our everyday lives. But despite my continual wrestling with an abundance of theological and philosophical questions, I still consider myself a “person of faith.”


I understand faith as both the hope that an unrealized end will come to realization and that inner drive which compels us to “seek” in hopes of “finding.” Likewise, I believe that human efforts to understand enemies, welcome neighbors, overcome prejudices, exercise creativity, find meaning, discern truth, imagine new possibilities, inspire future generations, seek transcendence and explore the unknown are, themselves, profound acts of faith and courageous pursuits that have inspired humanity to progress. I think this understanding of faith is one that can resonate with believers and nonbelievers alike.


Faith, defined as such, has been a very formative factor in my life and, as a life-long student of religion, I continue to be fascinated by the diverse and enduring religious traditions of the world. I am particularly intrigued by their staying power over large spans of time, their ability to cultivate a sense of purpose, gratitude and wonder, and their ability to help us transcend the suffering we experience in order to imagine possibilities for a better life.
 


Over the years, my approach to life has been profoundly shaped by my understanding of the stories told about Jesus of Nazareth and my upbringing in the Catholic and Protestant traditions of Christianity. These influences have reinforced my appreciation of and commitment to compassionate service and continue to inform my ethical decisions. These traditions have also inspired my guiding principle that all human life is precious, valuable and deserving of respect—regardless of one’s ability, age, ethnicity, income level, nationality, religion, philosophy or sexual identity.  


The ultimate goal of my endeavors is not to proselytize or bring about total agreement among those who disagree, but to nurture a deeper understanding of our particular differences and a more substantial appreciation of our shared values and overlapping areas of practical concern. It is my conviction that an active commitment to ongoing, thoughtful and respectful interactions will help usher us into a safer and more humane community where all can flourish.

Author tags:

belief/religion

Your tags:

TIP:

Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
"to nurture a deeper understanding of our particular differences and a more substantial appreciation of our shared values and overlapping areas of practical concern"

I wholeheartedly agree with this post. All believers and non-believers can agree to have life-affirming conversations about our shared values. I wish more church-goers had this open-hearted attitude.
First, welcome back to the nuthouse, CA. I've missed your probing intelligence and compassionate heart. Good to read you again.

Second, just to second your statement that "human efforts to understand enemies, welcome neighbors, overcome prejudices, exercise creativity, find meaning, discern truth, imagine new possibilities, inspire future generations, seek transcendence and explore the unknown are, themselves, profound acts of faith and courageous pursuits that have inspired humanity to progress." Certainly resonates with me!
I always love your posts, CA. I've missed you lately.
Kind of (spookily) ties into my
take on faith, on my blog, written today...check it out...

Faith=knowing the ground will not only support you, but give you a little impetus...
Thanks Jim. Yeah, I noticed that too. In fact, reading your piece inspired me to announce mine again.
"It is my conviction that an active commitment to ongoing, thoughtful and respectful interactions will help usher us into a safer and more humane community where all can flourish."

Sounds like faith to me . . . the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
i'm not sure i understand what you are getting at. as a buddhist, i believe anything you want to believe is your business, so whatever or whoever you are speaking to escapes me.
Ben Sen,
As with most of my posts, I am thinking out loud and talking to myself. I began writing this post as a reflection on five words attributed to Jesus (“seek, and ye shall find”) which, to me, speak to the essence of “faith.” With those words as my launching pad, I tried to articulate for myself what it means for me to identify as “a person of faith.” Because “faith” seems to be such a debatable term in our age, I thought it would be helpful to share my take with others here.

However, I appreciate your view that what individuals choose to believe is their business. That falls in line with my own sense that, despite what people claim to believe (and even if they never verbalize their personal convictions), the most important thing is how they choose to live. Thanks for reading.
Of course, in a free country, one is allowed to define ”faith” any way one chooses…and I understand and appreciate your definition.

I suggest, though, that if you actually listen to what “people of faith” are saying…you come to a different definition.

As I see it, when a “person of faith” says they “believe” the many things they “believe”…what they are saying is that they are making a blind guess about an unknown that MAY be unknowable…but are reluctant to call their blind guess a blind guess because…well, just because.

And when they call it a “belief”…they actually expect that everyone else has to pay it more deference than they would someone expressing a blind guess about the unknown.

Which brings us to faith.

When a “person of faith” uses the word “faith”…he or she seems merely to be insisting that the blind guess about the unknown cannot be wrong.

The short form of this is: Faith is pretty much bullshit....said with as much respect as possible.
You wrote:

"Over the years, my approach to life has been profoundly shaped by my understanding of the stories told about Jesus of Nazareth and my upbringing in the Catholic and Protestant traditions of Christianity. These influences have reinforced my appreciation of and commitment to compassionate service and continue to inform my ethical decisions. [...] The ultimate goal of my endeavors is not to proselytize or bring about total agreement among those who disagree, but to nurture a deeper understanding of our particular differences and a more substantial appreciation of our shared values and overlapping areas of practical concern. "

I couldn't agree more, C-A. You and I share much in common in our worldviews and upbringing. Although I do not attend church, these same feelings have brought me into engagement with religion as a scholar.

From a young age, I was profoundly upset by the doctrinal excuses for the schism between my parents respective religions (i.e. Catholic v. Protestant), which allegedly shared a commitment to the vision of the same great teacher. I ended up rejecting both traditions, but nonetheless find myself drawn to the study of sectarian conflict and compromise.

If you get a chance, I would appreciated it if you read and commented on my post on the Epistle of James, see:

http://open.salon.com/blog/indiana_joe/2009/11/24/james_the_conservative_bible_project_imprecatory_prayer

It's a bit lengthy, but you may find it worth your time.

Peace!

I-J
Any religious organization in which men have more power than women and God is seen as male seems to me to be about politics and control, not about spirituality, love and respect. If we ever have a female pope, a female Dali Lama, etc., then perhaps spirituality will finally trump politics. Not because women are more spiritual but because they are as capable of leadership as men and can be as holy.
Wow,
Well put Hawley! You capture the essence of it right there.
Well said. I call myself a zen Buddhist--have an essay in a forthcoming book called, "Southern Baptist Zen." While I agree with the self-described Buddhist who wrote in about religious belief being your own business only, I appreciate this essay.

And while I credit the existence of something beyond all this here-and-now (as if put it, there is something extra to existence, something inexplicable--the sheer fact of existence is inexplicable), I have no quarrel with atheists. I may feel this way about existence, but I cannot prove I am right, and do not attempt to.

However, the person who wrote that "people of faith" are all hypocrites is committing the error of supposing that people who describe themselves as people of faith are indeed people of faith. Anyone can claim anything. What agnostic insists on is the quality of our behavior. The so-called "people of faith" the writer refers to have co-opted the name. There are many people of faith who do not subscribe to those idiocies.

I agree strongly with your emphasis on behavior here-and-now. People commonly sit around twiddling their thumbs debating the relative merits of extremely tricky theological positions, as if that had anything to do with decent behavior, as if we had to wait till we had all the answers to do good. We don't. Courage, love, wisdom, compassion, willpower, humility--NOT craven self-abasement, but awareness that the universe is bigger than you and does not answer to your desires--all these are unquestionably good, no matter what you think the nature of the holy is or whether you think it exists at all. In other words, you can't use doubt as an excuse.
Given our profound ignorance and also our need to toddle along from day to day, perhaps we can take notice that no one can wait for certainty before acting. So we suspend questions which we have insufficient data to finally answer, and act anyhow.

Acting without much of a real clue is the universal human condition. It makes all peoples of the earth more similar to one another than they like to admit.

Notice, too, that it doesn't make it to live tentatively, despite the skeins of tangled suspended questions and doubts we carry around. To succeed you must act whole, go boldly. If you're willing to allow the word a broader meaning, you need faith, because you need confidence.

Take it on faith and step out, as it were. All confidence is, in the last analysis, a little deluded, since you can't tell what will happen. But your life certainly will be better lived if it be lived confidently.
Google supplies these two definitions of faith as the word is commonly used.

1) a strong belief in a supernatural power
2) complete confidence in a person or plan etc

You have chosen to re-define faith as
1) "hope" -- it isn't. It's (smug) certainty. Hope is maybe. Faith is much more.
2) "inner drive which compels us to seek” -- Seeking implies that not finding anything is a possible goal. Faith is SURETY...it has nothing to do with seeking.
We you say, "to nurture a deeper understanding of our particular differences and a more substantial appreciation of our shared values and overlapping areas of practical concern" I wonder if you are talking about universalism. It is certainly important to see one another's viewpoint, but if you are insinuating that everyone is headed to the same place and it does not matter how a person gets there -- I would have to strongly disagree.
The Scriptures are clear, that no one can come to the Father except through faith in Jesus Christ. Attempting to help everyone "just get along" is not productive; there must be absolute truth and anything outside of such truth is false. If you are saying there is a gray area, I think you are misleading those under your influence.
When you say, "to nurture a deeper understanding of our particular differences and a more substantial appreciation of our shared values and overlapping areas of practical concern" I wonder if you are talking about universalism. It is certainly important to see one another's viewpoint, but if you are insinuating that everyone is headed to the same place and it does not matter how a person gets there -- I would have to strongly disagree.
The Scriptures are clear, that no one can come to the Father except through faith in Jesus Christ. Attempting to help everyone "just get along" is not productive; there must be absolute truth and anything outside of such truth is false. If you are saying there is a gray area, I think you are misleading those under your influence.
Lamar,
Thank you for your message. If by "universalism" you are referring to the theological conviction that "all will be saved," then I can assure you that I was not talking about that at all. Personally, I am neither interested nor concerned about any kind of salvation beyond the grave. I no longer choose to focus my attention and energy on speculating about such matters. From your note, it appears we differ in many regards, and I'm fine with that. I was, however talking about how I understand "faith" and the common humanity we all share, despite differences of belief and philosophy. I wish you the best as you continue along your spiritual path.