well, by now if you've been reading my posts at all, you'll know that I'm not religious. I was raised in the baptist church, and at about age 14 I started to have serious doubts about the validity of what I was hearing each Sunday. After a couple more years, I wasn't going anymore even to appease my parents on a regular basis, and this past christmas was my first on record that I did not attend christmas eve service. I've had enough, and I don't want anything to do with it anymore.That said, I've been having some interesting discussions on the subject of faith lately with two different friends. I'll briefly outline the positions: one position is that faith is misplaced and misguided at best and it's a bit foolish to believe in something that shows such a poverty of evidence in its support. The other is that personal experiences of faith/divinity are important to an understanding of faith, and if we have no personal experience of faith, who are we to criticize others who have.
In my Philosophy of Religion class this week, the instructor made the claim that belief is not something you can choose, but that it is something within you that you discover. I was very resistent to this claim; for me, faith is exactly choosing to believe in something despite the fact that there is an absence of evidence or even evidence to the contrary. I don't think it is sensible to speak of believing in fact: it doesn't make sense to say, "I believe in gravity" or "I believe in World War II." I think belief is something that you can hold until you examine the evidence thoroughly, or that you can choose to hold despite negative or absent evidence. Yet, when I brough up the subject with my friend who holds faith to be important, she thought it made sense to talk about discovering one's faith within.
When I began to think about my own experience with faith, it is very difficult for me. I was indoctrinated into christianity at a young age, and it's hard to remember how I felt about what I was learning at the time. What I remember more accurately was coming out of faith in christianity. I began to become disillusioned with church and the teachings of the bible as I got older and began to think about the miracles, and heaven, and angels, and the immaculate conception, and the trinity, and I wanted more evidence, more explanation. No one could answer me satisfactorily. I began to think about how the bible came to be, and how the people in my church claimed god had written it, that the men who wrote down the words were divinely inspired. I began to think about that, and how it was at least possible that these men had faked it, or at least had been under some sort of delusion that made them think they were listening to god. on and on it went, until I finally began to think of the stories in the bible as plainly that: stories. good stories mind you, but stories nonetheless.
I began to look into other religions, and see if I found the claims there to be more tenable. I looked at judaism and islam, neither of which I found to be very appealing considering the position of women being no better than that of christianity, and the strong reliance on divine inspiration/miracles. no thanks – I need evidence to believe that sort of thing. so I turned instead to eastern religions. buddhism required too much suffering, and I like to think of the purpose of life to be to live with joy as much as possible. also, the pesky problem of the buddhist version of reincarnation was insurmountable for me: reincarnation presupposes a continuation of selfhood, which is in direct conflict with the buddhist teachings of no-self and impermanence.
the belief system I can come closest to believing is taoism. basically, in taoism the focus is on nature, and one's own natural tendancies. why fight what is in your nature? go with the flow of the tao. the quintessential taoist handbook is the Tao Te Ching, attributed to the taoist master Lao-Tzu. it's a lovely and inspiring book full of wisdom and enigma; for eg: 19 says "Throw away holiness and wisdom, and people will be a hundred times happier. Throw away morality and justice, and people will do the right thing. Throw away industry and profit, and there won't be any thieves. If these three aren't enough, just stay at the centre of the circle and let all things take their course." It doesn't ask us to make any leaps of faith, to believe in nonsensical stories that lack evidence, or to suspend common sense.
anyway, not that I'm advocating taoism, but my point is that I don't know what to think about this idea that belief is something you discover. I discovered that christianity wasn't for me, because it didn't resonate with me on an intellectual level. somehow, taoism resonates with me and I feel comfortable with it. does that mean I was always taoist and I didn't know it until I read the Tao Te Ching? Or that I was always an agnostic with atheist leanings and didn't know it until I discovered that because no monotheistic religion made sense to me?
what do you guys think – is belief something we come to intellectually, or is it something that resides in us somehow? And if it is something that is within us, does that beg the question of the existence of god? (how did that belief get there in the first place?)