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Yvonne

Doubt And Reason

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I have stayed away from the forum for a while because after the discussion in “Why call ourselves Christian”, I had a lot of processing to do. As we discussed in the thread on stages of growth, these stages don't seem to be on a continuum, but rather one can cycle through them at different times. Oh, so painfully true!

 

I have been trying to figure out what I believe because I honestly don't know. I believe in God, definitely, though I doubt my traditional family & friends would recognize this God. However, beyond a belief in that which I name God, I'm utterly lost. I can't seem to take solace or receive wisdom from the bible anymore. I know much of it is allegory or metaphor, but it does not seem to reflect anything I can believe. Worse (to me, at least) is that I can't figure out Christ in a way that makes sense to me. I know, someday, I will be able to reconcile what I believe, but for now, I'm in a very painful period of doubt which always seems to follow a period of intense study.

 

I have no desire to suspend my reason to support my faith ; but neither do I want to be in the dry desert of reason with no faith to sustain me. Right now, I'm parched. I can't help but think of “let all who thirst come to the water”. My problem is, I can't find the well just now. I hold fast to the idea that at least I keep looking.

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Yvonne,

 

It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with "I don't know". it is actually a very freeing thought and one that i perceive tells me the well is right before you ready for you to become aware of. It is only my view, but i don't think one can really 'figure out' Christ. Oh yes, someone may put it in words that sounds great and one can think that because they now have the words that seem to make sense that they know Christ. In my experience, that is only knowing about and the only way to know is to become 'That'. You are already 'That" and when you know yourself as 'That', you will in my view recognize yourself in everything.

 

If you asked me, i would say it is not found in thought or reason. it is found in stillness as the subtle underlying presence of your very being. Formless and beyond concepts. It is the you beneath the changing content of life from which the life you see is made possible. Now these are only words i type but the simplicity of the experience is so subtle that it is most often not seen or perceived.

 

To me. that presence is beyond both doubt and reason.

 

Joseph.

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Yvonne, much of what you’ve shared here resonates with my own journey. I can say that, to some extent, I’ve walked in your shoes. For a really long time, I thought Christianity or my faith consisted mainly with getting my beliefs right. So, perhaps like you, I studied and studied, trying to understand all of the doctrines of Christianity and, especially, of this elusive figure called Christ. If the goal of Christianity (and possibly the determiner of my fate) was believing in Jesus or Christ, I wanted to make sure that I had the right beliefs and that I believed with all my heart. The problem was, my head was involved. Some, maybe most, of the beliefs about Christ that we supposed to be in my heart just didn’t make sense to me. Part of me said, “Don’t question, just believe.” Another part of me screamed, “But this doesn’t make any sense. Why would God want me to believe non-sense?” And when Christianity tells you that, as one person has said, “faith is believing what you know ain’t true”, well, the doubts can hurt like hell.

 

But, in retrospect, the doubts were stepping stones in my life. Although my doubts were answered as immediately and radically as Thomas’ were, they were opportunities for me to experience God in a new way. A big part of that was when I got brutally honest with God and myself and told God I didn’t think God existed anymore. I won’t go into all my reasons for it, but I just doubted whether or not God was real. And contrary to what I expected, I didn’t feel a sense of rejection or abandonment at that point. Instead, I felt a huge sense of relief. And then I felt (notice how my subjectivity is coming into play here) an over-whelming sense of acceptance, like I was okay. I had committed blasphemy, but I was feeling this (words are failing me now) ocean of agape around me. I suspected this might be, may be, God, but had no way to know for sure. But, true to form, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and let God have it. I informed him of all my problems with the Bible, all my problems with Christianity and Christians, all my problems with doctrine. I figured he already knew all of the problems with me (and there are quite a few). And I waited for the ocean waves of agape to roll out and for fire to set in. It didn’t. Instead, I continued to have this feeling that I was accepted “just as I am”. But I wasn’t even pleading that Jesus died for me. I was just there, my soul naked before what I call Reality (What Is), and this GOD was okay with me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t just believe that God was love, I felt it. It wasn’t a doctrine, it was experience. It was “beyond reason”, but it was not contrary to it. And I responded, first off, with just the joy and enjoyment of, as Joseph has said, the Presence. Then I said, “I don’t know what I believe anymore.” And though I heard nothing audibly, the response seemed to come back, “That’s okay. Why don’t we explore along the Way.”

 

I am not at all saying, Yvonne, that you will have this experience. This was between me and the Reality that I call God. My experience is descriptive, not proscriptive. All I’d like to do is to encourage you in your honesty and to tell you not to be surprised if your doubts don’t become keys to new experiences.

 

In conclusion, I don’t feel this Presence all the time now or even every day. As you have said, things seem to go in cycles, maybe like a spiral staircase. And while I cannot in any way prove my experience to anyone else, neither can I deny the reality of it. My reason still enjoys and appreciates study. But, in my journey, Bible study did not cure my doubts. In fact, I still have many doubts about things that sometimes bugger up my head and heart. But I also know, experientially, that God is bigger than my head and heart. Thankfully, the God of Love embraced me in spite of my beliefs (or lack thereof) and though I lost much of my religion, I was never lost to Love.

 

You’re in my thoughts and prayers, Yvonne.

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If you asked me, i would say it is not found in thought or reason. it is found in stillness as the subtle underlying presence of your very being. Formless and beyond concepts. It is the you beneath the changing content of life from which the life you see is made possible. Now these are only words i type but the simplicity of the experience is so subtle that it is most often not seen or perceived.

 

To me. that presence is beyond both doubt and reason.

 

Joseph.

 

Yes, but, if I suspend reason, I fall into the trap of believing because somebody says I should, or letting my emotions overrule all. I refuse to do that. If I do, I am in danger of becoming a fundamentalist. I refuse to let that happen.

 

And doubt comes in no matter how much time I spend in quiet reflection. Perhaps I am flawed in some way, but I have doubts and I have fears and I have painful growth periods.

 

I recall reading something about Mother Theresa - she said for a long time toward the end of her life, she had been unable to have spiritual consolation. Guess I'm in good company, at least.

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Yes, but, if I suspend reason, I fall into the trap of believing because somebody says I should, or letting my emotions overrule all. I refuse to do that. If I do, I am in danger of becoming a fundamentalist. I refuse to let that happen.

 

And doubt comes in no matter how much time I spend in quiet reflection. Perhaps I am flawed in some way, but I have doubts and I have fears and I have painful growth periods.

 

I recall reading something about Mother Theresa - she said for a long time toward the end of her life, she had been unable to have spiritual consolation. Guess I'm in good company, at least.

 

Yvonne,

In my view, reason does not have to be suspended to know who/what you are and to experience God. You don't have to believe anything. There is nothing in that presence that requires belief. It simply is. When you are still, yet aware you are there. You know you are there and accepted because you are 'That'.

 

There is nothing wrong with you. Be aware of the doubt. In the awareness of that doubt is the potential for discovery. You are the awareness by which and in which those things such as thought, reason and doubt appear. You are the consciousness through which one might say everything is known. And that which is known cannot know itself because it is itself. The "I" cannot make itself into an object of knowledge. That is why God must be experienced rather than known intellectually. I guess one could say that God is the "i" of the "i" . Anyway that is my experience and if it does not help or give you hope or assurance then merely disregard it or count it as as foolishness on my part.

 

Love,

Joseph

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Hi Yvonne,

 

I think the best thing one can do sometimes is to simply acknowledge where one is at presently in a non-judgmental way. If the bible doesn’t speak to you, then that’s ok; likewise, if you feel it should, then that’s ok too. To be alive to oneself and one's contradictions is more beneficial than to attempt to artificially force them into predetermined categories.

 

I'm rather upfront about my views on the bible. If the meaning of the Christian tradition were locked into the bible alone, I wouldn't find much to identify with, personally. This is where I think the culture of sola scriptura can become detrimental. I'm more inclined to draw from Bonaventure, Eckhart, or Boehme than the biblical authors. I say this while acknowledging that the bible has been foundational historically. But though foundational, it is not by any means total. In fact it is but one part of a much larger tradition (or traditions), historically and theologically. I suppose something similar could be said for the Christ figure himself. Christ is always transcending previous definitions, always coming alive in new contexts.

 

Peace,

Mike

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What makes you worry that faith and reason are incompatible?

 

You don't have to answer that here, but it is what you should ask. Embrace your doubt and understand it in as much horrible detail as you can.

 

In the meantime, remember that theology exists to support action and life. Nobody is justified by having the correct answer to whether or not supralapsarianism is theologically correct, to use a rather obscure debate (trust me, it's not relevant... to most things, really).

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Another thought: reason and faith aren't compatible in an important but specific sense. You cannot start with perfectly and universally true first principles and build, using pure logic, up to faith. It doesn't work that way. The intellectual argumentation doesn't, and the actual belief and behavior certainly doesn't.

 

I mention this on the off chance you are beating yourself up over not being able to achieve the impossible.

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In the meantime, remember that theology exists to support action and life.

 

I agree. Though Yvonne hasn't disclosed just what in particular is creating conflict, I think it's generally important to keep the practical implications -- broadly speaking -- of one's faith in mind. By this I don't mean being merely pragmatic and incurious, but always searching to see how a theological truth (or possible truth) would link with one's own way of life, practice -- and one's very existence. If no link exists, then it probably isn't important for you; perhaps it will be revisited later when conditions are ripe.

 

In my understanding, there can be no 'ultimate truth' which does not implicate oneself wholly -- and likewise, there can be no self that does not wholly implicate and invoke ultimate truth. Since theology deals with God -- 'ultimate truth' or 'reality-as-is' - it seems that we are not dealing with any ordinary 'object of knowledge', as Joseph pointed out. Religion, to me, points to something much deeper and much more paradoxical (at least on the surface) about our existence. There is no objective 'foundation' as such for religious practice, since any practice takes place in us -- the mind, which is a wonderfully fertile place for the creative discovery and growth of meaning and realization.

 

For this reason 'religion' in my own life has come to be almost synonymous with contemplation. I mean this broadly -- the practice of contemplation and its concomitant structures of theory and meaning. At times I think of God as a poet -- perhaps with Christ as his great poem -- the church naturally becoming absorbed into that poem (for a poem necessarily invokes the very being of the one who reads).

 

As for general words of advice about 'reason', I have found conceptual clarity indispensable to the process of learning. This may seem obvious, but it is not easy. Often I have sensed conflict about something because I had inadequately defined a concept and had invested meaning into it that didn't really belong there. Just to provide one powerful example, take the 'mind-matter' problem. It is interesting to see that these are entirely loaded terms, 'mind' and 'matter'. It is usually called a 'problem' because these two concepts are reified and defined in such a way as to create a problem. Many people, because they have accepted these mutually exclusive ideas (mind vs matter) as true, will then pronounce the problem insuperable or go to very extreme lengths to maintain their definitions. However, the best thing to do all along was to go back and analyze why they had created the term in the first place and defined as they had.

 

In this process one may just discover that, when one's presuppositions have been brought to light, there was no basis for the problem in the first place. That is to say, the problem naturally dissolves because it was grounded in ill-defined concepts. In my own opinion -- as another example -- the same happens with regard to 'objective truth' -- many people carry very untenable notions of just what 'objectivity' means, and this creates enormous problems.

 

Lastly, in my own life I have drawn heavily from Buddhism in epistemological principles. Epistemology simply refers to our theories of knowledge. What is reality and how do we know it? Buddhism makes no sharp distinction between reality and knowledge (or perhaps better stated as reality and 'knowing'). You could call this a nondual epistemology. 'Ultimate reality'/God, then, is not something other than insight/wisdom itself. That is, reality and wisdom don't stand against each other, they are not objects to each other, they are one and the same, completely open and interpenetrating. They essencelessly mirror one another with nothing held back, nothing remaining on either 'side'. Personally I link this to Christ who is called God's Wisdom and Image.

 

Peace,

Mike

 

ps Yvonne, I found an interesting article on religiondispatches.org. It is an interview with Catherine Keller on her new book. I enjoyed it and thought you might also as it seems to touch some of the things you've mentioned.

Edited by Mike

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Nick,

 

Another thought: reason and faith aren't compatible in an important but specific sense. You cannot start with perfectly and universally true first principles and build, using pure logic, up to faith. It doesn't work that way. The intellectual argumentation doesn't, and the actual belief and behavior certainly doesn't.

 

Thanks for pointing this out, I certainly concur.

 

I happened to be reading something just before that struck a chord with what you wrote.

 

"I do not...believe that reason alone, apart from a substantive religious vision, can create a satisfactory worldview. Apart from some substantive vision based on nonrational sources, reasoning cannot, in fact, generate any worldview at all. Any worldview presupposes a nonrational (that is, prerational) vision of reality. I also reject the distinctively modern idea, expressed in the idea that the so-called naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy, that an ethical theory about how we ought to live can be formulated apart from a substantive vision about what is. But to say that reason and therefore philosophy cannot be independent from a religious vision...is not to say that any substantive theological ideas allegedly derived from revelation or deep intuition should be allowed to override reason's purely formal criteria of self-consistency and adequacy to the facts of experience." D.R. Griffin in 'Primordial Truth and Postmodern Theology,' p101, emphasis in original
Edited by Mike

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Yvonne,

 

Mike said ...

Religion, to me, points to something much deeper and much more paradoxical (at least on the surface) about our existence.

 

I agree. And when you say yes to doubt in the sense that you accept it because you accept the moment 'reality as it is' rather than to be in mental conflict with it, you say yes to existence and can sense that there is a space in you that is deeper than the content of doubt or the conflict and is deeply peaceful. From that vantage point of awareness (the result of a surrender or allowing of the moment) one may find that circumstances may change for the better but even if not, there is peace and where that peace is, imo, God is experienced on a subjective level. Paradoxical to me in the sense that there is both conflict and peace at the same time. To me, the only difference at the time is with which one we identify with. Content which is ephemeral or context which seems to me to be eternal.

 

I believe that is the same presence of peace and acceptance that Bill described in his post above in spite of the surface turmoil that was going on in his head. At least that is the way i perceived it from his words which he is free to correct me if i have spoken in error.

 

Joseph

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After reading Yvonne’s original post and Wayseekers response I’m beginning to wonder if Spock’s Vulcan mind meld was really just a show biz myth. What they said….me too. There were some great thoughts in many of the other responses too. I find comfort in the realization many have taken this journey.

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Yvonne, from as you talk about what you are going through, a book I'd highly reccomend is "Ego and Archetype; Individuation and the Religious Function of the Psyche," by Edward Edinger, which is a synthesis of Jung's fundamental psychological concepts, and was the main text for a psychology/Religious studies cross-listed course I took, called "Religion and Personaliity." It very much addresses what you seem to be going through. It is pretty deep going, but if you are interested in reading it, I have an extra copy I picked up cheap at a resale shop, just for the purpose of having it on hand for anyone I might encounter I think it would help, that I'd be happy to send you if you will pm me your mailing address.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB

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See, this is why I love this forum; you accept me as I am (warts & all) and have given me much to think on. Thank you. I have to say a good bit of it is slightly over my head, but it gives me something to strive for, I know that doubt is ok, but, darn it, I want perfection! :D

 

I'm actually re-reading Borg's "The God We Never Knew" and its helping. Sometimes if I can sit with a book like that and really digest what's being said, it helps. I started to panic while reading all your wonderful thoughts on Christ (or the Christ), thinking I wasn't getting it and didn't believe it. With your thoughts on this thread, I'm beginning to understand there is no "right belief" and its ok if I'm not where you all are.

 

Has anyone read Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time"? I'm wondering if that might be helpful, or if there is anything book you might recommend, keeping in mind I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher and am not looking for a scholarly tome, but something us average folks can understand.

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Has anyone read Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time"? I'm wondering if that might be helpful, or if there is anything book you might recommend, keeping in mind I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher and am not looking for a scholarly tome, but something us average folks can understand.

 

I really like The God We Never Knew, personally it's my favorite book by Borg on the general subject of liberal Christianity. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time is good and highly readable as well. The thing is that between these books (you can include The Heart of Christianity too), there is a lot of repeated material. But though there is repeated material, I think you might really enjoy Borg's The Heart of Christianity, since he really seems to hone in on the question 'Why be a Christian if you can't take it literally?'

 

I could also recommend a really beautiful (and very readable) book called "Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God" by James Finley. Finely was a student of Thomas Merton for I think 6 years, and has guided people in Christian contemplation for a long time, he's pretty good at it.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike

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Yvonne, I've read all of the Borg books Mike mentioned and have been "assimilated" (ha ha, sorry, inside Star Trek joke). But I think Borg does a wonderful job, in those books, in helping us to find new ways to think about God, Jesus, and what it means to be a Christian. Religion often tells us that there is only one correct way i.e. orthodoxy. But Borg helps us to metaphorically gaze at these three subjects and see them in different ways so that the Spirit can "speak" to us in the language that we need at the time.

 

Imo, theologies are how we talk about our experiences...but they are never a substitute for our experiences. Theology is like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind person, the words convey something of the experience, but can never capture the reality of that experience. And, as many have shared here, experience can transcend doubts. It doesn't erase them, but, imo, God lets us know that doubts are okay.

 

There is this encouraging scene in the book of Acts where Jesus is about to "blast off" back to heaven. The text says that "some doubted." That's me. But Jesus doesn't chastize them or condemn them. He doesn't tell them that they aren't part of this "Jesus group." Doubt may well be God's way of growing us. Saul doubted that Christians could be God's people. Then Paul doubted that people had to be circumcized to be part of God's people. Peter doubted that God called him to go to a Gentile's home. Maybe doubt is God's way of moving us forward in our journey.

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Wayseeker wrote "Theology is like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind person, the words convey something of the experience, but can never capture the reality of that experience."

 

I think that hits the nail pretty much on the head. We are all trying to describe experiences and realities for which there are no words within the limitations of our only means of communication, words!

 

As for finding in reading many works by different writers, and finding things that are repetitive from one to the next, saying the same thing but perhaps in somewhat different wording, use of different metaphors and analogies, I think that gives us a better change of grasping the central idea, that itself cannot be articulated. Just as when Jesus gave series of parables on some one point, often in sets of threes, that 'something' is 'like unto something else", we get a clearer idea of what the main idea He is trying to put forth is.

 

That is one of the things that has fascinated me about study into various religious and spiritual traditions, finding those common ideas that are being expressed in many different ways. Literalists may miss that for getting lost in not being able to see the forest for the trees. Their particular tree becomes their "all and only" expression of truth about the nature of the entire forest. I love it when I encounter something said in another religious/faith tradition, or even as secular philosophical or practical wisdom, and can line it out in a nice fit right beside something from the Hebrew/Christian bible.

 

Jenell

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Just a simple experience. My theology is spare. If you ask me what can reasonably be said about God, in my mind there's not much. I have been putting my toe in the waters of meditation. For one style/type the 'coach' suggested we say to ourselves, "Lord have me mercy." expanding it as we found suitable perhaps to "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This did nothing for me. But I found that the following did:

 

"Holy mother full of grace let me rest in your embrace." It does not fit my reason but it fits emotionally. Sometimes we do what is most needful without reason.

 

Dutch

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I've read all of the Borg books Mike mentioned and have been "assimilated" (ha ha, sorry, inside Star Trek joke).

 

 

:lol:

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Yvonne, another thing that may also be helpful is to consider the kinds of doubts that you have. In my journey, my doubts fell into four basic categories:

 

 

1. Doubts about ontology i.e. does something claimed by the Bible or the church really exist? God sitting on a throne over Jerusalem? Jesus watching my every move? Christians already sitting in heaven?

2. Doubts about consistency. Should we love our enemies or kill them? Should we follow OT rules or NT guidelines? Why the difference between Jesus' gospel and Paul's gospel?

3. Doubts about pragmatic issues. How does believing in the virgin birth make me a better Christian than those who don't? Why don't Christians do what Jesus said to do? Why aren't I and other Christians more like Jesus if all this is true?

4. Doubts about self-validity. My religious background had so instilled in me the notion that I was a sinner and couldn't understand "spiritual things", that I didn't trust my own journey. I didn't trust the leading of the Spirit, that God was behind all of this.

 

In my journey, reason helped me greatly with categories one and two. Learning of liberal/progressive theology with the historical/critical approach to the Bible opened up new ways for me to either rid myself of cognitive dissonance or to get it down to a low roar where I could live with it.

 

Category 4 was somewhat resolved by my Experience. I don't doubt that God exists. But I am skeptical about how we limited humans express those experiences, even my own. I feel as though I experienced just the very tip of the iceburg and there is so much more that I haven't. This is why this forum can be helpful. It puts me in contact with others who have had different but genuine experiences of God.

 

Category 3 are doubts that I still live with and, for better or worse, are part of my prophetic bent. I.e. I believe this world could be a better place for my children and children's children if we could put some of the truths found in Jesus' teachings back into Christianity.

 

So I still live with doubts. But they no longer keep me under their thumb. I just "give them to God" and wait to see what the rest of my journey will bring.

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