Three Reasons Why I Still Believe

Why I still believe even when I don’t? Every time I think about it, and I think about it often, the answer to that question comes down to three things: 1) The beginning, 2) Jesus and 3) The main point of the biblical narrative connects with my story.

Interestingly enough, and this is where things get complicated, my only real point of reference for these things is the Bible yet I also tend to think that there are many problems with the Bible. Not with the Bible in and of itself. It is certainly an interesting collection of writings and there is no disputing its influence over the centuries. The problem is how we come to it and what we do with it. It’s been used and abused. It’s been used to abuse. It’s been used and continues to be used to divide. It’s also been used to promote peace, bring hope and demonstrate love. It tells a story. It also claims to be divinely inspired and this is where we can run into problems. Is it to be taken as inspiration and as a sort of guide for our own story, or is it to be taken as authority? This is not the question I’m considering today!

(Related : It’s ok to Doubt and In the Beginning God Created Lamb Poutine)

The beginning. Origins. We all like a good backstory. Whether it’s finding out the origins of our favourite comic book superhero or a prequel to our favourite movie trilogy or book series. We like to find out what came before. We like to know what lead to this or that. What happened. What is the story that shaped this person or caused this event. When we meet new people we soon begin to ask questions about their past, where they were born, where they studied, what they did before starting this new job. We want to know these things because they give context and help us understand the bigger picture.

For me, continued belief in the existence of God is tied to the origin of our existence, of life, of this world and the universe around us. Where have we come from? Why are we here?

I’ve tried to conceive of the world without a relational and intentional guiding force and I’ve tried to understand it from a purely scientific point of vue. While I’ve grown in my appreciation of what the sciences teach us about the world and universe we live in, I still can’t get comfortable with the idea that all of this would be the result of random chance. We need science to help us understand our world because the Bible is not adequate in answering all our questions nor does it try to do so. Something caused the world to be. Something caused the Big Bang. There were elements present and something caused them to appear. How did they appear? What and where did they come from? As much as we can learn from science regarding the origins of the universe, we still hit a wall at some point and are left with unknowns. The same is true when we claim that God is the origin. There are still questions left unanswered. If God, where was this God before and what was he/she/it doing? Does this God have a beginning?

Ignorance.

Personally, I find it less perplexing to ask “where did God come from” than I do imagining a universe that just happened. What I mean is that regardless of how we approach the question of origins, we can’t escape being left with unanswered questions. All we can do is choose which of those questions we are more comfortable with. Which ones seem to make more sense in the bigger picture.

“In the beginning God created” makes sense to me. It makes more sense than the alternative even though it creates its very own set of unanswered and problematic questions. I’m certainly not discounting science and what it helps us understand about how the universe works, continues to take shape, shift and move. I prefer scratching my head thinking about when and how it is that God came along than I do thinking about when and how energy and matter came into the picture without any help.

Acknowledging that a God is behind the origins of the universe also helps understand our deeply rooted relational DNA as well as humanity’s drivenness to understand where it has come from. I will touch on this a bit more when elaborating on reasons two and three of why I still believe even when I don’t.

To summarize. Does God exist? I do not know but I believe so, among other things, on the basis that I find it difficult to conceive of the universe having come to exist outside of the intentional action and purpose of a God.

To be continued ….

Why I Still Believe Even When I Don’t

When it comes to God(s), either there is one (or many) or there isn’t one or any. The tricky part is knowing for certain. In my about me page I quote something I once heard while going through a time of questioning my belief in God. The way this person positions the issue about whether or not God is exists is compelling to me. I like it primarily because it frames the question “does God exist” in a way that joins us all together in one thing we have in common regarding the non-existence or existence of a God (or Gods). Ignorance. We don’t know for certain. At least not in the same way I know I am presently typing this blog post or that it is snowing outside or that two of my teens just emerged from their bedroom.

We have ignorance in common and therefore an honest answer to the question of the existence of God or Gods should fall along the lines of (still quoting from what I heard a few years back), “I don’t know but I think not,” or “I don’t know but I believe so,” or “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” This is perhaps oversimplified but I really think it captures the essence and goes a long way toward bringing us together even if we don’t land on the same side of the answer. We all come to the question from a particular angle. We each have our story. Stories that have shaped us and influenced us in very real ways. It’s a beautiful thing really. Rather than fostering a “us vs them” approach it encourages openness and understanding of the other.

I know there are complexities here and that this question continues to be sliced and diced in many ways but we can still talk about it.

Today, my honest answer when anyone asks if I believe, or still believe, in the existence of God is that I do believe God exists although I am not certain of it. I’ve tried not to believe and even on those days where I am frustrated with Christianity (especially American Trumpian Christianity) and would like to toss it all away completely, I can’t. Even though I am ashamed of much of what passes as Christianity these days, I still can’t toss it away. There are many days when I honestly wish I could. I just can’t. I’m still left with many questions but that is true for all of us regardless of where we fall on the belief in God spectrum.

So what is it that keeps me coming back to believing God exists? What is it that keeps me holding on to Christianity and to the Jesus story in particular? Maybe I’m just crazy or maybe I’m just in tune with reality. I won’t poll you on that!

To be continued …

Christmas and Power

(Warning : for some, this post might sound more like a sermon. Seems to be in my blood so I gotta let it out once in a while.)

Whether you believe the biblical story of Jesus’ birth to be true, whether you approach it as symbolic or even if you don’t give it any attention at all, I think we might agree on something. Hold on for a second while I make my way there. Here’s what I mean.

For Christianity, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the divine, God with us, the Kingdom of God come to restore and make all things new. Ok, fine. But what does all this have to do with Christmas and Power?

I’m referring to power as authority. More specifically, the abuse of it. In other words, people who use their authority, their power, for personal gain and advancement at the cost of the wellbeing of others. If anything, power loses in the face of Christmas. They don’t really have anything in common. Christmas is a time for a look in the mirror.

After all, it’s a time of joy, peace, hope and love. Christmas brings people together. Christmas puts a smile on our faces. Christmas can bring out the good in people. Christmas brings out generosity toward those we love and toward those in need. During the holidays, most of us are thinking about ways to make people’s lives better, not worst. (In writing this, I realize I’m writing from a place of privilege and that there are many for which Christmas is a dark reminder of pain and suffering. While I may not be able to fully identify with what you have gone through, I can only hope that in the midst of the darkness and chaos, you will be able to experience some joy.)

If anything, even in the midst of the extravagance with which many of us celebrate it, there is something humble about Christmas and the spirit of it.

From the time Jesus came along to the time he went away, there was a certain type of person who was always rubbed the wrong way by his presence, his words and his actions. These people were those in authority, those with power. It was not their authority that caused them to be irked by Jesus, it was because they misused the authority that they had and were being called out for it. It was their desire to be powerful and to use that power to keep others beneath them. Their position depended on their ability to keep others under control, to keep their subjects needy and too oppress and subdue them. People in power using their influence, their words, their money and even other people, to stay on top no matter the cost.

We read about King Herod being greatly troubled when he heard about the birth of another king. His rule was being threatened. What did he do? He ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of 2. Ya, he was afraid of the very thought of losing his power. He did not care about destroying all those families as long as he did not lose his power. If twitter had been around at the time, I’d bet King Herod would have been tweeting nasty tweets left and right.

But it wasn’t only the political leaders who feared him. It was the religious and spiritual ones too. Abuse of religious authority is not new, it was alive and well centuries ago. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day hated him with a vengeance because they were threatened by his teachings. When Jesus taught, it made them look bad and highlighted the way they abused their authority. The way they used God to make a name for themselves.

We read about the religious leaders being perplexed even as they spoke with him when he was barely into his teens. We read about plots to get rid of him because he said he would overthrow the religious system that had control over people. We read about him getting angry in the temple court at the sight of the poor and common people being oppressed by religion. Some of the stories he taught put the religious leaders on edge. They were afraid. They were filled with hate. They were happy to align themselves with political leaders if it meant they could maintain some of their power over people as well. They had much to lose if people were to understand the true spirit of what Jesus was doing and teaching. To love your neighbour as yourself.

Regardless of the angle with which you come at it, Christmas is an opportunity for us to look inside and ask ourselves what kind of people we are? Are we using our privilege, our power, our authority and our wealth to prop ourselves up and pull others down or are we using those things, no matter how much or how little of it we think we have, to love the other and make a difference around us? To do the latter is not weakness. It is true power.

Merry Christmas!

War on Christmas?

Ce qui suit est en English.

One thing I love about being francophone around Christmas time is that the french word for Christmas doesn’t have “Christ” or “Jesus” in it. Why is that such a great thing? I’m glad you asked.

Here’s the short answer. It’s annoying enough to have to hear the platitudes about the supposed war on Christmas and the outrage around keeping “Christ” in xmas in one language, it would simply be double the annoyance if the same play on words could be done in french. Noël is the way to go.

Platitude – a remark or statement, especially one with moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful. – a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound.

The only people waging war on Christmas are those who keep using that statement and making that accusation. For some it comes from a well intentioned place. Christmas in the Christian tradition is about celebrating the birth of Jesus but let’s not forget we hijacked someone else’s holiday and called it our own. Many great traditions around Christmas have come from that and it’s awesome. I do think that Christianity is in many ways responsable for what most would refer to as the “magic of Christmas”. When we say that, we’re not necessarily referring to Jesus. Rather, we’re referring to the spirit of the holiday season, the coming together, the lights in the dark, the food filled tables (for those of us who have that luxury), the gifts, etc.

However, this is not an excuse for annoying the crap out of everyone during the holidays. When Jesus is your Christmas, you’ll be happy to wish your neighbour a Happy Holiday. When Jesus is your Christmas, you won’t get bent out of shape if you see “X-Mas” on a billboard or commercial. When Jesus is your Christmas, you will love your neighbour rather than make a fuss about how your neighbour chooses to use, or not to use, the word Christmas. When Jesus is your Christmas, you’ll be more concerned about how baby Jesus compels you to love and less worried about whether there is a manger scene at the city hall.

True, for many Jesus is not part of the equation at Christmas just like he is not intentionally part of the equation any other day of the year. But that’s ok.

If Jesus is your Christmas, take a deep breath. Ask yourself if in your fit of rage about how someone else celebrates the holiday you maybe are less in the holiday spirit than they are. You see, it’s one thing to talk about or shout about where you think Jesus should be during the Holiday season. It’s quite another to bring peace.

If Jesus means anything to you at all, I invite you to stop worrying so much about whether or not he matters to the person next to you. Don’t divide, bring together. Just live and let your joy, your hope, your love flow. In the process you will find that same joy, that same hope and that same love permeating around, even in xmas and happy holidays.

In the words of Bryan Adams, “There’s something about Christmas time.”

To all of you I say … Joyeux Noël and a Happy New Year!

Epistemophobia revisited

Epistemophobia

This is something I wrote a little over two years ago with the intention of following up with a few related posts. Obviously, I didn’t. Why am I bringing it up again?  Well, I was listening to a sermon recently and it got me thinking. Below you can read or re-read what I had written but first here are a few thoughts by way of introduction.

First, I think it’s normal to fear knowledge to some degree. I’m thinking specifically of learning new things which either a) force us to abandon a previously held notion in favour of something else, or b) push us to gain a better and clearer understanding of a previously held notion. This fear intensifies as the idea/belief being examined and challenged grows closer to my core and fundamental worldview.

Second, thinking about this from the church insider point of view, it’s interesting to see the defence mechanisms the church has built around this fear and to protect what it believes to be true/right/correct. It’s more than a simple fear of being wrong. It also very quickly becomes a strong dislike, even hatred (holy hatred of course), for anyone who would propose a different take on a commonly held belief. Especially when that someone is within the community or has influence on the community in some way. This is not only true of the church.

Third, The term “heretic/false teacher” is tossed around and associated with people who hold theological ideas that don’t line up with our own. There is an invisible line that you simply cannot cross. If you do (if you dare), you are regarded as a disobedient, rebel, unloving and divisive person who should be warned and shunned (out of love of course) lest you lead others astray.

Remember when Galileo insisted the earth was not at the centre of the universe (a.k.a. Heliocentrism vs Geocentrism)? Maybe you missed it. It was a little while ago after all. What I find interesting about that little piece of history is the pushback Galileo received from the people of his time. Not only did some people within his own field react strongly but so did the Church. Of course, as we know very well today, Galileo was right. At the time people weren’t in much of a hurry to accept this ‘new’ knowledge as true.

The Church, for example, had this to say about it. They concluded that heliocentrism was:

foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture. (Source: Galileo Galilei – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Why is it difficult to accept that something we think is true may not be? Or that something we believe is true may be slightly different than we think? The Church figured that Galileo must be wrong because there are verses in the Bible that seem to suggest the earth is a the centre of the universe and doesn’t move (Psalm 93:1; Psalm 96:10; Psalm 104:5; 1 Chronicles 16:30). How can the earth revolve around the sun? After all, Ecclesiastes 1:5 clearly says that it is the sun that “rises and sets and hurries around to rise again.”

It reminds me of a saying I learned growing up:

The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

Did the Bible get it wrong? In Galileo’s day they certainly didn’t think so and Galileo was treated harshly for it. But today, even the most serious christian has to admit that on this side of history, knowing what we know about our solar system, those verses are to be understood as expressing the human experience within the limits of the author’s knowledge of the world in his or her day. It’s writing from ones own point of view. That, by the way, is the best any one of us can ever do.

So back to the question, why is it so difficult to accept that something we thought was true might not be? It’s unsettling sometimes. Especially in regards to issues that are more fundamental to our particular worldview. If I got that wrong, what else could I be mistaken about?

I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work this week and it got me thinking about this. Trey Pearson was being interviewed and he said something about knowledge that stood out to me.

That is the interesting thing about knowledge. We are so scared of it sometimes ‘cause it might mean something is different than how we thought it was.

Are you Epistemophobic? Can you remember moments when you realized some fundamental things you had always believed were in fact incorrect? How did you feel? Was it a positive or negative experience? What is your default stance toward those who hold different, maybe even contrary, beliefs?

Epistemophobia

EpistemophobiaRemember when Galileo insisted the earth was not at the centre of the universe (a.k.a. Heliocentrism vs Geocentrism)? Maybe you missed it. It was a little while ago after all. What I find interesting about that little piece of history is the pushback Galileo received from the people of his time. Not only did some people within his own field react strongly but so did the Church. Of course, as we know very well today, Galileo was right. At the time people weren’t in much of a hurry to accept this ‘new’ knowledge as true.

The Church, for example, had this to say about it. They concluded that heliocentrism was:

foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture. (Source: Galileo Galilei – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Why is it difficult to accept that something we think is true may not be? Or that something we believe is true may be slightly different than we think? The Church figured that Galileo must be wrong because there are verses in the Bible that seem to suggest the earth is a the centre of the universe and doesn’t move (Psalm 93:1; Psalm 96:10; Psalm 104:5; 1 Chronicles 16:30). How can the earth revolve around the sun? After all, Ecclesiastes 1:5 clearly says that it is the sun that “rises and sets and hurries around to rise again.”

It reminds me of a saying that you’ll sometimes hear in christian settings:

The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

Did the Bible get it wrong? In Galileo’s day they certainly didn’t think so and Galileo was treated harshly for it. But today, even the most dedicated christian has to admit that on this side of history, knowing what we know about our solar system, those verses are to be understood as expressing the human experience within the limits of the author’s knowledge of the world in his or her day.

So back to the question, why is it so difficult to accept that something we thought was true may not be? It’s unsettling sometimes. Especially in regards to issues that are more fundamental to our particular worldview. If I got that wrong, what else could I be mistaken about?

I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work this week and it got me thinking about this. Trey Pearson, the lead singer of Everyday Sunday, was being interviewed and he said something about knowledge that stood out to me.

That is the interesting thing about knowledge. We are so scared of it sometimes ‘cause it might mean something is different than how we thought it was.

Are you Epistemophobic? Can you remember moments when you realized some fundamental things you had always believed were in fact incorrect? How did you feel? Was it a positive or negative experience?