Sunday, January 11, 2009

If you love a belief, set it free ...

Douglas Murray's thoughtful sketch of his passage from belief to atheism traces his doubts not to bus-side advertisements nor to evolutionary science nor to books penned by "crashing bores" but to another source. Murray:

German biblical criticism [made the difference] — the scholarship on lost texts, discoveries of added-to texts and edited texts. All pointed away from the initial starting-block of faith — that the texts transmitted immutable truths. Realising that ‘holy’ texts are, like most other things in life, the result of an accretion of human effort and human error is one of the most troubling discoveries any believer can make. I remember trying to read some of this scholarship when I was younger, and finding it so terrifying, so ground-shaking, that I put it off for another day.
The terrified response is understandable on an emotional level, but it paints an unflattering portrait of faith-based belief, or what passes for it. Belief that avoids considering the challenges to it is willful delusion by another name -- delusion that, incidentally, any omniscient being would notice.

Even in emotional terms, embracing doubts does not have to end in crisis:
My first non-believing Christmas was different, certainly. Different — but, contrary to my fears, no shallower. Quite the opposite. Things this year seemed both more open and more possible. More fragile and more precious. It also struck me, in ways which are hard to explain — and the religious language cannot be avoided — that it was all, if anything, even more miraculous.
Good things come of honest doubt.


Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

That has some resonance for me. I still sit solidly in fideism. I'm not atheist at this time, but agnostic I'd say.

But I've never been driven by the need to acknowledge the Bible as the inerrant word of anyone, anything, or any deity. This is one of the postives of a Catholic (post Vatican II and John XXIIIrd) upbringing; you were not encouraged to see the Bible as directly from the mouth of God, rather as a historical as well as spiritual document which was not only inspired by God but filtered though the flawed but striving mind and hand of man.

A fundamentalist will think that some guy named Luke actually wrote that gospel. A Catholic will have picked up at some point or another that the story of the creation of the Gospels was actually much more complex (and interesting) than that.

I think my drift away from active Catholicism was actually engendered by the Church's (at the time anyway, from what I've seen, they've probably backslid on that too; Pope Cliffy seems to be another Vatican II hater) liberal attitude on the Bible.

It is Holy scripture yes, but flawless? Out of the crooked timber of humanity has any straight thing ever been made?

I think it set me up to be, if not atheist, at least a much more sane, tolerant, and serene fideist (even though the Church feels fideism contradicts Catholicism), and in my system of values, that's a bit more superior being than the typical Worship industry worker.

Well, if I may be so bold as to say so.

Dale said...

SJKP, thanks for that. You had me at "fideist." Anyone who labels himself a fideist has already announced that he's a religious moderate --- not the kind of believer that people write books or cranky blog posts about.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Ah, Dale. Flattery will get you anywhere with me. Sadly, I'm poor, so you can guess how far we're going with this B-)

To me, atheism makes sense, but there is a (you'll excuse the expression) spiritual side to my personality that doesn't want to let go of things like mysticism.

It's a character flaw.

It just seems common sense to me; eventually, you have to realize that if you don't accept matters on faith on the basis of faith, you're just intellectually playing with yourself. If you believe that Jesus existed and that God is real, then why do you need to drum up proof? Who are you, Erich Von Daniken?

I mean, you got this abstruse book to read and everything. What more do yo need?

We invent God in our own image. Our God tends to demand that we prove he exists, all the while proclaiming that we'd do so regardless of what we believe, which, to me, is messed up.

Actually, I'm about as irreligious as a person can be and still be religious. And I think that if your scripture is telling you to do things that cause others harm (such as voting rights away from people and approving torture and killing for others) then you need to take a real close look at what you think scripture is telling you and stop comforting yourself by saying "God told me to".

And the above is about as screedy and shrill as I get.