Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Faith, Part II

In my last post I put forth a definition of the word "faith" that amounted to choosing to believe something is absolutely true while you acknowledge that you don't actually have any means of knowing if it's true or not. No one disagreed with that definition, so we'll keep going with that for now. (Feel free to criticize the definition and suggest an alternate one if you like.)

I then asked why that seems to so many people to be a sensible way to approach the world in which we live. Faith, the very concept, regardless of the specifics, is widely held to be a good idea. This confuses me. I got a variety of answers, such as

  • It's comforting to believe in a helpful god
  • Another definition of faith, the same as the one I put forth, but worded differently
  • It's useful for controlling groups of people
  • Some suggested reading of books written by atheists
  • Because the Bible exists
  • A request for more soft porn
  • It's a safer bet after you snuff it
  • It's a useful tool to exploit ignorant masses
  • The human brain cannot function without it
  • A rebuttal to the Biblical response
  • It's easier than not believing
  • It is the only source of morality and instills fear, which is a necessary component of a civilised society
  • There may be an evolutionary benefit to having faith
but very few actually responded to the question I was asking. I think I need to be more specific. I want to know why people of faith think the concept of faith is a good idea. I don't want to know why faith in your particular diety is a good idea. I want to know why you think the concept is sound.

I doubt that the average religous person would say "It's good that I have faith because it makes me easier to control."

Yes, the notion of God is a comforting one, but that's getting way ahead of me. We're not anywhere near discussing God yet. That's next week. Right now we're just talking about why choosing to believe things you know are unknowable is a sensible philosophy by which to live. Given that, the only answers that are relevant are
  • It's a safer bet after you snuff it
  • The human brain cannot function without it
  • It's easier than not believing
  • It is the only source of morality and instills fear, which is a necessary component of a civilised society
  • There may be an evolutionary benefit to having faith
I'd like to address these one at a time.

1. from Lorna: "There are significant numbers of scientists who, though they don't rationally believe in any form of god, still quite seriously keep a level of faith and observance because you never know what's going to happen after death."

I did know a RC priest once who told me that he became a priest because he had no way of knowing if there was a god or an afterlife, but he wanted to err on the side of caution. That is, if he lived his life w/o believing in God, and died, and was wrong, he would be screwed. But if he became a priest, and died, and was wrong, it didn't matter. Better safe than sorry, as it were.

I suppose there is a certain amount of pragmatism to this approach, but it baffles me on a couple levels: first, the priest clearly didn't actually believe there was a god. He was agnostic but wouldn't admit it. So this is really more of a lifestyle choice than a faith choice. He wasn't choosing to believe; he was choosing to live his life as though he did. Same with the scientists Lorna mentions. So strike that off the list.

2. from A Random Thinker: "Every computer needs an operating system... to function. Human beings call it faith... They need it to function in the natural world.... You can't avoid faith. The real question is which one is right for you."

I guess the crux of this point hinges on the defintion of the word "function." I am assuming "fuction" to mean "living with the capacity to look after one's self and family group in a modern, complex society, meeting all basic physical needs such as food and shelter, participating in society on some civic level, not being a detriment to those around you, and being mentally and emotionally stable." Would you agree with this definition? Anything you'd like to add?

From this definition, your point about humans needing faith to function is simply incorrect. As evidence I offer myself and tens of thousands of non-believers who manage to function in the world just fine. Simple as. Strike point 2 off the list.

3. Michael said: "It's easier to believe."

Very true. It is easier. That doesn't make it a good idea. It's easier to jump off a bridge and end it all than it is to work three jobs to pay down your debt. It's eaiser to fall off a bike than it is to ride it. It's eaiser to walk past a homeless person than it is to stop and buy them a meal. It's easier to complain about your civic leaders than it is to do something about changing the way government functions. It's always easier to stick your head in the sand and ignore a problem, any problem, than to do something about it. But just because soemthing is easier doesn't make it a good idea. Being easy isn't the same as being virtuous.

This response comes closest so far in answering my question, but ultimately it only explains why so many people have faith in things. It does not explain why that faith is useful. Strike three off the list.

4. Michael also pointed out an article in USA Today that brings up the whole morality issue. "What would a world without God look like? Well, for one, morality becomes, if not impossible, exceedingly difficult."

As a non-believer who holds a leadership office in an organized society that promotes debate and discussion between believers, non-believers, and un-sures, this is a question I get a lot. I have 2 responses:

First, morality is not impossible without a belief in god. To suggest otherwise is to say that all atheists and agnostics are immoral. This is as arrogant and insulting as it is untrue. I can give you countless examples of good and moral atheists, and just as many of unethical, immoral believers. Religion would like very much to think it has a monopoly on morality, but this is simply not the case.

Second, it's irrelevant anyway. Even introducing god into the equation at this stage is premature. I don't want to know why faith in god is a good thing; I want to know why faith is a good thing. Let's leave god out of it for the time being. I'm interested in the suppposed virtue of faith as a concept, not the supposed virtue of faith in particular things. That's the next step. If you're having trouble separating faith as a concept from faith in god, try to think of it in terms of faith in other things, such faith in giant invisible bunnies roaming the streets of Bristol, or faith in a teapot circling the sun directly opposite from Earth's orbit.

Strike number 4 off the list.

Finally, 5) Michael, King of Linking, also sent this article from the New York Times about possible evolutionary origins of faith and religious belief. The article is basically a synopsis of the work of evolutionary anthropologist Scott Atran, who has spent his career searching for an evolutionary benefit to belief in the supernatural. It asks "Why does belief in god exist," not "does god exist."

To say that something has (or had at one time) an evolutionary benefit is not the same as saying that it's a good idea in the 21st century, but it could explain why we might think that.

So thanks for that, Michael. I'll definately be reading the whole article after I've fixed myself some lunch and settled in for the long-haul.

In the meantime, if any of you have actually read to the end of this post, well done you. And if you have any more ideas on why it's a good idea to decide to believe in things you know are factually unknowable, do comment. Especially those of you who do have faith in unknowable things. I'm very interested in your thoughts.


Dave said...

I'm afraid that for me, your definition of faith isn't my experience.

I don't believe something is absolutely true whilst acknowledging that I don't actually have any means of knowing if it's true or not.

The evidence of people who were around at the time, and those who wrote up their testimony (and people who were willing to die rather than deny the truth of what they had seen) means that we do have some way of knowing that it's true. If eyewitness evidence is good enough for a court, it's good enough for me.

Of course, there are those who will write off the Bible as fiction, or a conspiracy, but in the early days of the church, belief wasn't about power or influence (that doesn't come until Constantine converts, several hundred years later) so why did people have this faith - because it was something they knew to be true.

I could also talk about those who have had a religious experince - belief that God has spoken to them, directed them, but this is much more subjective.

Dave said...

If the above makes me sound like a fundamentalist 'the Bible says so' then I apologise. I have in fact studied this subject a bit, and do understand a lot of what lies behind what ended up in the written text - I certainly don't believe in Genesis as a factual account, for instance.

I am thinking more of the gospels, and Paul, when I speak of a more 'historical' account of facts (albeit written by evangelists).

Chaucer's Bitch said...

hi dave. i'm really glad you've taken the time to read all this and leave your thoughts. i very much appreciate the effort.

you say that you don't believe things without evidence, and your faith in the Christian God is founded on the evidence of scripture. This leads me to ask 2 questions then:

1. Does that mean that you find no value in faith without evidence? For example, believers of Hinduism. (I am assuming that because you are a Christian clergyman you do not consider the Hindu Gitas reliable evidence.) Do you think that the faith of a Hindu, or Jew, or Muslim has no worth, no benefit?

2. If your faith is based on the merit of the evidence before you, are you willing to engage in a discussion on the reliability of that evidence? Can you or would you be able to approach such a discussion objectively?

I hope I'm not coming across as arguementative. Such is not my intent at all. I genuinely want to understand these things. I am not a believer in any supernatural phenomena because I have never been presented with an adequate reason (to my mind) to believe in such phenomena. But I acknowledge that just because I've never encountered it doesn't mean that such a reason isn't there. You might even say that I'm looking for a reason to believe.

Random Thinker said...

May be I was bit too cryptic. Every one works with the model of the Universe in their heads - Sun rises in the East, train arrives at 7:20 etc. It is what that lets people function every day with their lives' activities. Even atheist has a model, call it scientific rationalism or Darwinian survivalism, which acts as a road map for the response an individual to the things thrown at him by life. These models are based on certain axioms that cannot be proved. In the case of science you are sure that the fundamental laws are not going to change everyday. That is faith that cannot be proved. Similarly, the Moslems have Sharia, Christians the Golden Rule, Hindus the Karma.

To restate you cannot avoid faith - only argument is how to choose the most appropriate faith. The best way is to watch the fruits of that Faith. Scientific rationalism was tried out in Stalinist Russia with devastating failure. Darwinian Survivalism was tried out by Nazis with the horrifying Holocaust as end result.

You have a choice - as rational beings we can choose wisely.

Dave said...

In answer to your questions:

1. I was talking about my faith. What others believe in, and what gives them faith in that would be up to them. I certainly do not feel that my faith gives me ground to doubt that of others. Jews, Muslims and Christians appear to worshp the same God, anyway.

2. Of course I'm open to discussion on the reliability of the evidence; I have read widely around this subject - I certainly don't come from a dogmatic 'God wrote the Bible so it's all true' base.

Pargolo said...

speaking from personal experience; i think faith is useful because it keeps you going. In fact, to use your bicycle argument, it is what motivates people to get up and back onto the bike after they've fallen. Or, after the first time I flipped my single, I hauled my sodden derriere back into the boat and kept rowing. I had faith that i would become a good rower. That kind of small belief has helped me achieve other things in my life. it also is extremely comforting when something awful happens - not that some being planned all it, but faith that with good effort and time that everything would turn out all right because the world is inherently good.

i suppose i'm conflating faith with hope here, but faith to me helps me keep my shit together in trying times. it is comfort, and inspiration.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

Random Thinker:
I might need an entire post to respond to this, but here goes...

You are right in saying that scientific methodology, like faith, is a means of understanding the world we live in. But you didn't answer my question: Why is faith, as opposed to scientific methodology, a GOOD or REASONABLE way to understand the world. You seem to think that a faith-based world view is as reasonable/useful/good as a logic or science-based world view. WHY??? Do you understand the question?

Secondly, your arguments that Scientific rationalism and Darwinian survivalism were applied by unethical people with horrific restults is NOT an agument against the potential truth of those philosophies. It only proves that any philosophy in the hands of the wrong people can be dangerous. I refer you to: The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the conquest of the New World, and if you want a more recent example, the millions of people dying of AIDS in Africa because the Catholic church is so dead-set against condoms.

That makes you the first ever religous person I've met to require evidence for his faith and be willing to listen to critique of that evidence.

You're confusing faith as a concept with faith in a particular thing. It is the thing that brings comfort, not the concept itself. For example, your faith that the world is inherently good. That's a nice thing to believe, and I can see why it would be very comforting. But that's not the point of the discussion. Step back from your beliefs a moment and ask yourself "Is it a good thing to believe something is true even if there is no way of knowing if it is true.?" THAT is the question.

YOu're also attributing things to faith that have nothing whatsoever to do with faith. Hauling your soaking butt back onto your single had nothing to do with faith as defined earlier. There was plenty of evidence that with practice would come improvement. You've experienced it before and you've observed it in others. Faith was not required in that situation. Faith would be, for example, "I have never sat in a single scull in my life, and the vast majority of people capsize at some point while they are learning, but I expect that I will not capsize, I will balance perfectly on my first outing, and I will be winning national medals in a matter of weeks."

Chaucer's Bitch said...

To reiterate:

Many, many people believe that to believe in something, anything, that cannot be known factually, is a good thing. Do you agree? Why do people think this?

I am not asking "why is it a good thing to believe in your particular god?" That is an entirely different question.

hendrix said...

OK. I'm setting myself up for a fall here but..."many people believe that to believe in something, anything, that cannot be known factually, is a good thing"

I think that it is. My tremulous reasoning goes something like this...

Many of us believe in the concept of love. That is we believe that the feelings we have towards another person (be it partner, child, parent, friend) are not just an evolutionary trick played in order to ensure the continuation of the species but something more than that. We cannot prove that it is anything more than that, (most of us find it difficult to explain why we love someone!) but we believe it is anyway.

Now is believing in love a good thing? Well this is where I'd say that things get tricky. Because its not even a case of believing you feel love for someone (which throws up the question of doubt) but is instead a certain quiet (and quite inexplicable) knowledge. You don't choose to believe in love. You either feel it or you don't. You can't say "right I choose to love this person" or "I choose to stop loving this person". You can distance yourself from them and the intensity of the feelings will fade (over time, sometimes a very long time) but they don't go away.

For me, faith is like that. It's not a question of choosing to have faith, or choosing to believe in the concept of it. You either have it - or you don't, and like love, if you have it it's an inexplicable thing. That sounds like such a cop out. It's really not meant to be. It's just very difficult to articulate something philosophers and theologians have been trying to define for centuries!

And now, having failed completely to put forward any argument whatsoever, I'm going to shut up!

Chaucer's Bitch said...

Thanks for chiming in.

You posit that faith isn't something you choose, but something you either have or you don't. I've heard phrased in the past that "you don't choose faith, faith chooses you." Sort of like cats, i guess.

So you're offering a refinement of the definition of faith, one which leaves out the element of choice.


But that doesn't answer the question, "why is it a good thing to have faith?"

Da Nator said...

Oh, dear - what a can of worms.

I'm finding your posts and the commentary very interesting. So much that I've gone off into a long, wanking soliloquy related to it on my blog. If you feel you have the patience, do give it a read, and let me know what you think.

Random Thinker said...

You are asking "Why is faith, as opposed to scientific methodology, a GOOD or REASONABLE way to understand the world?"

My problem with that question is that the science is a subset of Faith. So in all honesty I cannot say "opposed to" as if they are two mutually exclusive different sets. You are really trying to rank different faiths. Given that caveat, let me try and answer the question.

Scientific methodology is ethics neutral - I can use the same genetic science to cure cancer as much as to use it to develop a decease targetting a specific ethnic group to wipe them out. This was carried out in a non-sophisticated way with small pox with Native americans with devastating results. So if you are looking for guidelines for behavior, you don't find it there.

What does religion provide? It provides clear guidelines for behavior if you have faith in their systems. Religions have been developed to institute the "rules of the road" for the society to function. My rule of the road (driving on the right) is as much correct as your rule of the road (driving on the left) so long as there is a defined set of rules of the road in that area and you are functioning within that set. So it is one clear advantage of faith. You can of course say, I can follow the rules of the land (law) without having another set of ethical standards. The only problem with that is that the rules are based on the religions of the land even though they try to make it secular. And there could be no law that says love your neighbor as yourself - it could only say do not harm your neighbor.
Other than that religious faith provides peace of mind, community, and a framework to instil on growing children. Unless I make a post explaining all the benefits, I will truly not do justice to this vast topic.

So my statement is that choose a faith that would produce the best results for you. For all I know it may be scientific rationalism for you. My only caution is to look at the evolution and the fruits of different faiths before making that choice.

Billy said...

I've come to this rather late, so I don't want to chime in with a smart-arse comment.

This is fascinating stuff though.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

Nator: be right over.

RT: You are still completely missing the point of my question. I am not asking what religion provides. I am not asking if religion is more or less ethical than sciece.

Religion is the thing you believe in. I am asking about the process of belief itself.

No, science is not a subset of faith. Faith is a fundamentally different way to view the world. According the definition posited earlier (feel free to suggest a different one) faith belief in that which is unknown and unknowable. Science does not involve belief, but seeks to know factually that which is unknown and does not accept that somethings are simply unknowable. Faith requires that one not question. Sciece questions.

Though these are opposite ways of approaching the world many people seem to be able to reconcile them and follow both. My own brother is a scientist -- a chemical engineer with an advanced degree -- and a devout Roman Catholic. I am not ranking these concepts, and my original purpose was not to compare them.

I am simply asking "Why is faith a good idea?"

Do you grasp the difference between faith (the process of belief) and religion (the particular thing you believe in)?

Chaucer's Bitch said...

billy: better late than never, mate! feel free to chip in your 2 cents.

Random Thinker said...


Science needs beliefs to construct its frame work of the universe as much as religious faiths do. And you don't question those beliefs if you are a scientist as much as religious faithful don't when they follow their religions.

Some of the scientific beliefs I had already stated such as Uniformity of laws temporally and spatially- that is you don't expect the fundamental laws of nature change from today to tomorrow and from this galaxy to next.

Another fundamental scientific belief is that there is order that exists in nature and it can be found by scientific methodology. A priori there is no reason for the order to exist - only faith allows you to believe so. It of course leads to interesting models of nature that zig zags with time. For instance Newton thought Light was corpuscular, Huygen thought it was a wave and modern quantum mechanics would say it is both.

Faith to me is statement of axioms that cannot be proved but taken for granted.

Science clearly falls under that set. Religions obviously also belong to that set.

The real question would be which faith is best to follow.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

RT, you fundamentally misunderstand the nature and basis of science. science is not based on beliefs of any kind. belief is not part of the process. The scientific method is as follows:
1. Observation
2. Formulation of a hypothesis that explains the observation
3. Testing the hypothesis
I don't expect the laws of physics to suddenly change tomorrow for the simple reason that the laws of physics have never been observed to have changed in the past, therefore there is no reason to expect it to happen. If it did, however, scientists would observe the phenomenon and conducts experiments to understand in what ways the laws had changed and what caused the change. Science would accept the new data and adapt. This the difference between faith and science. Faith is best when "unshakable," science is best when adaptable. Faith dictates that you believe the same thing on Wednesday that you did on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday. Science is always willing to accept new data and adjust its principles.

So I ask you again: Why is it a good idea to base a world view on a statement of axioms that cannot be proved?

I am interested in your thoughts, but please try to answer the question and stay on the topic.

Anonymous said...

Dear Editor of the New York Sun

You may remember that I wrote to you a number of years ago to ask if there is a Santa Clause? You were kind enough to respond so helpfully that I thought I would ask you another question:

Is there really a God?
Signed by Virginia O’

My dear Virginia, that depends on whose heart you feel God through. Let’s look at some issues to see if we can get the answer.

God is defined by all religions as All Powerful, All Good, and Everywhere. If this is the case, then why do bad things happen?

For the sake of these examples, I’ll refer to God as a He since that is what most religions believe it to be.

If God is All Good and God is Everywhere, then why is Hell bad? Isn’t He there too and if He is, then isn’t Hell Good? …and if he’s not there, then He’s not Everywhere.

If God is all Good then why does He punish people (isn’t the term punishment mean something bad?). If He isn’t the one punishing them, then who is? Why are so many good being punished and not always the bad?

If God gives us free will, then how come when some people use theirs for bad reasons, we look down on it? God said it’s OK to use it didn’t he?

Why is a killer’s free will stronger than the victim’s desire to live?

If God does what he wants and when he wants, then why do we bother to pray?

If God answers prayers, how does he choose which ones to grant? Certainly when the Terrorists prayed to successfully kill many of us by crashing planes into the Twin Towers, why were their prayers answered and not those of the innocent passenger victims on the planes? Or if two opposing teams pray to the same God to win, why does He choose one of them over the other?

Did God only communicate with people over a thousand years ago? Why doesn’t he still hold conversations with many of us today?

Does He really want us to honor Him in a “house of worship” and not in our homes, schools, places of work, parks, restaurants, buses etc?

Does God really want some of his clerics (as in Priests and Rabbis) to molest children?

Did God really say that He would allow only one man to communicate directly to him or be him on earth; that being the Pope or Chief Rabbi or the top Mullah or Ayatollah? Where is it written that God said that?

Why does God get the credit when good things happen but not the blame when bad things happen? For example, three children may be caught in a fire and two die, why do the parents say “Thank God, my third child was spared?” or when there is an industrial accident, the person says “Thank God I only lost 1 finger and not the whole hand?” Didn’t God cause him to lose his 1 finger?

Why do we pray for the deceased, since prayer didn’t help to keep them alive?

If God created man and woman then why did he not create his son? Why did he have to immaculately impregnate a woman to create his own son?

Why is God a son and a holy ghost? Why does he need to be 3 things and none being a female?

If God is not married than why does he allow marriage except for his closest religious clerics?

How come all of the miracles seen by thousands that are mentioned in the bible, never happen today for us to see for ourselves.

Does God really need someone else’ help to answer prayers? Does he really need Saints, nuns, priests, Rabbis, Mullahs, Ayatollas, Reverends? Is he that busy that he can’t take care of these things himself?

Did God define 3 miracles and you automatically become a Saint?

Where in every bible and scripture does it say that God is a male? We know the Son of God is a male by the term son but how was God interpreted as a male and as such in every religion?

If there shall be “no other God before me”, then why do people believe in so many other Deities? Can’t he control his own commandment?

Why is it that if people in one country pray to the same God as those in another country, God understands both languages but doesn’t care if both countries understand each other’s language?

Did God really want his scriptures interpreted by different denominations of the same faith? Why didn’t he just make it clear as to what he really meant and therefore we don’t need so many different interpretations within the same religions. For example, the Christians have Catholics, Protestants, Babtists, Lutherans etc. The Jews have the Orthodox, the Conservatives, the Reformed, the Chasidim etc. The Muslims have their conservatives and their radicals.
All denominations of the same faith read the same scriptures written by God but interpret them differently. Doesn’t God know how to communicate clearly?

If God can do anything at all, then why couldn’t he write His own rules, commandments, bibles etc. himself? Why did He need others to write the Bible in his words? And why twice?

If God truly said, “thou shalt not kill” did he then write an amendment with exceptions to that commandment, that none of us saw. Or did he mean, thou shalt not murder unless you are at war, in self defense, believe in another God, are a police officer etc.

When we look at rituals of various other religious cultures such as the American Indian sculpting Totem Poles of their deities or African Tribes chanting and dancing around in a circle while throwing various herbs into a pot of boiling water, is there really so much more to ridicule than having our own deity sculpted on a cross or during a funeral ceremony, having the priest sprinkle water on the casket and walk around it with an urn that he swings to and fro while smoke comes out of it? Or Rabbis insisting that people take part of their shawl (known as a Talis) and touch the Torah with it and then kiss that part of the Talis? Did kissing the Torah with a piece of cloth or pray at a Wailing Wall eliminate hatred, bring back the good that have died, heal the sick, bring peace to the world?

Why do we mock some religious cultures flagellating themselves in the name of God, or people who walk for miles on their knees to get to certain holy shrines, or who kiss articles of clothing (such as Tefillin), or in some cases, dancing around in transfixed positions, yet find it normal to eat a cracker as the “Body of Christ” and drink some wine as the “Blood of Christ”. Did God really tell us to do these strange things or was it humans that think that’s what he meant?

If the Sabbath is to be observed as the day of rest according to God, when were the exceptions made to permit 24/7 convenience stores, 7 day department stores, doctors and hospitals always open on the Sabbath, Police and Fire always available on the Sabbath etc.?

If God is so powerful, why on Easter Sunday do we celebrate the fact that his son moved the Rock and escaped the cave. Why did he have to move the Stone Pillar at all? Why didn’t God just bring him back where he wanted him without having to move something out of his way?

Did God really say that if you confess to your sins each day, week, month or once per year, they are no longer sins and therefore are forgiven? Why not just go on sinning knowing full well that all we have to do is confess, say so many ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Our Fathers’ and all will be well again. By the way, who decided how many ‘Hail Marys’, ‘Our Fathers’ or ‘Yom Kippurs’ etc. would do the trick per sin?

When and by whom was the decision made that using prayer beads would resolve one’s problems. Why beads and not strawberries?

Why is God considered to be up there and all that is bad considered to be down there? God never said that I shall reside “up here” did he?

Why are so many of God’s Evangelists, the religion’s biggest sinners?
Is that what God really desired the Evangelist to be?

Since God is everywhere, why is it acceptable to believe that God only exists on Earth and therefore life only exists on Earth. Didn’t God create all of the Universe and other planets? Why then life only here and not there? He certainly knows how to create life to conform to whatever climate he designs per planet doesn’t he?

Why has there been a world History of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing under God’s watch? Why would such a good being permit such hatred and cruelty? Why does God
seem to dislike the meekest and minorities more than others, since it is they who have been persecuted since the beginning of time and still have not seen an end?

Does a God of the Muslims truly offer 77 Virgins for martyrdom. Is Allah really that interested in the sex life of martyrs that he offers them such a harem? Won’t those 77 virgins have lost their virginity after the first few martyrs anyway? Why 77 and not 43 or 365 (at least a new one for each day)? If you kill yourself for 77 virgins, what happens to you after you deflowered all of them?

If God has given us Free choice, then do we have the free choice to choose another God or no God at all? If not (since he said though shalt have no other Gods before me) is this Free choice with a catch?

Why were prior crucifixions not forgiven until Christ’s own crucifixion?

How is it that every Christian church has a graven image of the Lord, the Mother of God, Saints etc? That in itself is a violation of one of the 10 commandments.

Why is all forgiven just before death, even if the worst criminal repents?

Having seen for Himself the changes that people have made through the centuries, why hasn’t God produced more Commandments by now? Do 10 really cover every contingency that were written thousands of years ago?

Why wouldn’t he add some More of these Commandements:
Though shalt never abuse or sexually molest another.
Though shalt never have wars in defense of me and our faith.
Though shalt not lie
Though shalt never engage in wars for any reason
Though shalt not covet anything that belongs to another
Though shalt work to the very hardest of your ability
Though shalt have no slave
Thought shalt assure that no one starves
Though shalt assure that each day is Holy, but may also work on the Sabbath (since so many do)
Though shalt treat all humans as equal to thyself.
Though shalt never abuse or kill an animal for sport but only for food.
Though shalt never intoxicate yourself with any substance such as illegal drugs or legal alcohol.
Though shalt never bear false witness

The question Virginia is not really Is there a God? The question is does Religion exist? The answer to that is a definite yes.

Those who are truly religious believe in anything that is written in their bible out of blind faith with the attitude that “you don’t ask certain questions of God”.

Why not? Is God so secretive that he no longer wants to teach his flock?

Virginia, I thought that perhaps there may have been a God until my 25 year old son got cancer. I prayed when my son was dying of Cancer, our entire family and all of his friends prayed for him and even my son prayed for his own survival, yet my son still died. Was God too busy to listen to any of our prayers or had he reached his quota for how many prayers he would grant?

Then we prayed that our other children remain healthy and happy and yet God had his ear muffs on again by giving our oldest son a malignant brain tumor, our daughter alcoholism and all three of our children, bad first marriages.

Yes Virginia, I have become a cynic and no longer believe that there is a God up there.

One does exist however, but only for those who choose to believe in him because it eases their pain of survival.

I believe that the real God is in each of us and therefore, we choose to follow our own commandments, forgive our own sins and pay our own price.

Virginia, believe in yourself, and you will be believing in God !

First Nations said...

baby people are born needing to believe their caretaker. it's a survival function. it isn't meant to be a substitute for thinking; it is simply how the conscious mind begins to be built. you're supposed to outgrow it, to start making your own personalized set of truths based on experience as you leave dependancy behind.
the mind can be stunted, though. bad information can be passed on and nurtured, helplessness can be enforced. and since this is the point at which my rant on control and power begins, i'll just slip this ball gag back in.
so yeah... you need faith to begin to see, but reason to know.

Ezri said...

Here's my two sense for what it's worth. I think of faith as kindof the theorizing part of the mind. I think we can all agree that none of us know everything that there is to know about the world. At the same time, I think people have an inner need to both make sense of things, and to want to know where they stand in the world order.

I was reading Anonymous' comments above, and thinking how very uncomfortable those questions can be when they really force us to think all the way through things- the mind goes right in circles over the whole thing. This is why the Greeks put Socrates on trial- they didn't like the whole admiting they do not know thing.

I think the place of faith today is that it lets us function in a world where in the big sense of things we don't know shit. It's a way of organizing our lives around what information we've got, whether that's where science is right now, or on a set of societal rules, or on an ideology set out thousands of years ago. It's entirely subjective, just as all of our experiences of the world are subjective.

I think from the perspective that faith in anything provides a framework for living. I agree with Hendrix on the whole love thing- it just is or it isn't something that is part of our lives. There's not really an explaination for what leads people down a certain road - I think religion (whichever it is) speaks to some, and gives them something that helps them. I'd disagree that it's necessary for a moral universe though- a good guy to check up on with that is Hobbes- his theory ran along the lines of: 'there's more of them than there are of you, so be nice to them and hopefully they won't kill you.' It's cynical, but it functions as a moral order in its own way.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I've completely answered the why is faith necessary question, but it's been interesting to see what everyone's had to say on the subject- Great topic, CB!

Ezri said...

Here's my two sense for what it's worth. I think of faith as kindof the theorizing part of the mind. I think we can all agree that none of us know everything that there is to know about the world. At the same time, I think people have an inner need to both make sense of things, and to want to know where they stand in the world order.

I was reading Anonymous' comments above, and thinking how very uncomfortable those questions can be when they really force us to think all the way through things- the mind goes right in circles over the whole thing. This is why the Greeks put Socrates on trial- they didn't like the whole admiting they do not know thing.

I think the place of faith today is that it lets us function in a world where in the big sense of things we don't know shit. It's a way of organizing our lives around what information we've got, whether that's where science is right now, or on a set of societal rules, or on an ideology set out thousands of years ago. It's entirely subjective, just as all of our experiences of the world are subjective.

I think from the perspective that faith in anything provides a framework for living. I agree with Hendrix on the whole love thing- it just is or it isn't something that is part of our lives. There's not really an explaination for what leads people down a certain road - I think religion (whichever it is) speaks to some, and gives them something that helps them. I'd disagree that it's necessary for a moral universe though- a good guy to check up on with that is Hobbes- his theory ran along the lines of: 'there's more of them than there are of you, so be nice to them and hopefully they won't kill you.' It's cynical, but it functions as a moral order in its own way.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I've completely answered the why is faith necessary question, but it's been interesting to see what everyone's had to say on the subject- Great topic, CB!

llewtrah said...

Personally I prefer the Douglas Adams definition of faith vs proof and the deity vanishing in a puff of logic.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for following in the great tradition of not answering the question. You pose some interesting philosophical questions, but sadly not one of them is relevant to the topic being discussed.

FN: go back to the previous post, look at the comments, and follow the link left by Michael to the NYT article on the evolution of faith. (I'd put it here again but I don't know how to do hyperlinks in the comments. Can anyone tell me how to do that?) It says a lot of the same points you're making here. If you and he are right, that is a potential explanation for why so many people have faith in things that are unknowable, but it still doesn't explain why they think it's a good idea, ie, an explanation for the existence of the phenomenon, but not a justification for it.

Ez: 'ello my luv! How art thou? I'm not entirely sure I understand your argument. You say that "faith is the inner theorizing part of the mind." Could you elaborate on that? Are you saying that faith comes from the same bit of the brain that does abstract thought? If that's the case, what about people who don't have faith but are capable of abstract thought? You also mention the psychological need to make sense of things, but why is faith -- unshakable belief in the unknowable -- a good means of attempting to make sense of things?

Llewtra: ah, that's such a great line. I love it for its irony -- if the deity vanished in a puff of logic, then there actually was a deity! Douglas Adams is awesome.

B said...

To Dave: We have countless examples of people in cults being manipulated into (a) lying (b) deceiving themselves as to the truth (c) taking their own lives (d) laying down all they have to further the aims of the cult (or sometimes the cult leaders) (e) Believing in totally outlandish propositions to the contradiction of their senses. This manipulation does not even need to be carried out conciously. Groups of people collectively manipulate their members without any need of a controlling individual of cadre. The birth of cristianity is a classic story of the emergence of such a cult. The only difference is that the cult outcompeted other cults and religions then present to become a major religion.

To Hendrix: Love is not a good example because theres plenty of evidence of the existence of love (as an abstract) and in the case of a person loving me theres plenty of evidence available to show thats true.

Why can't love be an evolutionary trick which is subsequently modified by our minds and society into something more than that? And its perfectly possible to be in love and to know the evolutionary rational for it. I suggest you read "Unweaving the rainbow" by Richard Dawkins.

To Random Thinker: Firstly your characterization of possible moral/political stances consistent with atheism concentrates on the extreme minority of positions. Secondly the Nazis were not an atheist group (get your facts right).

Secondly your assertation that religion is the source of morality is flat out wrong. There have been many many secular moral thinkers, from before christianity to the modern day. A choice of moral system is necessary, however there are other ways of making those choices than just blindly following the creed of a chosen religion.

Choosing a morality is not like choosing which side of the road to drive on. Thats a really apallingly bad comparison.

Thirdly the idea of uniformity is not a preresiquite for the philosophy of science. Its a principle in many ways like the second law of thermodynamics which has survived through many changes of underlying theory. It could be proved wrong tomorrow and scientists accept that possibility.

The belief that the world is ammenable to understanding by the scientific method boils down to occam's razor. Occam's razor has not (yet) been proven mathematically, however there are a number of good arguments supporting it. Again I must point out that this places it outside of the realm of faith.

The intuition in the area of non ordered universes is based a concept of probability which is known to be inconsistent (with the modern axioms of mathematics ZFC).

First Nations said...

you're right and that's been bugging me all night. i defined it, but i didn't explain why people think its a good thing!
i have to say after a day of thinking about this that i have no fucking idea. i can see how it functions and i can define it to my own satisfaction. i left it behind with all the other things of childhood because it was no longer necessary or useful.
we need someone OF FAITH to answer this one, huh.

Ezri said...

Hey CB, sorry not to have been clearer before- it's tough to put a finger on how to explain it, because I've been in both places - devout faith (though I honestly from where I am now can't figure out exactly what motivated it besides a belief in the teachers who gave me the message to begin with), and a more skeptical view of the universe which is where I am now.

I think I would put faith in the abstract part of the mind. I think it comes out of the organizing part of things, and I'd almost say that it's an evolutionary thing. I mean this in the sense that your original homo sapiens, and earlier models had to work with limited data and survive. To do this alot of what they knew had to be organized by category- sterotyping as it were, and alot of it had to work as a preface for assumption- like I have observed other animals I have hunted drink water, so therefore if I go to water I believe there will be more animals.

And as a species which used socialized knowledge passed down through the ages it is necessary that they both come up with rules for how the world worked, and how to function in it, and also a trusting mechanism for what was taught. The ones who didn't trust that it was true to plant during such and such a time or similar things probably didn't survive long.

So, even today part of our survival hinges on trusting what we have been taught, and the ability to theorize and work with abstract thoughts which we may or may not have much proof of - even the rational mind does this. For instance, I don't have first hand knowledge that a quark exists, but I trust the physicists who have said so, even though they are working with a set of knowledge and parameters that seems almost mystically true to those outside of the training.

I think faith may be like this, but in a different direction. As a group we've needed rules to survive and get along, and we've needed followers and leaders to get there. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but again it's subjective just like everything else.

Anyway, that's a bit long winded, but the best way I can think of to explain it - I hate it when things make real intuitive sense in my head, but then explaining them gets them all higgeldypiggeldy - feel free to tear through it if you like.

Also, for an interesting look at faith, but a departure from the regular religious stuff, you might want to read some Neale Donald Walsch. As arguments for the existence of God go, this is the most logical one I've ever seen, and frankly, the only thing I've seen in recent memory that makes me inclined to believe- but again, it's subjective- what rings true to me for whatever reason may not ring true to anyone else.

Homo Escapeons said...

5 out of 6

Let's Occam this down to the basics.
Our Primate ancestors lived in clans that for the most part were suspiscious of other groups despite the fact that interbreeding was essential. Males killed other males and stole females for breeding.

Although advances in toolmaking made killing each other easier, eventually larger groups formed out of neccesity. Remember that we come from a group of animals who were subjected to predation as much as they were predating on other animals. So they banded together out of Fear. In large numbers it was safer to defend themselves from Lions and Leopards.
Actually the Law of Averages kicked in and you had a better chance of the Lion picking the guy next to you but Hey it was still a great theory.

Nothing has changed. Fear is still the prime motivater. Fear of the Natural world (which is intrinsically hostile) fear of Death, fear of the unknown.

We now know that the Universe itself is an incredibly hostile place.

Various Beliefs help us define our clans and Faith is a coping mechanism that we have developed to combat fear. The fact that we cannot explain WHY we exist causes incredible angst that can only be subdued by most of us through Faith. As any Believer knows FEAR is the exact opposite of FAITH.

Having walked on both sides of this fence I eventually decided that knowing WHERE, WHEN, HOW, WHO and WHAT we are, was better than not knowing WHY.

5 out of 6.

Lorna said...

Wow - this is complex stuff. I had some sort of a directed answer in mind up at the top of the comments box, but my head is now slightly blurry! I suppose the way I understand it is it's not that faith in something unknowable is an instrinsically good or bad thing, but rather that the capacity to have faith is all-important. I'm not sure that that's any closer to answering the question, though... I have a feeling that I'm sometimes not very good at religion.

Michael said...

Here's what I think it was for me, though I don't think this answers the question of why religious faith is GENERALLY admirable. For me, everyone who was TEACHER or HERO or AUTHORITY or PARENT had religious faith...a belief in the unknowable. To get to the point I am now (as you can see, I view it as an advancement from where I was), I had to accept that I now think they are all wrong and/or pretending. For me, that took a while. I'm sure there is some deep psychological coping mechanism that allows us to overlook all the crazy stories and inconsistencies of religions and somehow admire others like "US" who do the same.

I know how that sounds to people who believe, because I was them. We're all on the same mountain, all with our own perspectives.

In latebreaking news, GOD has spoken through his chosen vessel on earth and it now appears that ORIGINAL SIN, for untold centuries a central doctrine and tenet of Catholicism, is no more. The Pope has said that babies dying before Baptism are probably NOT doomed to eternal HELL. Since it's been recently determined that LIMBO is also a fiction, that must mean that MAN is born into a state of grace without ORIGINAL SIN.

In other news, practicing queers still have that date with the Devil. Does Prada have a flame retardant line? No limbo, no original sin....it's actually kind of comforting that we gays are reliably condemned, isn't it?

ZB said...

Michael said: "It's easier to believe."

It's not. That's the point of faith.

It's all about belonging, something that humans need to do.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

No, religion is about belonging. That's an entirely separate phenomenon. You're right, all humans need to belong, but you don't need to belive in the supernatural to do it.