Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Question on How to Believe

This question was asked as a comment in response to the previous post but because comments can sometimes get overlooked I thought I would include it here as well since it is a fundamental question that cuts right to the point of everything.

Q. You say "allow yourself to acknowledge the reality of a Creator who is all love and all goodness, and who is the source of all truth".

 I have been dwelling on -- perhaps obsessing over -- this idea for years now, giving it as sympathetic a hearing as I know how, but always with the same frustrating result: it means nothing to me, explains nothing, makes no sense, produces no fruit, and I just can't get myself to assent to it. I can say the words "God is real," but in my heart of hearts I don't really believe it for a second and I don't know how to. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Thanks for your comment which expresses something very real for many people. 
First of all, let me say that I do appreciate the problem because it is a problem, especially now when the whole culture is against God. Or else the image of God presented by believers is too often clearly a projection of their own ideas, hopes, dreams, fantasies etc. But the point I started from was that the hankering in the heart for something real that was beyond the multiplicity of outer things, and that answered one's cravings (not too strong a word) for goodness, beauty, justice, truth and so on must be based on something solid. You just don't feel thirst if water doesn't exist. 

Then one has to approach the matter through the imagination and intuition rather than thought. This might need faith to begin with but can develop into intellectual insight when nourished by prayer and meditation, if you are that way inclined. Nothing new there, you might say, and you'd be right but how could there be? It's the same old path even if it often gets overgrown. I was told by my teachers that it was important to stay simple and not over-complicate things with excessive thought which tends to go round in circles and get nowhere. Which doesn't mean don't think, but don't think too much. You don't reach truth through thinking, though thinking can help formulate understanding.

I would guess that the fact you're thinking about this so much means you're like a fruit coming to ripening, if you don't mind me putting it that way! But you don't want to do something stupid or deceive yourself just because your desires are pointing you in a certain direction. Maybe you've seen other people do just that. Because people often do believe in God for the wrong reasons, there's no doubt about it. But you don't have to surrender common sense to have faith. You can have a wise faith or a foolish one. 

What you could do is take the idea of a creator as a working hypothesis and see where you go from there. Maybe call it that (the Creator) rather than God as the latter may have a lot of baggage for you. It does for many of us. 

Anyway, try to see the world as an environment in which consciousness can experiment and grow to become more aligned with the intelligence that is at the heart of the universe. You could use the teachings and person of Christ as tools to help you do this but it's not essential. And trust your heart. It's a cliché but it's true. That doesn't mean your feelings as in emotions but what your heart thinks. Honestly, look around you. Where did all this come from? The materialistic idea is frankly preposterous. It all popped into being from nothing? Who could believe that unless the weight of our contemporary culture was insisting on it? Where did you come from? Your mind, your feelings, your very sense of self? Just random mutation of a pile of dust? Believing in that is a far greater stretch than believing in God. You don't have to know what God is. Just see that there is an intelligence and a purpose in the universe but it's not immediately obvious because if it were we wouldn't have to work towards it which means we would not grow. There would be no struggle, no conflict, no testing and spiritual growth comes from these.

Furthermore, we need to understand that there are cycles in the human experience of this world. Now we are in one when the sense of physical matter, the outer world, is emphasised and the sense of spirit is diminished. It's as though the environment had solidified, making it harder to see past it. This may be a natural thing that occurs as time goes by or it may be part of the means whereby we develop the mind. Either way it obscures spirit but if we know what’s taking place it makes it easier to deal with and adjust ourselves to without letting the obscurity lead to blindness.

I’ve gone on too long and am sure won't have said anything you haven't heard before, but sometimes hearing the same thing from a different perspective gives one a new way of looking at old problems. There's no magic button that can be pressed though. This is something we all have to work through on our own if it is to be real for us. The fact that you are doing that suggests to me that you are doing the seeking without which nothing can be found, and that you just need the light to fall at the right angle to make things clear.

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That was my answer to the question at the time. I'd just like to add here that very few people are so certain of the existence of God that they never have the slightest moment of doubt. (Some who think they are certain may be victims of a sort of idée fixe or obsession). It is natural to waver occasionally. It's even healthy to a degree because that way our conception of the divine is given room to grow and doesn't calcify. But we mustn't let our doubts overwhelm our faith. Clouds pass over the sun, and often block it out completely, but the clouds evaporate. It is the sun that is the lasting reality. It just requires a bit more effort to get there when the clouds are out, and the contemporary world is very cloudy. 

When you are surrounded by the almost universal assumption that the material world is all there is, it becomes very hard to see that that is just an assumption founded on nothing. This is particularly the case when one lives a largely artificial life in a largely artificial environment as most of us do today. But when you free your mind from the constraints imposed on it by modernity (not to mention post-modernity), and try to release yourself from fear, fear of being wrong, fear of being foolish, fear of being different, then it is much easier to have faith in a wise and benevolent Creator who gives us the experience of living in this physical world in order that we may more perfectly come to an understanding of our true spiritual being. This does not mean turning aside from intellectual enquiry but real faith does require going beyond using the everyday mind alone - see above.

And if your doubts are brought about by the fact that pain and suffering are in the world you might ask yourself what is this world for? Is it meant to be a playground or a school? Earth is Earth and heaven is heaven, the two have different roles and one is not meant to be the other. Why come to Earth if it is the same as heaven? Perhaps at the end of time Earth and heaven will be made one in a kind of cosmic marriage in which matter is completely spiritualised by virtue of the beings within it who raise it up by their own perfection, rather like Jesus at the Ascension. But that time is not yet so for the moment we have to understand and accept that this world exists to make us fit for full participation in the heavenly reality. Thus it is not perfect because we are not.


ted said...

I find it interesting that grain in culture is so against traditional religion these days, that tradition has become the new counter-culture. As they say, everything old becomes new again (albeit at a different octave maybe).

Of course, it makes it hard for all of us. That's why community (online and in-person) is so important. We need to know there are others in our situation.

William Wildblood said...

Yes I agree with your remark about a like minded minority bring able to connect online though I also agree with Bruce Charlton's recent post about the risks and dangers of computer technology. The first must be the silver lining to the cloud of the second!