Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blind Faith

Blind Faith, Portion of the Old Bridge statue of Minerva, Heidelberg Germany, October 2010,
Panasonic DMC-ZS7, Focal length 10.3mm, Exposure 1/400 sec @ f4.5, ISO 80, no flash
© Steven Crisp  [Click on the photo to enlarge]

A funny thing happened during a get together with some friends/colleagues of mine.  We started talking about religion (we are a spirited group).  All were Christians; one was born again, another seemed to be asking new questions, and the third accepted those parts of the faith that felt right, and did not worry about the rest.  And if you were to ask, I am a-religious (against organized religion), but if anything, my leanings are toward Eastern and Buddhist teachings.

I asked if anyone had read Sam Harris' book, "The End of Faith."  No one had.  So I explained my recollection of his thesis that any religion that relies upon "blind faith" is problematic, and needs to be challenged.  The popular example, of course, are fundamentalist muslims, which some would say take their interpretation of the Holy Koran to an extreme, and the result is jihad against the infidels.  

But what makes Sam Harris' book so provocative is that he equally challenges the fundamentalist Christians.  And he does not stop there.  He goes on to challenge even moderate Christians, because they implicitly endorse a belief system (based solely on faith) that can lead to these extreme and fundamentalist views.

Well, this really upset a good friend of mine. The view was basically, "Hey, just because you lack faith, that's no reason to challenge mine."  A fair accusation, I suppose, although my intent was only to have each of us examine that premise.  It seems credible to me that problems may result out of what some might choose to call "blind faith".  And since we have different religions, with different holy scriptures, and each teaches they are the one and only true religion and path to God ... well, we clearly are in for some conflict, now aren't we?

So anyways, my friend and I made amends, and we took a walk the next day, up along Philosopher's Way and back into Heidelberg, Germany across the Neckar River via the Old Bridge.   That's where we noticed the base of a statue pictured above.  And immediately, we interpreted it as depicting "Blind Faith."  We both got a good laugh and perhaps a little insight out of that.

Fast forward to another friend whom I've only met on-line.  I was reading a blog of hers last night, and came across a video of John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  Boy, what an interesting perspective this gentleman has.  

So I offer you two options.  You can watch the video at the end of this post (which is about 45 minutes long, followed by some 30 minutes of Q&A (and I do recommend it).  I've also added another rather long lecture before that one, which is also very good.  But I realize those require a large chunk of time.

But after watching that video, I "Googled" John Shelby Spong and found some short YouTube videos.  They will give you a feeling for the messages and beliefs that Bishop Spong espouses (and the running time is shown in the title).  

Either way, I encourage you to dig in a little deeper, and mull these ideas over in your head.  I can tell you that they make a lot of sense to me, and resonate deeply.  And if really embraced, seem to put Love and God (or The Divine, if you prefer) at center stage, emanating from within each of us, if we will only wake up.

Namaste, my friends.  I hope you enjoy the perspectives below.

Beyond Theism -- John Shelby Spong (2:41)

Does Hell Exist? -- Interview segment with John Shelby Spong (3:17)

Honest Prayer, Part 1 -- John Shelby Spong (5:39)

Honest Prayer, Part 2 -- John Shelby Spong (6:21)

And here are the long ones if you have such interest (each more than an hour).  First is a lecture by Spong, that discusses rather graphically, problems caused by the some texts of the Holy Bible.  At time, it is as hard to listen to as it is to argue with.  It illustrates our tribal mentality, but also tries to show a path forward by rejecting these cultural, human, fallacies.  And, I think, it is quite lucid and insightful (and interspersed with humor and poignancy).

Burke Lecture:  John Shelby Spong (1:23:26)

And this is the one that got me digging in the first place.  Thanks Pat.  I always appreciate your insights and your pointers.

Exploring the Mystery of Life:  John Shelby Spong (1:16:41)


Pat said...

Very interesting. I would have enjoyed being a part of that conversation. I was involved in one once where the other (my fundamentalist nephew, in fact), kept trying to pin a label on me. He couldn't, of course.

But more to the point, I suppose, is the whole concept of "belief". Must we believe anything at all? As another friend once told me, he has no time for belief. Though problematic at the time, now I understand. I remember my "believing" days, when brain contortions were necessary to try to make belief the same thing as truth. Such brain cramps from that! I am content now with "it is what it is, and my fervent belief one way or another is not going to change what is. What a relief. Now I can enjoy life.

Steven Crisp said...


Very wise words indeed. You have used one of my favorite sayings: "it is what it is". I found that particularly comforting during my parents' illnesses.

There is such peace in that phrase. Such acceptance, relaxation, freedom, wisdom.

Another one of my favorite quote goes like this:

"For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe." -Anonymous

What is also so fascinating to me is how tightly people hold on to their beliefs. This can be such a source of suffering (though, I suppose, also great joy at times).

And as for labels ... yes, they are very over-rated ;-)

Thanks for the visit, and of course, for the pointer to Bishop Spong.

Pat said...

I remember (back when) I, too, held tightly to beliefs. The motivation? Fear, I suppose. Plus I was young and trained to be obedient lest I be punished.

My son has a saying..."fractals be". We sometimes use that as a greeting and acknowledgment to each other. Fractals. What we learn in our small world ripples out into our large world. So the obedience in childhood became the obedience in religion.

I wonder why it is some of us outgrow these things, and others do not. Any ideas on that?

Steven Crisp said...

That's a really good question, Pat.

I'd like to say "confidence". Not confidence in the outcome (which perhaps we recognize is not something we can control), but confidence in ourselves to be present and open to the optins as they unfold.

I'd also like to say "gentleness". Can we hold the questions with gentleness? To not prejudge them. Not fall into our stereotyped patterns. Not playback the soundtrack of others' thinking or of dogma.

I'd like to say "openness". We've all felt what it is like for our bodies to contract, to hunker down, to keep others (ideas, people) at bay. And I suspect we've also all felt what it is like to become more expansive, to welcome the unknown, to see reward in the journey itself, to see beauty in everyday existence.

But I think you've already hit upon the root cause. "Fear". Fear vs love -- the two basic forces in our human existence. And realizing that accepting the unknown need not be something we fear. Being confident that our willingness to meet it with love will have a positive affect (at least on ourselves). A recognition that treating everyone, everything, every situation with gentleness makes sense. And an openness, even a desire, to see what it has to offer.

A long answer to your simple (and deep) question. Somehow, we first need the confidence to challenge those who rule us by fear rather than love (even if they believe in their hearts they are doing it for our own good). Or we need the very good luck to find ourselves exposed to that lesson of love at an early age.

And this kind of takes us back to the original point of the post. Is one ready and able to challenge the indoctrination we receive at an early age, be that religious or otherwise. Challenge does not mean reject out of hand, but at least examine with critical thinking.

First, think for oneself. Realize all that we do not know in spite of what we have been told. Then ask big questions. Seek wisdom. And then listen, with patience, for the answers that arise from somewhere deep inside.