Sunday, October 05, 2008

Just because I don’t go to church does not mean I do not believe in God.

Just because I don't go to church does not mean I do not believe in God.

I think this is a fairly common approach these days to faith.

There are those who believe that church is the foundation to faith.

And there are those who believe that there is no God.

And somewhere in the middle there are those who – as I just stated – believe but do not think the answers are to be found in cathedral and read from a book.

Well, I honestly do not mean to state this so dismissingly. The book is the Bible, or the Koran, or whatever other doctrine may be held up as indisputable truth.

So I really should capitalize the "B" in Book.

And I do not write this lightly. I do not state this mockingly, nor with any meaning of malice or contempt.

If I were to be measured my position between two sides of the spectrum, faith or atheism, I am certain I would be placed much closer to the side of faith.

"Then why don't you go to Church?" you might ask.

I have gone to church in my days. Many different churches actually. Like many of you, I have gone to listen and to try to objectively discern what it is that I believe. My faith is to the extent that I do know that God is there. And I do know that God is a compassionate, loving, completely objective deity.

God – in my faith – does not choose sides.

He does not choose sides in times of war. He does not answer one person's prayer to be chosen over another. All – in my faith – are God's children.

Even the atheist

And in every church I have gone to, I have always felt that the person standing before and speaking from the Book, is actually trying to sell their faith to me.

The person standing before me has devoted a great deal of time and consideration to their own exploration of their church. At least most of the time, anyway. And I do not belittle that commitment in any way. But I know this person before me is only another person of flesh and blood. And their conviction to what is true – for as strong and devoted as it may be – is their faith – and their opinion.

Let me try to put it this way.

Think of a person that you know. A person known by many in your social circle. Think about how you feel about this person. List out twenty or so attributes of this person on a sheet of paper.

Then think of those in your circle who also know this person very well. And put yourself in each of those other person's shoes – look through their eyes – and try to think what attributes they may see in this same person. Do that several times over for others in the circle – then compare your lists.

The lists will be different.

Each of those eyes you looked through will have had different experiences with this person. Some good. Some bad. The positive and negative experiences they have had with this person will be different.

Experience is what shapes our opinion. And in my thinking, experience is the most influential definer of faith.

Now think how differently each of those people's experiences with God must be. Because God is so much closer and in one's own heart. Those experiences each shaped their faith in God. Some in disappointment, some in appreciation, some in love and devotion. Some in betrayal.

Because – in my own personal opinion – a God who loves everyone equally cannot please everyone He loves.

And as that person stands before me and reads from the Book, and talks about what each sentence means – I realize that this is what that sentence of the Book means – to them. Some have been taught this is what it means. Others have come to their own conclusion as to its meaning. And some will question what it means.

My Dad taught me as a boy that faith is very important. But how that faith is to be defined is up to me. That I can strengthen my faith anywhere. At home, in my car, at the office sitting at my desk. And that there is risk in the formal accommodations of a cathedral or Church setting. Because the underlying foundation in faith is confidence.

And the formal setting of church is as likely to shake one's confidence in their faith as it is to reinforce it.

So what do I believe? My faith is pretty simple actually.

I believe that there is indeed a deity greater than us. And as I said – He is loving, kind, compassionate. And He loves all of us exactly the same. And that in return for all that He has provided us – all He asks in return is that we do our very best.

Be honest.

Be kind.

Be generous.

Be of service to your fellow man.

Do not take advantage of others misfortunes to profit.

Be understanding.

Be fair.

And be sincere.

Sound familiar?

Imagine if before each action we could take, we could consider these eight points. Our resulting action would have to meet the criteria of these points. Imagine if everyone else did the same.

There would be no bigotry.

There would be no contempt.

There would be no hatred.

There would still be differences of opinion. There would still be diversity in our approaches to life. But there would be no indignation towards others.

And in my own personal opinion – I believe that the great prophets of history were trying to express these same principles. But those that heard the message interpreted it to be a threat to whatever power they held. Perhaps because it was simply inconvenient. Or perhaps because these principles contradict the means by which they reinforced their power.

And in my opinion – this is where the multitudes of division came from to give us the vast array of religions we have today. Each taking a slightly different slant on each of those eight points. And to reinforce their power they insisted that to deviate from their slant will condemn you to an eternity in most horrific prison – hell.

Personally, I do not believe that when we die, we go to heaven or hell. That these are simply tools to restrict our freedom of thought by promising us what is truly the greatest unknown. What happens to us after we die. "If you do like I say, you will live in a glorious after-life", is the promise – much like the promise that a parent will make to their children that a great education will being a bliss full adulthood. "But should you stray from this instruction – you will be condemned to the most horrid existence – forever – with no chance for reprieve".

It seems so childish to me when I put it in these terms. And destructive.

And manipulative.

I believe we make our own heaven and hell here on earth. Simply by the principles we follow. And our hearts commitment to those principles. If a strong principle belief is that you should be rich, yet you life in poverty, your greed shall condemn you to the hell of your failure to achieve wealth. Should you realize you are happy without the wealth – you will suddenly be free of your burden, and achieve a level of peace you might consider to be heaven.

Will I encourage my two little girls to go on to get higher levels of education? Of course I will, because my experience has shown me their opportunities will be much greater if they can achieve such a goal. But it does not mean they will be condemned to a life as a fast order chef if they don't. And they may be well and happy as a short order chef.

I will encourage my daughters to believe in what they want to believe. And I will try to explain the eight principles I listed above. And I will try to show them by my own example. Although at times my example will fail.

Because I love my little girls with all my heart. Equally. Like my Father did my brother Paul and me. Like I think God loves us all.

And I think the God I have put my faith in leads by the best example anyone could follow.

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