The Spirit in Me, The Rational in You?

I have been doing some lurking at other blogs for the last few days. I’ve not felt the “word” juices flowing in the old brain like I used to, so I haven’t written anything substantial. Writing to me is like having a bowel movement. Sometimes you’re constipated and nothing comes easily. Sometimes you have diarrhea with nothing of substance coming out, but other times, you have just the right movement; satisfying and perfectly formed. GROSS!!! 🙂 I suppose right now I could use some literary laxatives. But I digress…

I definitely attribute these bouts of inspiration to the spiritual mania I am prone to. I’ve never learned to discipline myself to be on an even keel when it comes to faith, spirituality, religion. I am a type of personality that is the personification of the Aries profile. Fiery, obnoxious, aggressive, you get the idea. I’m always whole hog for or against something, but never so-so, it would seem. I am never a big fan of the mundane, but love flash and color and excitement. If there isn’t any of that, I’d rather be asleep.

So anyway, I’m surfing and come across these guys. I love it when people can create a good web site with a catchy title and a running theme throughout. You see, I can’t do that. I’m decoratively and imaginatively challenged in the worst way. HGTV would never hire me. I can’t decorate my way out of a paper bag. So I really appreciate someone who can be creative and informative at the same time. Their recent post, “Is Atheism Rational?” brings up some very good points about the bible and spiritual reality, specifically:

…we here at Holy Bananas are of like mind with critics of the Bible in that it presents God as a genocidal murderer. It does. If you wish to argue this point, this is not the place. However, this is a critique of the Bible, not God. God isn’t a genocidal killer (or at least probably isn’t), but men are, and the ancients were full of great explanations for historical events. We call most of these explanations “religious”, which is anachronistic and unfair when we are speaking about a time when religious activities were tied into daily life and would not be considered anything different than one’s social life.

So now we come at a time in human history where, if we could erase the traditions of orthodoxy, these ancient beliefs are more or less absurd. But doesn’t that just make these ancient beliefs absurd?…

…does this discount all spiritual or unobservable realities? That is, of course, reasonably speaking?

Good question, guys. No, I don’t think it necessarily does discount spiritual realities. The one thing I’ve learned in my life here on earth is that all people everywhere are basically the same people with the same beliefs and hangups as people who lived before us. Sure, technology and levels of education are different, but deep down aren’t we all basically the same? The spirit that animates us and makes us who we are (I’m not sure it’s a “soul”) seems not to have evolved at all, meaning that what others may call superstition or absurd beliefs haven’t really changed all that much. Regardless of material circumstances and advances in technology, people still reach out to God and people still “receive” what they perceive to be revelation from God.

Now, what makes me an agnostic theist is my belief that no one can prove the existence of a deity or deities and that no one can experience supernatural/spiritual realities for anyone else, nor can they claim a spiritual reality as the prime spiritual template for everyone to follow. I personally tend to believe in such realities. However, no one can even prove that such realities exist, least of all me. I go on my own experience alone. Perhaps I am deceived, perhaps not. Who knows?

Also, no one can claim the same guidebook (i.e. bible) for anyone else. Just because I believe there is a book that contains everything we need to know about life (and I don’t), doesn’t mean that anyone else has to believe it too. For me, inspiration is what WE bring to such scriptures, not what is actually there, inherent in a book or set of books. These things are just dead, inanimate objects. Believing that the bible itself is imbued with the Holy Spirit and is waiting for us to open it and spill it’s magic contents, is spiritualism of the worst order. Magical thinking. The actual Spirit of the Universe can work through ANYTHING. It can work through my wristwatch if it wants to, although if I start listening to my wristwatch for daily instruction I’m sure I’d freak out my coworkers, and me too for that matter.

Now, I’ll state right now that I still read the bible and other books for inspiration and for a nudge from God. It’s not a prompt for anyone else. It’s a word for me. But the prompting of the Spirit is not inherent in the bible. No, the Spirit is inherent in me and in how attuned I am to the Spirit of the World. The bible is merely the catalyst for that, just like meditation, music, or even film. I don’t go to the bible to look up facts or to read history. The history of Israel is not in the bible, it’s in their history books. I go to the bible to read about other peoples’ experiences of God. So, I don’t turn to the bible to find answers about science or geography or history. To me, the bible is merely a tool to help discover what is already within me.

So, back to Holy Bananas questions about the bible and what’s in it and spiritual reality; for or against. Should we discount all supernatural reality just because a holy book depicts a deity acting badly? Should we dismiss religion because it makes a few million adherents crazy and act in murderous ways? Why is the bible such a polarizing document for so many? Thoughts?

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13 thoughts on “The Spirit in Me, The Rational in You?

  1. **Should we discount all supernatural reality just because a holy book depicts a deity acting badly?**

    I think it would depend on how one views the holy book. I see the OT as people struggling to figure out who the supernatural was. I don’t believe that God actually ordered half the things attributed to Him, but it was people trying to decipher the supernatural. When I think about my encounters with a divine sense, it’s more along the lines of intuition, or a flash. It’s never like all the words that God used in the OT. And if people encountered the divine like that back then, I can understand how they might get a few thigns wrong.

    **Should we dismiss religion because it makes a few million adherents crazy and act in murderous ways?** If the only example of that religion is the crazy people, then yes. If the religion also has non-crazy people, then no. I do have to say, though, that one of the things that drives me nuts is when a fundamentalist Christian says that one has no excuse for leaving because of the behavior of other Christians — one should look to Jesus, instead, because everyone is flawed. The problem with that is that Jesus made it very clear that we would be able to tell who his followers are. We are also supposed to be able to tell how God changes people based on a person’s behavior. So if I see a group consistently behaving in a horrible fashion who claim to follow Jesus, then I am going to use that in my decision.

    **Why is the bible such a polarizing document for so many?**
    Maybe fear? Part of what I see in evangelical Christianity is that one is too sinful to trust one’s feelings or intiutions or even logical thought patterns. Which is why they need the Bible, because they can’t go based on themselves or others. So it has to be terrifying, in a way, to meet someone who doesn’t see the Bible as the ultimate truth. And it is probably threatenting, too, because without the Bible, the evangelical simply flounders. S/he has no other way of knowing God.

  2. Heather,
    Many good points as usual, especially about whether we can judge a religion by its adherents. By their fruits you shall know them, Jesus said. It’s amazing how often Christians don’t want to live up to that.

  3. “Now, what makes me an agnostic theist is my belief that no one can prove the existence of a deity or deities”.

    I’d like to add my bit to your/our dilemma above that may (or may not) help in this.

    There are people who know what God is (in a limited sense).
    “God” as we call it, is all there is – there is nothing else. Nothing can exist that is not God. To go a step further, God is LOVE. LOVE is an energy which can actually be measured and felt. Everything is made up of energy (which is God). Check anything, ANYTHING under a very powerful microscope and you will find energy in all matter. Atoms etc are all moving at a colossal speed.

    Can we see God – of course we can.
    God is everything (and more, even the unseen) of what you can see around you – that table, road, car, smell, feeling, shadow, courage, fear plantes, Multiverses etc etc- there is NOTHING that is not God. We are also God (we have to be as there is nothing that is not GOD!) Therefore we are all one as we are all parts of GOD – following me?
    GOD is in many forms (all forms) and one of them is a “Central Sun” (amonsgt other names) that is a billion billion times brighter that our sun.
    And the other puzzle about where did God come from? – GOD always was and always will be (hard to believe from our limited human perspective – but nonetheless true).
    I hope this helps.

  4. MOI – first of all, I love you… I see so much of you relfected in me, it is like meeting myself sometimes. You are surely a kindred spirit. I look at many things the way you do.

    I love the bible, but do not worship the bible. The bible is really amazing when you don’t claim it is the inerrant word of god… how would a person even KNOW that, anyway? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but like the existence of god, it is unprovable. If a person chooses to see it that way, they should at least have the good sense and common courtesy to see that it is only their BELIEF, or OPINION, not a provable fact. And you are right, Heather it is fear that causes so many to cling so tightly and behave so badly. It really demeans the true value of the bible. I can’t even express how much respect I have for it. BUT, the key to it all is within the bible itself when it says the letters kills but the spirit gives life. I also believe the bible isn’t the only word of god – god’s word is EVERYWHERE and in EVERYTHING if one is open to hearing it.

  5. Sometimes I think that there are too many accounts of “spiritual” or perhaps a better word is “supernatural” phenomenom to discount a spiritual/supernatural reality all together. But as I try to analyze things from a more rational perspective I find more and more rational explanations for things that could be supernatural. However, (and this is where I might sound weird) – physicists have come to the conclusion that different universes may indeed exist. So what if some of the things we experience as supernatural are really two or three or more different universes interfacing at the same time (but yet different times for different universes). I realize this is highly speculative, but hey, it’s fun to speculate.

  6. Hi Mike,
    I like speculation as well as the next person! 🙂 Like you, I am absolutely sure, although I can’t prove it, that there are other realities out there, call it supernatural or metaphysical, because I’ve experienced them. I find it comforting. Why, I don’t know, but there you go.

  7. Strange, I am by birth date an Aries, but I’m almost compeletely the opposite to your description of classic Aries personality. But then again, I don’t think that one’s date of birth and the position of planets determines one’s personality, because it does not follow from what I have observed so far in my life with myself and the people I have met.

    As you’ve probably guessed, I’m something of a scientist (science student, to be precise). I tend to follow the evidence. But that doesn’t mean that I dismiss the supernatural entirely as delusion, just that I don’t invest any faith in anything of that sort. Going by the physical and personal evidence I have encountered so far, I assume that supernatural events do not occur unless there is sufficient evidence to prove otherwise. I realise that not everyone can live without the certainty of faith, but personally I’ve never had trouble with it (and this may be due to the fact that I was never seriously indoctrinated with any religion, though I did try to follow a diluted version of Christianity a few times, and failed).

    As for spiritual experiences or the “feeling” of a spirit within… Well, I’ve felt it too, but I don’t habitually think of it as any kind of intrusion from “outside reality”. I don’t know why, but I just don’t tend to think of spiritual feelings as “spiritual” except long after the fact when I think “oh, I guess you could see it that way if you wanted to”. Again, it’s probably the lack of practice at excercising my belief neural circuits?

    Anyway, that was too much of a narcissitic rant (sorry…).
    My point is: I don’t believe in any kind of supernatural existence, and I don’t think there are any, but I have a “live and let live” philosophy. So if believers (in anything) are willing and able to believe what they want without interfering with the happiness of others, and are willing to live peacefully and let faith/lack thereof be a private and personal matter, then that is fine by me. That doesn’t mean that holy books (such as the bible) should become off limits to criticism when people attempt to claim it is what it is not (e.g. biblical literalism). I personally think it would be great if religion had some limits, just like how science limits itself to only the natural, observable world and not to the supernatural. Use the most effective tool available for the situation, and all that.

    ~T

  8. T,

    Interesting comment about religion having limits. I think that’s a great idea because as I see it now, there are no limits on religion (except by denominationalism). Because, at what point do you say about your doctrine/dogma, “That’s outside the realm of possibility.” If you can’t say that, then anything goes doesn’t it? Good thoughts. 🙂

  9. From what I have read on your blog and the blog of other former-believers, it seems as though religion without limits can take over one’s life entirely. I think that’s dangerously unhealthy–especially to the believers themselves, as you probably know.

    Religion with some limits–like religion for social cohesion, spiritual inspiration ,and moral instruction only, leaving physical matters to scientists and economists, etc., seems to have good effects on some people–helping them to find inner peace, compassion, acceptance of death, and so on.

    But exactly where to place the limits for religion? I can’t really say… so I guess I’ll leave it up to other people to think about it and draw their own fences.

    ~T

  10. T,
    I wouldn’t call myself a “former” believer yet, although I have my rants. I’m a former church-goer. I no longer believe institutionalized religion is the way to go. I’d also define myself as an agnostic theist, as I do over at http://www.agnosticatheism.wordpress.com.

    I also don’t believe in an inerrant, infallible bible. So, I still believe in God, but do not claim that we can prove God or even know one is there. It’s religion and all it’s burdens and trappings that I cannot abide sometimes.

    I think I am able to buy into the religion with limits idea. I think that religion and faith cannot explain facts about the physical universe we live in. They are barely able to “explain” supernatural phenomena except for what we personally experience, so I’d say the limits are there, it’s just that nobody wants to recognize them or acknowledge them.

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