Things are Becoming Clearer

I think I’ve gotten a clearer image of what’s going on in my marriage.

Here is a man who is wedded to him computer for interaction (being blind) and for his primary contact with the outside world on a daily basis.  He trolls the internet for contact with those he finds interesting and amusing. While married to someone else, he comes across this blog and reads of a housewife, turned student, turned writer who lives a full life. I have a job, three children, a home, cats, and a husband. I get up and go to work every day and I write interesting things during my time off.

Cue eight years later where I give up all that, come live with said man. After things were progressing long distance using Skype and email, we find that being in each other’s presence isn’t quite the same thing as communicating over the internet. Gone are the interesting things for him; my job, my life, my interesting thoughts. Gone are my fantasies that we have anything physical in common due to fetishes I don’t share. We also failed to notice that he is an extrovert entertainer absolutely ADDICTED to being liked and appreciated and to being out in the social scene. I, on the other hand, shun social interaction as much as possible.  I do not like parties. I’m done boozing and bar hopping. Oooo. Bad move on my part.

This man therefore turns to the internet yet again for someone of interest. He finds another woman, university educated AND employed. Her topic? Music of course. Bingo. She also shares some of his fetishes because that’s how they met, on a site catering to that.  Bingo again. They now share morning and evening Skype conversations just as we did. This woman is now filling the role I did all those years ago; interesting life, shared fetish (which I was willing to entertain, but not obsess over), shared interest in music, social butterflies that crave attention.  He fails to see the parallel whereas it’s so obvious to me. I have failed to keep his interest and my one sin; being in the same room with him. Automatically I’m diminished by proximity.

My husband cannot say no to another human being even if it’s to the detriment of his own well-being or his family’s.  I can have no respect for a man who has so little respect for anyone outside his current, immediate circle of interest. I have come to the point of doing my duty without expecting any emotional rewards. That’s what marriage is isn’t it; an exchange of rewards? We exchange emotional rewards and intimacy for doing and sharing the same things? As one author put it, we make deposits in each other’s love bank and hope that enough deposits will overflow into and become the strong marriage we invested in.  What accrues is interest, closeness, shared loyalty, affection, passion, all of which add up to that weird mysterious term we call ‘love’.

By the same metaphor I think that my account is open, but there is very little left in it to draw upon. The smaller and smaller amounts I invest is offering no return (in fact, it’s being diverted) and I’m considering closing it one day. Why keep an account open that works against you? It’s at these times that I need to find a solid figure spiritually to focus on; one I know will always be there for me. I think God provided this in my darkest times before and, whether made up or not, God will once again provide an anchor I need when all human anchors fail.  My Daily Stoic talks about having a ‘mantra’ one can turn to at times like this; to bring one back to the center and stabilize.

Let it be so.

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What Used to Be

Budapest Opera HouseI used to be a woman of faith. After a spiritual experience in 1983, I began going to church and the rest  I’ve written about extensively on this blog. Since then I’ve given up my religiosity and my beliefs in certain dogma.  I no longer go to church per se, although I’ve been going to the Quaker meeting house with my husband for a few years now.

I still cling to some notions about Christianity, but the one thing I don’t believe in any longer is prayer.  By prayer I mean an action the believer takes to attempt to move the Maker into changing the Laws of Nature or the minds of other people to affect an outcome.  Now, I believe in meditation and silence and prayer in the sense that it helps the person praying, but I don’t believe that some Divine Being is listening to our prayers and deciding to rearrange the universe to answer them.

What made me realize this is that in times past, my first inclination when faced with bad news is to pray for the a positive outcome that happened to suit me at all times. Now, faced with my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I realize that no amount of praying will change the news of how large or small this tumor is. It just is. It’s been there unknowingly and will continue to be there no matter what I believe in my mind about it. No amount of prayer will affect that. No one will hear this prayer but me.  I don’t mean to say that prayer is not good, but I believe it’s only good for the one doing the praying. It acts as a meditative tool to calm one’s nerve, bolster one’s resolve, and to give someone the much-needed cool-down time before doing or saying something rash.

The reasons I came to this conclusion is by observing the world around me.  Despite a prayer force of billions of people in the world, we still have death, famine, abuse, rape, murder, cancer, wars, and all the evils that man can devise. Despite faith in a Divine Being we still have those idiots who believe that God wants the deaths of everyone who doesn’t believe the way they do. Despite billions of the faithful praying daily we see no discernible difference in the outcomes of cancer deaths or salvation from it by miraculous means. No, I have faith in medicine and science to find the cures for most ills before I have faith in prayer.

Now I know all the arguments for and against such things, but this has come from years of experience and it hasn’t come lightly. I’ve struggled mightily to keep an innocent faith in God, Jesus, and prayer, but at some point I had to face the cruel facts of reality. So, as I face the cruel facts of an uncertain future with a cancer diagnosis, I will face it with prayer like I always do, but I have no expectation that the cancer will disappear. I don’t believe it’s some kind of test or sent by God to make me more faithful. How awful to believe such things! I am of the idea that we will do everything available to us to stop it or at least slow it down. I have every expectation that prayer will make me calmer and able to face it. I suppose that makes me the double-minded man in the book of James, doesn’t it? Ah well, better that than be in denial about the cruelties of nature.

Quote of the Day

The Faith, sculpted in stone from Badajoz in 1...

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From “How Did God Get Started?

But faith is also a mobile citadel, a portable fortress. Having evolved precisely to occupy the territory inaccessible to reason, faith evolved mechanisms to move fluidly with the boundaries of that territory, or, as with apocalypticism, to blithely revise its truth claims about the imminent end of the world as fast as they’re discredited by the world’s contrarian perseverence. Faith’s quicksilver essence can never be rationally pinned down: the harder you press, the faster it squirts out from under your finger. Like the alien monster in countless movies, faith only gets stronger every time you shoot at it.

Are Religious Beliefs Based on Evidence?

I was reading my Google Reader yesterday morning and came across this article by Ophelia Benson. I really appreciate atheists’ work to keep religious believers honest in what they believe. I appreciate that they call out sloppy arguments and show us that we believe too easily those things which are not supported by any evidence at all such as UFO abductions, ghosts, etc. (never mind that I find both fun and interesting) However, I must take some small issue with her statement here:

Scientific explanations of the universe are not just coherent, they are also based on evidence. Religious beliefs are not based on evidence. Makes a difference!

Benson makes a good point that we shouldn’t be biasing emotions and feelings about what we want to believe over our intellectual faculties and discerning what’s true, even though someone surely could argue that emotions/intuitions/faith can be reliable sources of information. If they couldn’t be, then no one would make decisions about love, marriage, fleeing a bad relationship, sensing dangerous people, etc. However, to then go on and assert that religious beliefs are not based on evidence is also an over-generalization. There is evidence that Christians came into existence because of the preaching of a man named Jesus and a Jew named Saul. There is evidence that this movement changed the world for good and ill. I’ve met people, who I respect greatly, who are or were radically changed by their beliefs and I consider that good evidence of something. I can’t name it, but it’s evidence to me. It may not meet Benson’s standards of scientific verifiability, but it is evidence. I think the problem is that maybe the believer’s threshold of evidence is lower but they do rely on some evidence on which to base their faith. It’s just not first hand evidence.

Look, I’m not trying to be an apologist here for any religion, but ordinary people make decisions all the time based on second-hand evidence. Someone tells us to stay away from the corner of Monroe and V. Parkway because the traffic is awful. Hearsay, yes, but we heed it.  Can we go check it out? Sure we can, but we don’t always check out every bit of information someone gives us. It’s not possible. If it’s possible we have that option. Some would consider not checking all evidence lazy. But we can’t verify every single thing presented to us as fact. No one can.  We make a decision about what we’ve heard or read and we act on it. A doctor may tell us that if we go where others are sick we have a chance of picking up whatever bug they have. So we avoid it even though we neither see the virus nor do we know if these people are indeed sick with anything.  We decide to act on this knowledge or we don’t.

While I do not condone believing without evidence of ANY kind, I cannot say there is no evidence of religious beliefs at all and I don’t think Benson can either. Sure she can say what she wants, but I find it a weak argument; just as weak as someone saying that they can’t prove God doesn’t exist. Peter Enns writes about this very well in the article Benson quotes. And even the part she quotes to pick apart is the part that makes sense to me. Enns wrote:

To say that God’s existence is detectable with certainty through reason, logic, and evidence is a belief because it makes some crucial assumptions. For one thing, it assumes that our intellectual faculties are the best, or only, ways of accessing God. This is an assumption that privileges Western ways of knowing and excludes other wholly human qualities like emotion and intuition.

It also reduces God to an object, a thing, a being among all other beings, whose existence is as open to rational inquiry as anything else….

I don’t believe, as Benson does, that Enns is saying that Easterners aren’t logical. To me, what he’s saying is that we, in the Western world, have derided intuition and emotion and excluded them as legitimate means of knowing.  The East and their religions have not done such a thing. For them religion is experiential and part of the world. We on the other hand have separated out everything that we can’t objectify in a rational, critical manner.

My argument is that these are people I admire who have faith yet have kept all of their critical thinking faculties. I also work with people who are highly educated, who struggle with faith, and who believe, not all in the same way of course, but they believe. For me, this is evidence that God or something exists and that people believe in this something to enhance their lives and that millions of people, rightly or wrongly, believe that they interact with a supernatural element that provides some kind of guidance, comfort, or vision. I don’t believe in the bible, but I read it as a testimony about other peoples’ faith down through the centuries, just as I would any other written record of someone’s experience.

This kind of personal experience has also proven to me that evidence comes in many forms. I may hate the institutional straight-jacket that Christianity has become. I may hate bibliolatry and all that passes for critical thinking in religious circles. I may rail at clergy who take advantage of people because of their position of authority and I most assuredly abhor anyone who uses religion as a tool of violence or stamp of approval for their hideous rage, but deep down I cannot ever deny that there is something out there in the universe that defies scientific knowledge; something that weaves itself into the warp and weft of this world so intimately that living our very lives is a sacramental act. My threshold of believable evidence may be lower than Benson’s but for me it’s evidence nonetheless.

Plurality of Beliefs

This is one of the most helpful posts I’ve read on the plurality of belief systems.  My favorite bit:

In the main, I agree with what Prothero writes and the perspective that he takes. One of my early mentors who encouraged my academic investigations of Buddhism and Asian religion impressed upon me that if all religions are simply a path to the same thing that there was no reason for us to talk. That is and remains a fundamental principle of mine and is an important core around which to form an understand of pluralism as it exists in modern America.

If all paths indeed head to the same place, then no dialog is needed, right? I don’t necessarily ascribe to the “all paths..” viewpoint either and neither does Derek Olsen. Overall, it’s a fine post on where, positionally, the dialog should take place, and I don’t mean on the kitchen table either. (smile)

“Cursed is the One Who Trusts in Man..”

People who’ve read this blog know my struggles. They know the problems I’ve had with faith and with churches and with the bible.  I’ve turned my back on all three and I’ve turned to one or the other at various times since then. At one time, I thought I had the answers. Now I know I don’t. It’s clear to me that I will never have peace about it. When things are at their toughest I know where I choose to turn, but faith has to be more than just a fail-safe method when faced with hard times, illness, or even death.

During my recent struggles with major life changes (moving, divorce, illnesses) I’ve sometimes turned back to those things I swore I wouldn’t and I’m still confronted with the same old platitudes that make no sense to me. The bible is full of them. Church is full of them. Yet no one can explain what they mean or how it should be lived. For example, I am going to attend a series of studies put on by a local non-denominational church for those going through separation and divorce. I’m doing it for the support mainly, but of course there will be bible study and discussion. None of my hard questions are ever really answered there. I’m convinced that no one will be able to answer them, but studying them is still something I’m willing to entertain. Well, to set the tone of the support group, a series of emails are being mailed to me with short devotions about divorce. In yesterday’s devotion I was struck by this:

When you are making decisions regarding a new relationship, do not make any decisions based on your feelings. Feelings are temporal and not always rational, no matter how strongly you may feel them. Be wise and take the time to grow and to build your life on a strong foundation…The Bible says you should not depend on humans—yourself or other people—to be strong for you. You must only depend on God. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD'” (Jeremiah 17:5).

I can’t begin to tell you how many times Christians have said this in worship, in bible study, in prayer meetings, on television, on the internet, everywhere. Yet, no one can tell me what that really means. First, how can any human being NOT rely on feelings when feelings are all we have to communicate danger, anger, fright, love, etc.? What does it mean to shut down all feelings when decision making? I’d like an example. When faced with two decisions of equal weight and import, feelings are always the deciding factor, aren’t they? And what does it mean when someone writes “do not depend on humans–yourself or other people–to be strong for you. You must only depend on God.”??

God is an immaterial entity that does not directly interact with human beings in any discernibly supernatural way. When we need groceries do we pray for them? No, we wait until we have money and we buy them. Or someone takes pity on us and gives them to us. Was God being depended on in this situation or people? I’d say the people. Yet, we are “cursed” if we turn to them for help and not “the Lord.” Harsh. Christians always like to say that other Christians are “God with skin on.” Yet when Christians fail to help other Christians the failure is always on the part of those who “lacked faith.” This is cheap simplistic faith in my opinion.  If faith is true and worth anything, it needs to wrestle with the hard issues and not fall back on plastic platitudes that mean nothing in reality.

I am really struggling still with questions like these and how that’s supposed to play out in reality and I’ve been “converted” since 1983! I can’t settle for the easy answers because they mean nothing. Some Christians say they have numerous answers to “prayer” yet others say theirs are never answered. Would any of us dare to say that those who don’t receive are at fault for “lack of faith” or “depending too much on people for strength?”  I wouldn’t dare say that. Arrogance doesn’t become us in that instance. There are times that I’d really, really like to rely on my faith again, especially when things get tough. But, in the midst of it, I’m reminded of the less than comforting answers like those above. So, I’m still going to that bible study, which starts in September. And I’m going armed with questions like these. Any thoughts before I go?

Wake Up Call to Christians

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading this article at Exploring Our Matrix. He outlines what is wrong with the religious “right” in far more generous terms than you’ll find from the left. Civility is called for and his voice is it. A foretaste:

What is wrong with being on the right? There are voices in our time that seem to be leaning further and further in that direction, even though they would claim to abhor what Hitler did. Yet all it takes for history to repeat itself is a nation leaning in that direction, a leader willing to use the language of Christianity and conservativism to manipulate the populace and exploit their faith and enthusiasm, and a failure to care when those we disagree with are persecuted and punished. The spirit of the far right is absolutely antithetical to the heritage and foundations of American democracy. And it is precisely that democracy that protects Christianity as well as all other religions to present their case, to make their appeal, to urge any and all who will listen to follow their lead and adhere to their values and convictions – whether they are about abortion, social justice, or the editing of Veggie Tales on NBC.

It is only a faith that is insecure that wants to force itself on others through legislation, because of a lack of trust in the persuasive power of the message itself. It is only the faith of the proud that claims absolute certainty, as opposed to humility and absolute trust in God as the only one who truly knows with certainty.