The Ully-Verse

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Should We Believe In God? Faith and Reason

Faith vs. Reason
Should we believe in God?

Blind faith is part of an old form of learning in the Western Society. Charles Dickens once expounded in Hard Times that students would come to schools and be treated like empty vessels to be filled up with knowledge by the teachers. This type of approach has been used in many religious traditions for years. You go to a place of worship and the priest or spiritual teacher is supposed to fill you up with faith and spiritual juju--I mean what do you think spirituality is? A gas station? Hey, please fill me up with premium spirituality and get me a corndog while you're at it.

"Welcome to First Mount Sinai Baptipentecostal Church of the Latter Day Saints!!" , the nicely dressed church usher says in a friendly voice early on Sunday morning. She gives you a hug. "May I take your coat?"
"Sure," you reply, taking your coat off.
"May I take your brain?"
You stop in puzzlement with visions of hungry zombies dancing in your head.
"Excuse me?"
She looks at you with a smile and asks again:
"Can I take your brain, sir?", she says again, with an ever innocent smile. Laughingly, you ask "Why would you need my brain?"
A bright smile comes across the usher's face as she says confidently , "Oh, you won't need it in there. We don't do any thinking: Just believe. It has nothing to do with your mind whatsoever."
Thank God! Haha Irony, I see, is not without a sense of humor.

People teach that God - however defined - certainly exists, and we must believe this to be so. But should we believe in God just because we are told to?

Most religions say "Yes", but many modern people no longer will blindly accept such claims. In fact, most "believers" in God don't actually believe in God, as they have no particular definition of God in mind. They merely affirm that a statement (e.g. "God is real") is true without having any idea what the content of that statement is, if any.

I am not to define God here, as this would be futile. Many people, like me, require a firmer basis for their beliefs than a blind appeal to authority. In fact, one can go further, and point out that it may well be immoral to have beliefs without a logical basis. Consider why this is so...

'Everybody's entitled to their own opinion' goes the platitude, meaning that everybody has the right to believe whatever they want. But is that really true? Are there no limits on what is permissible to believe? Or, as in the case of actions, are some beliefs immoral? Surprisingly, perhaps, many have argued that just as we have a moral duty not to perform certain sorts of actions, so we have a moral duty not to have certain sorts of beliefs. No one has expressed this point of view more forcefully than the mathematician W. K. Clifford: 'It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.' Others of similar stature have echoed this sentiment. Biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, for example, declared, 'It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.'

And Brand Blanshard has proclaimed that where great human goods and ills are involved, the distortion of belief from any sort of avoidable cause is immoral, and the more immoral the greater the stakes.

These men think it wrong for belief to outstrip the evidence because our actions are guided by our beliefs, and if our beliefs are mistaken, our actions may be misguided.

As Blanshard indicated, the more important the decision, the greater our duty to align our beliefs with the evidence, and the greater the crime if we don't. Where not much hangs on the belief, it might be thought that what one believes has little importance. But Clifford claims that even in trivial matters we have a duty to proportion our belief to the evidence:
'Every time we let ourselves believe for unworthy reasons, we weaken our powers of self-control, of doubting, of judicially and fairly weighing evidence. We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to.... But a greater and wider evil arises when the credulous character is maintained and supported, when a habit of believing for unworthy reasons is fostered and made permanent.'

According to Clifford, responsible believing is a skill that can be maintained only through constant practice. And since responsible believing is a prerequisite for responsible acting, we have a duty to foster this skill.

While this line of reasoning goes against what most religious people believe, I am firmly persuaded by the logic. Thus, we should not believe in God without reason. It seems, then, that we would be obligated to search for reasonable arguments to believe in God. Finding such reason we would be obliged to believe in God; lacking such reason we would be obliged to dismiss God's existence as a unproven hypothesis. This is fun.

The most popular and convincing arguments for God's existence that, in various forms, still exist today, are listed below:
  1. The ontological argument: God's existence follows necessarily from a definition of what He is.
  2. The teleological argument (aka argument from design). It is highly improbable that the balanced order of the universe arose accidentally.
  3. The cosmological argument: The world must have been put together at some point in time; it could not have made itself, therefore, it must have been created, and the creator must be God.
  4. The cosmological argument from motion. Maimonides held that "since things in the world are in motion and no finite thing can move itself, every motion must be caused by another; but since this leads to an infinite regress, which is unintelligible, there must be an unmoved mover at the beginning of the series. This unmoved mover is God."
  5. The contingent existence argument: "Another of Maimonides' arguments begins from the fact that the existence of all things in our experience is contingent, i.e., their existence begins and ends in time, so that each thing can be conceived as not existing. Contingent existence is unintelligible, unless there is at least one necessary existence, one being whose existence is eternal and independent of all cause, standing behind it. Maimonides laid great stress on the conception of God as necessary existence."
  6. The Kuzari argument: God revealed His existence to man in a public historical event. "Saadiah and Judah Halevi offered a non-philosophical argument. Since the revelation at Sinai took place in the presence of 600,000 adults [according to the Torah] there is public evidence that places the fact of God's existence beyond all reasonable doubt." This argument is one of the most popular arguments accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community, but most people have long rejected this as a case of circular reasoning: This logic is only convincing if one assumes that that this event took place as described in the Torah, but that is precisely what people need to prove to make the claim tenable.
Atheism was known in the Middle Ages, and was countered by the various proofs for the existence of God that were common to all medieval philosophical theology. Yet, since the dominant medieval culture was overwhelmingly religious, atheism constituted only a minor threat. In modern times atheism became a significant and widely held doctrine, based on and reinforced by naturalistic scientific ideas and scientifically oriented philosophy. The classical proofs for God's existence have been largely discredited and no longer provide a satisfactory ground for theism.

However, all is not lost. Modern theists usually offer arguments for the existence of God, but do not claim that they have proofs. These arguments, though not decisive, provide a justification for the theistic option, since it is claimed that these are matters about which no demonstrative certainty is possible. In the 20th century theistic belief usually rests on a combination of admittedly incomplete intellectual evidence and personal faith and commitment.

Thus, while there is no one proof that proves that an omnipotent God exists, there are a set of proofs that, taken together, may be used to construct an argument that it is at least reasonable to believe that God exists.

I think that few people would argue that blind faith is good faith. In many ways, it really is its own kind of superstition. Where superstition falls outside of religious approval, blind faith often falls within those boundaries. Both presuppose that you should simply believe in something because someone else tells you or because of past precedents that often have little relevance to the present moment. To me, blind faith is not an internal faith in God, the divine, or the universe. Blind faith is more like saying, "I am supposed to believe in God, and I do. I believe in everything without question." It's this last part that so problematic. True faith is an inner alignment with yourself and with God. It's a balance of trusting the universe to provide and doing your part to co-create with the Creator.

I think this is a great quote from which to approach authentic faith:

"But, whatever, after thorough investigation and reflection, you find to agree with reason and experience, as conducive to the good and benefit of one and all and of the world at large, accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it." -- The Buddha

Anyone on the spiritual path or who has moved into the intensity of awakening has probably come across the truth that you have to relearn how to live. So many things are out of alignment with reality that it's made things a huge mess. You can watch the nightly news or listen to the arguments in your family if you don't believe this. You have to relearn how to engage with the world and find real truth--not just what someone else wants or needs you to believe. Faith is no different. Blind faith will have you following around a pastor, priestess, or teacher with no ownership of your path or your own will. You will give up your power, possibly even money, to get that spiritual juju from them, forgetting that you have it all along.

It gets worse. Blind faith will lead you down difficult paths. It leads you into problems simply so that you have to open your eyes. It's like refusing to look at a map while boldly telling everyone that you know where you're going. Once you're hopelessly lost, maybe then you'll get out that map and its accompanying compass. In the mean time, you are extremely easy to manipulate. You are blindly shepherded around because you put all your faith in someone who supposedly speaks in the name of God, but you don't maintain your own awareness and faith in yourself to discern truth from fiction from hidden agenda. Pretty soon you're giving up your life savings to a spiritual con artist--this isn't just provocative writing; we've seen this before.

I've been delving into issues of the mind in past blogs, but one place where it can be the champion is in bringing reason to faith. The two need to be in balance as you move into spiritual awakening. The awakening process is so tumultuous and muddied at times as you clean out soul-gunk that your perspective can get really skewed. It's a temporary situation, and having a clear line of balanced faith helps to guide you through. A discerning, rational mind helps you to hold faith in yourself as well as the divine. It teaches you to discern what spiritual teachers and communities to trust and be around. You don't have to make snap decisions on this path, but when situations arise, it will be clearer what you need to do. Blind faith will simply get you and others in your life hurt. It's a way of trying to get out of your responsibility to engage and analyze your life. While there are parts of life that we over-analyze, a little bit of this logic is a good thing, and a balanced sense of faith instead of a blind faith will help you through your main hurdles in life and on the spiritual path.

Anyone who has been in love or infatuated can tell you that feelings are not a valid criteria upon which to make important decisions or judgments. Feelings are deceptive and at the same time blinding. Decisions based on emotions almost always tend to blind ones reason and cloud ones judgment. Logic demands objective evidence and an understanding before its states anything as fact.

This is a work in progress, and Pascals Wager is left out, but should I include it? Thoughts?


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Who Are You... Ullyses?

I am a polymath, universalist, critical thinker, and self declared anarcho-pacifist. I do my best as a teacher and I'm kind of a clumsy farmer.

What do you enjoy doing, Ullyses?

I really enjoy writing, even though it is most difficult for me, similar to how I feel about being an artist.

What are you doing for work these days?

I am trying to find a name for what I am doing, its an amalgam of social networking, storytelling, and exploiting technology for the purpose of inspiring others to fall in love with an idea and or product. Like a digital cupid with techno-ninja tendencies.

You seem like you have had an interesting life, Ullyses, tell me more about that.

I have had some the most epic journeys one could imagine. I lived in Africa helping train doctors how to treat AIDS, managed a Chinese karaoke bar, backpacked for a year all over Afica, wandered India, was a Buddhist Monk, starting businesses all over the globe, fell in love, lost everything, gained everything and lost it again, have been loved and hated and admired and despised. I have experienced what it means to be human.

You seem awesome.

I am.

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