A very kind stranger inquired about my faith and my loss of it. My response to her was something I wanted to share, as that is the intent of this blog and it contains far too little of that kind of discussion. Please feel free to share your thoughts, your experiences or where you are with your faith.
I lost my faith a long time ago. In college, over twenty years ago. It was winter time. I think 1993. Of course it was complicated why I lost my faith, but I think if I had to summarize it, it was because what I saw of the world, of institutions and of people, did not measure up to what I believed my faith encompassed and required.
I saw the hypocrisy of organized religion and the hypocrisy of the actions of the religious. I saw that hypocrisy in myself too. I viewed and experienced my faith primarily through the structures of organized religion and found such a relationship to be restrictive and negative. Organized religion ran hard against the realities of life, both the joys and the sorrows, and so I rejected religion and chose life. I have to admit James Joyce had quite an influence on me :).
But now, after living nearly two decades without faith, living a full life, with many joys and much suffering, particularly witnessing the suffering of others, I am finding that my rejection of my faith was wrong. I am certainly anti-institution and I see quite clearly the hypocrisy of the religious, but I am now understanding the teachings of Jesus and Buddha to be individual teachings and through that I am discovering and enjoying an intimate and personal relationship with the Father, as well as an appreciation and desire for the path to Enlightenment.
The wars had nothing to do with the loss of my faith, as I had lost it over a decade before. The wars did further strangle my soul and they ensured the impossibility within my mind of any connection to or any thought of the spiritual or to Truth (big “T” truth). With healing and with recovery, through the help of many: friends, family and strangers; professional health care providers, fellow veterans and kind strangers; I have come back to faith.
Or maybe, I haven’t. Maybe I have come to understand something I never did, something I never truly understood or experienced. That faith, that understanding and acceptance of something greater than you and this world, exists as a personal relationship not bound or ruled by man-made dictates or organizations.
What I do know is that my life is better with faith and that I have a purpose in my life as a result of my suffering, as a result of these wars, rather than in spite of them.
Thank you to Angela for her question and for prompting me to reflect.
14 thoughts on “Brief Thought on Faith”
“I think the most important part of having “faith” is making it our own, not trying in any way to fit it into anyone else’s idea of what is valid or real. The benefit of prayer related to that faith gives us a direction to send thanks, and a place to check what is most important to us, and our role in this world. Most folks still look to others for their notions of what to believe in, and end up never having a faith that is truly their own. What an incredible mystery this life is,, we have no idea where this all came from, and we have no idea of where we might be going, and our challenges in this life are just as small or as great as we make them. I find generally that the folks who have accepted the greatest challenges are the ones who depend most upon their faith. The quiet Quaker meetings I attend when I can are the only “religious” assemblies where I do not react against being taught or indoctrinated, it does not exist there. And quite hopefully, God has a sense of humor, and will laugh at all my mistakes and hubris !! I love the small family prayer at supper, just a moment where everyone reflects for a moment on this mystery of life, and says thank you . If prayer is not used for any other reason, let it be used for being grateful. And let prayer for those who want to change this world be a place where they always find hope and comfort and encouragement, and perhaps just the lightest pat on the back for trying to make this a wiser and kinder world.””
Faith, I think, is a belief in capital-L Love. It is a glimpse at the shining thread that connects all of our lives together. It is the soul-shaking certainty that the only thing worth doing in life is caring for one another. It is the humbling knowledge that we are made to love and be loved.
My religion–flawed and scarred as it will always be–brings me back to this faith when everyday life obscures it. I think that’s the role of religion, but its been used for so many other purposes that, for some, it no longer does its job. That’s ok. Love will find another way. Your story is proof. Your story is also a sacrament–an outward symbol of God’s grace. Thank you for sharing.
I was raised in a very Christian home, belonged to a New Age group, studied many “-isms” : Judaism, Paganism, Taoism, and Buddhism. I even retreated to a Buddhist Monastery for a couple of years. More recently, for obvious reasons, I’ve been reading the Qur’an and studying Islam. However, through it all, I can’t seem to find “Faith”. I can find no spiritual feeling of confidence, emotional connectivity, or belief in any “one” be it unseen trust or greater power of peace.
I mean, how do we shape our faith – around ourselves? Or, do we shape ourselves to a “greater” religious structure of faith? Can we trust ourselves, have confidence in our own decisions, and believe in our own processes for peace, over the established religious structures of our time?
I really can’t answer that, for while I like to think of myself as a well educated, patient, generous person with a good heart – I just don’t have confidence or trust in myself. I can’t pick and choose my religious guidance or belief, when it’s in my own nature to accept those things I like and naturally dismiss those I don’t like. Where then is the struggle for spiritual growth, clarity of beliefs, and fortitude of faith? If I don’t wrestle within the structures of religion, how can I grasp the idea of truth, be strengthened in my weaknesses, correct my moral boundaries, and find spiritual guidance?
So one looks at the religious structures of our time. A complex realm of division, hypocrisy, and crude, human judgements. How do I put my trust in religion, so I can have the structure of “divine” guidance or insight into a “higher” judgement? To make any of the necessary changes, not because I want to, but because it is required of me. How do I struggle to guide and restrain myself to a purpose, a morality, higher than myself, while I watch “great” religions tear others down and each other apart?
So, without dragging this on with a philosophic discussion regarding the corruptibility of human interpretation of the Divine or man’s inherent nature (on his own merits) be it “good” or “evil” – quite simply, I don’t have faith. Not in myself, not in others, not in some mysterious force or “greater” power, and all in all… it’s rather lonely.
Thank you so much for sharing this D. It’s giving me a lot to think about. This strikes me especially: “If I don’t wrestle within the structures of religion, how can I grasp the idea of truth, be strengthened in my weaknesses, correct my moral boundaries, and find spiritual guidance?”
For the first two and a half centuries, give or take, Christians adhered closely to Christ. The church frightened my favorite critic, Celsus (ca. AD 160), for the exact opposite reasons outsiders fear dominianists today. Celsus criticized Christians for refusing military service or holding political office (he would be happy today). It horrified him that Christians might convert the empire’s leaders and turn them into non-combatants and leave the empire defenseless. The church became political when Constantine’s offered the quid-pro-quo: I’ll end the persecution if you help me unify the empire. The church bit the apple. EMPERORS, not church leaders, called the first eight ecumenical councils, a clear sign that they had interposed themselves between Christ and the church. Christendom was born—a disaster for both church and state. The church is not all bad, but where it has been ugly, it has been ugly. The church/state nexus is responsible for seventeen centuries of persecuting Jews culminating in the Shoah, which led to the misguided movement of Zionism and the post-1948 ME turmoil. Much to my deep sorrow, as a resurrection believing but imperfect Christian, the church lost its way; the exceptions are too rare. My congregation is not one of the exceptions, but I love ’em—with a lover’s quarrel. My apologies for the length of the post; believe me, there is much more to say.
Thanks for writing. You are hitting an issue very much in my mind, thoughts and spirit. This notion of interposition of the Emperors between Christ and the Church and the creation of Christendom at the expense of Christianity as always been present in my contemplations on what is faith since I first started seriously studying religion in a secular setting in college.
Do you have any recommendations for further reading?
This quote, “The church bit the apple” is perfect.
Matthew, you asked Bob about a recommended reading but what the heck, I’ll pipe in. I just finished a good book on this topic called “When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome” by Richard Rubenstein. He writes in a fascinating yet well-researched narrative format of the 4th century AD, which was pivotal in many ways, beginning with the 325 Council of Nicaea and ending in 381 with Emperor Theodosius’ outlawing all religious systems except for the orthodox (i.e. state sanctioned) form of Christianity. Anyways, thank you for sharing your story on Democracy Now. It really touched me.
Thanks Mike! I appreciate your words and your suggestion. Please feel free to add any thoughts.
Shalom Matthew Hoh,
Being moved by your “Brief Thought on Faith” blog posting, I feel the need to share a few of my thoughts on this subject too, as I feel very similar to you in as far as the hypocrisy of organized religion and such.
In my personal journey on faith and the Christian question, I have come to the conclusion that what we generally see in the world is the perverted, earthly manifestation of it. This left me with the desire to doggedly dig for the root of it.
Because of this, I have come out much better off, as now I simply struggle with the question of what do I call myself: a Christian or, just simply, a Believer?
One thing I can say for sure, while wrestling through my own paradigm shift and gaining knowledge through reversing syncretized Christianity to the first century, my faith has grown by leaps and bounds.
I now prefer “The Scripture of Truth” translation, and ISR/The Scriptures versions as they both put back Yahweh’s Hebrew name that has been removed around 7,000 times.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
Another parable He put before them, saying, “The reign of the heavens is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is less than all the seeds, but when it is grown it is greater than the plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and dwell in its branches. (Tehillim (Psalms)104:12, Yehezqel (Ezekiel)17:23; 31:6, Dan 4:12) The Scriptures ISR
And He said, “To what shall we compare the reign of Elohim? Or with what parable shall we present it? Like a mustard seed, which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth, and when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all plants, and forms large branches, so that the birds of the heaven are able to nest under its shade.” The Scriptures ISR
Therefore He said, “What is the reign of Elohim like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his garden. And it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the heavens nested in its branches.” The Scriptures ISR
This is very interesting thank you. I’ll have to look at those translations as you suggest. As you can tell I bothered as well by the corruption of faith by institutions and readily agree that what we have now, 2,000 years after Jesus’ death, is an institutionalized religion t that has amended the nature of its faith to assist its (the institution’s and its associates) survival and proliferation. Please continue to comment.
Shalom Matthew Hoh,
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against Yahweh; for it is not subject to the law of Yahweh, nor indeed can be.
I feel very blessed to have discovered this presentation and was able to continue to find a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Discovering the Hebrew Roots of Christianity
“In this full-length video, we will take a journey through the scriptures and examine the Hebraic Roots from a biblical perspective, seeking to discover what the Messiah and the first century believers were really like.”
I struggled with the Trinity Doctrine dogma and found this to be a huge blessing.
06/16/2012 – “Trinity, Oneness or None of the Above? – Part 1”
06/23/2012 – “Trinity, Oneness or None of the Above? – Part 2”
Thank you Ardella.
The holy waters
of all the seas
are not enough
to baptize you
Why should you wait
for such small means
When all you need
is a drop of the ocean
To resurrect your soul
in the infinite sky.
Thank you Ria. Can I post this on my page?