Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The experience that unites

Pardon the interference, but I am going to respectfully request that the debate over belief vs. atheism -- and its accompanying issue of biblical authority -- be put aside for now. Not only is the argument becoming repetitive, overheated and personal, but it is not what I intend the focus of this blog to be.

As the description at the right states, I hope this will be a place where people of differing beliefs can peacefully discuss their experiences of the sacred. That won't happen if the entire conversation centers on whether any belief is ignorant or foolish.

I feel sure we'll get back to battles of intellect and dogma at some point, but for now I'd like to delve into matters of heart and spirit. Because while creeds divide us, experiences of the divine unite us. That's why the mystics in every religion describe remarkably similar experiences, even as their theologians insist there is no common ground.

The common ground is God's presence.

I have encountered this powerful, loving Other at unexpected times, in unexpected places. In prayerful solitude and in noisy crowds. In corporate worship and on the back steps of my home. On a moonlit beach and elbow-deep in dishwater. Holding an infant and standing in a pulpit. Singing with a hundred other voices and chanting softly in an empty sanctuary.

I'll be more specific in my next post. But what about you? Have you felt this presence? What were the circumstances? Has the experience changed you?

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are right, religious people do seem to have things in common:

"Researchers are unearthing the roots of religious feeling in the neural commotion that accompanies the spiritual epiphanies of nuns, Buddhists and other people of faith"

http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=434D7C62-E7F2-99DF-37CC9814533B90D7

Interesting reading. (It is not bashing, it is just explaining where the feelings you experience came from.)

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Jane,keep up the good work. There must be a reason Iztok keeps on reading your posts...

D.J. said...

Without question, my most profound encounters and experiences with God have come through his Word. God has revealed himself to mankind in a general sense through creation. As we look at the beauty of the world around us, we see his power, his beauty, his creativity, and other broad strokes of his presence. This is the "common ground" that Jane speaks of. However, I believe that God has revealed himself perfectly through the person of Jesus Christ and through Scripture. Through this specific revelation we know things we cannot discern as well from the natural world - God's holiness, his wisdom, his justice, his grace, and his love. Thus, I cannot divorce my experience of God from God's revelation of himself. I have had similar experiences to the ones Jane mentions (encountering God in everyday life), but those experiences are under the umbrella of who God has revealed himself to be. To separate the two in order to claim a spirit of unity with Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists, etc., is to sacrifice the importance of God's self-revealed character on the altar of what is utlimately a shallow and false unity. I strive to live peaceably with all people of all faiths, but my conscience will not allow me to sacrifice truth for the sake of commonality. Jane, I know you wish to set the issue of Biblical authority aside for now, but I cannot answer this post honestly without stating that I cannot divorce my experience of God from his revealed character. I share your aim of peacefully discussing our experience of the sacred, but I cannot do so without my belief in Scripture as perfect, authoritative divine revelation. For me to do so would be spiritually and intellectualy dishonest.

Also, you mention that my discussion with Iztok was becoming "overheated and personal." If I am guilty in this regard, could you please point out what comments you found troubling? I say this not to be brash, but with all seriousness. If I have been angry, spiteful, or malicious with my comments, then I have been grossly misrepresenting Christ, and I humbly ask you to bring these areas to my attention, that I may repent and change. Here's to continued great discussion of the most important ideas of all!

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

Iztok,

I sincerely appreciate your point of view as I was once very critical of religion and its trappings. I despised going to church as a complete waste of time. I felt offended when anyone associated with religion mentioned money.

I grew up as a mormon in Salt Lake City and experienced religion as a business (and a mighty profitable one at that). To say the least, I was a great religious critic and felt that "religion" was a just another line of work that exploited the idea of God for a dollar.

This went on throughout all of my high school, college years and well into my 30's. I can't mention the things I did or thought about doing during those years. Well, really, they were just things that I see most of our youth doing today, but still unmentionable.

Even during those years, I felt a pull back to living a righteous life. It may have been something I learned during my church experiences as a youth or it may be hardwired in my soul. I don't know and can't explain it.

I had three children over the course of 9 years, but never really got back into "religion". I attended several different churches at the urging of my wife because we wanted to "get the kids involved" (Do you have kids?) I think this is a normal feeling for parents to want to live well and set a good example.

Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I had related church to good living.. Still, I could not connect with people who called themselves "religious". It felt very foreign to me and, really, I sort of felt like "religious" people were decieving themselves. Oh, did I mention I was miserable and could not sleep at night?

At the urging of some newly found friends, I began to attend a non-demonational church with my wife and children last year while we lived in Florida. I was EXTREMELY hesitant due to past experiences at various Mormon, Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist religious institutions (all of which I attended to please either family, wife, children or friends). What was so different at this church was that the teachings were taken from the Bible. Everyone had a Bible. Everyone opened the Bible. They even (dare I say) READ the bible during service! It was strange to see the Bible open throughout the entire service and constantly referred to. I had never seen that before. Granted, Bible verses had been referenced, but never as the absolute basis of teaching.

After several services (I was extremely uncomfortable for the first few), soemthing began to be revealed to me through the reading of Scripture. Slowly, my ears and eyes were opened. Now, I don't want to get into a biblical semantics discussion with you because you obviously have dissected the Bible time an time again. Here is what I do know. The purpose of life and a source of new hope and joy were revealed to me that I had never experienced before. Suddenly, I had found the owner's manual to life. I couldn't open the Bible without finding a scripture that showed me the right way to do life.

I know that when I follow the wisdom in the Bible, my life goes well, I feel connected to God and I have true joy and peace. When I don't, I am miserable. This, to me, is absolute truth. Whether some psychologist has shown that this is due to human neural pathways is irrelevant if I believe that we were designed by God - "hardwired" to let God lead us through our design.

I can't imagine doing life without God. He has continually rescued me from the depths. He has come through for me and answered my prayers - SPECIFIC prayers. I didn't just say "OK God, if you exist, here is a prayer, if you answer it, I might consider believing in you". That never worked for me (and believe me, I tried). Just the contrary. When I let go of control, prayed and FULLY believed that God would come through - that is when he answered. These are things that could not happen by coincidence or luck.

Church for me now is so much more than a place to connect with other people. It is where I get fed. It is where I learn about God's wisdom and his love for us. Yes the Bible was literally written by men, but did you ever wonder how this book has held up to the test of time and provided peace and joy to billions of people all over the world? I say it is through God's hand that the Bible was written.

I know through my limited time studying the Bible that its power is divine and all of the human dissection will never be able to explain why the Bible works the way it does and is timeless. I'll have to wait until I die to find that one out...

Oh and by the way, I sure sleep a lot better at night KNOWING that I have God on my side. Our home is more harmonious and my marriage is strong. It wouldn't be without the Bible as my "How to Do Life for Dummies".

Thanks for letting me share..

JJ

Anonymous said...

Iztok,

I sincerely appreciate your point of view as I was once very critical of religion and its trappings. I despised going to church as a complete waste of time. I felt offended when anyone associated with religion mentioned money.

I grew up as a mormon in Salt Lake City and experienced religion as a business (and a mighty profitable one at that). To say the least, I was a great religious critic and felt that "religion" was a just another line of work that exploited the idea of God for a dollar.

This went on throughout all of my high school, college years and well into my 30's. I can't mention the things I did or thought about doing during those years. Well, really, they were just things that I see most of our youth doing today, but still unmentionable.

Even during those years, I felt a pull back to living a righteous life. It may have been something I learned during my church experiences as a youth or it may be hardwired in my soul. I don't know and can't explain it.

I had three children over the course of 9 years, but never really got back into "religion". I attended several different churches at the urging of my wife because we wanted to "get the kids involved" (Do you have kids?) I think this is a normal feeling for parents to want to live well and set a good example.

Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I had related church to good living.. Still, I could not connect with people who called themselves "religious". It felt very foreign to me and, really, I sort of felt like "religious" people were decieving themselves. Oh, did I mention I was miserable and could not sleep at night?

At the urging of some newly found friends, I began to attend a non-demonational church with my wife and children last year while we lived in Florida. I was EXTREMELY hesitant due to past experiences at various Mormon, Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist religious institutions (all of which I attended to please either family, wife, children or friends). What was so different at this church was that the teachings were taken from the Bible. Everyone had a Bible. Everyone opened the Bible. They even (dare I say) READ the bible during service! It was strange to see the Bible open throughout the entire service and constantly referred to. I had never seen that before. Granted, Bible verses had been referenced, but never as the absolute basis of teaching.

After several services (I was extremely uncomfortable for the first few), soemthing began to be revealed to me through the reading of Scripture. Slowly, my ears and eyes were opened. Now, I don't want to get into a biblical semantics discussion with you because you obviously have dissected the Bible time an time again. Here is what I do know. The purpose of life and a source of new hope and joy were revealed to me that I had never experienced before. Suddenly, I had found the owner's manual to life. I couldn't open the Bible without finding a scripture that showed me the right way to do life.

I know that when I follow the wisdom in the Bible, my life goes well, I feel connected to God and I have true joy and peace. When I don't, I am miserable. This, to me, is absolute truth. Whether some psychologist has shown that this is due to human neural pathways is irrelevant if I believe that we were designed by God - "hardwired" to let God lead us through our design.

I can't imagine doing life without God. He has continually rescued me from the depths. He has come through for me and answered my prayers - SPECIFIC prayers. I didn't just say "OK God, if you exist, here is a prayer, if you answer it, I might consider believing in you". That never worked for me (and believe me, I tried). Just the contrary. When I let go of control, prayed and FULLY believed that God would come through - that is when he answered. These are things that could not happen by coincidence or luck.

Church for me now is so much more than a place to connect with other people. It is where I get fed. It is where I learn about God's wisdom and his love for us. Yes the Bible was literally written by men, but did you ever wonder how this book has held up to the test of time and provided peace and joy to billions of people all over the world? I say it is through God's hand that the Bible was written.

I know through my limited time studying the Bible that its power is divine and all of the human dissection will never be able to explain why the Bible works the way it does and is timeless. I'll have to wait until I die to find that one out...

Oh and by the way, I sure sleep a lot better at night KNOWING that I have God on my side. Our home is more harmonious and my marriage is strong. It wouldn't be without the Bible as my "How to Do Life for Dummies".

Thanks for letting me share..

JJ

Anonymous said...

whoops.. didn't mean to post twice.. new at this..

JJ

D.J. said...

JJ,

Thanks for taking the time to tell us your story. What a beautiful example of the power of God's word. God bless.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

JJ,

I do have kids. My life was never tormented with bad habits so I can't really go back and say I regret certain parts of it. I was raised as an atheist and my search for religion came later as an adult. I never slept around, I was always a responsible social drinker, never did drugs, never smoked, always willing to help others. As far as kids go, I have several kids that call me dad, none of them are biological, but all of them know I will always be there for them when they need me. The oldest one just turned 21 and is finishing college, 20 year old has another year to go, 18 year old is finishing her freshmen year and 16 year old (the only one that doesn't call me dad - yet) has been with us for little over 3 months and is sophomore in high school. All four of my daughters believe in God (two are orthodox Christians) and I've always encouraged them to make their own educated decisions when it comes to things like that.

I've been told on several occasions (from people that didn't know I am an atheist) I am being a good example of being a Christian. I don't get it however where people would assume this. My wife laughs about it and knows what I am going to say in response to that. The funny part is their reaction of surprise and shock when they find out I am an atheist.

OK, I need to cut this short I need to run and pick up my kid from school.

Sincerely,
Iztok

P.S.: Hope I was constructive this time :)

Anonymous said...

Iztok,

You were constructive. I think someone telling you that you are an example of a good christian is really a compliment. After all, it sounds like you have what people would consider "Christian" values. Rememeber that you are in the Bible belt. Good luck with fatherhood and I wish you the best.

JJ

Anonymous said...

JJ, I am sorry but while I know people mean well saying I live a good Christian life it really is an insult when it comes down to it for anyone who is not Christian.

Why? Latest stats (the ones I cound find) show that there is about 10% (give or take) non-theists in US and we only make about 0.2% of the prison population. It shows that 25% of the college professors are non-theist, when it comes to science academies (such as National Academy of Science in US), the percentage goes even much higher (90s). So as you see, being associated with Christianity (or any other religion) while well meant by the person who comments this can not be well received if receiver is a non-theist and is open and honest about the comment being made.

Same goes with "I am praying for you" comments. It is insulting even when knowing it is well meant. I can let it go when people don't know about it, but not when they know I don't believe in deities.

"You live a Christian life" and "I'll be praying for you" have no backing up in reality. Good people do good things because they are good (as a result of evolution) and not because they are religious (those who do good because of religious reasons aren't that moral in my book, because what they are saying is that if they were not faced with consequences - disproportional punishment in hell vs. heaven - they would not be as good). (I don't subscribe into salvation by faith alone as I can't even imagine that Christians like Hitler would go to heaven simply because they believed in Jesus and repent at the last moment.) And when it comes to the prayer thing... no single study has shown that prayer works (Templeton Foundation sponsored studies about this!) at all (in fact intermediary prayer was shown slightly worse results for those who knew they were prayed for then the control group). So no I don't find me being told I live Christian life as a true compliment that I know it was meant to be and further more "praying for me" is really insulting if one knows that I am not religious at all.

Makes sense?

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Christianity is not a list of do's and don'ts - it is a life lived by the grace of God through faith in Christ to the glory of God. Thus, I agree, Iztok, to say you live a "Christian life," is very shallow and misguided.

However, why would it be "insulting" for someone to pray for you? I believe that God exists. The fact that you believe God doesn't exist does not change that. I believe wholeheartedly that you are missing the purpose that you were created for - namely, to glorify God and enjoy him forever. How am I hurling an insult by praying for you to experience the only thing that I believe can perfectly satisfy your soul?

Friend, I have been praying for you over the past few weeks. Though we've never met, I have tremendously enjoyed our discussions and I wish you happiness. Yet I believe that true happiness is found in Christ alone. Thus, I pray this for you. If that offends you, then consider me offensive.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

for the same reason you find some of my posts offensive (and you said they are) I find "praying for me" offensive. It simply in my mind negates reason.

As far as purpose I was created for. My "creators" were my parents. They've created me for very much the same reason any living being creates its offspring. We are here for our offspring. Having said that I have to agree that my purpose is not getting fulfilled (not having biological kids of my own).

I also think that anyone expecting people to glorify him is just way off base. That reminds me of North Korea and from personal experience Yugoslavia. With one exception, you can get out of North Korea at least by dying, while in your case this is not an option as you are either ending up glorifying forever or end up in hell forever. Either way in my eyes it is bad proposition (not to mention that eternal hell is bit disproportionate to any sin). So no, I in no way shape or form wish to glorify anyone because I am expected to in order to get on his/her good side.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

If you are interested in a good treatment of why it is not "off-base" for God to demand glory and praise, check out this article by John Piper, one of the best pastor/theologians around today. This is a letter he wrote to a columnist from the London Financial Times who expressed concerns almost identical to yours.

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2003/1245_An_Open_Letter_to_Michael_Prowse/

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

no one can demand glory and praise. You either earn it or you don't. I don't expect my kids to glorify and praise me (despite the fact that I am changing their life for the better). Respect is earned in my eyes.

I've read the article and it is nothing really new there. There is really no difference from God demanding glory and praise to leader of North Korea demanding one. I remember former Yugoslavia and how Tito was praised and glorified with much the same rationalization. One exception was that we all knew Tito was real, jury is still out (and always will be) on God. (For me at least until he appears in front of me in person. Which is not too much to ask considering he has supposedly done to hundreds of people in the past.) Or a true documented medical miracle happens that has no explanation in reality (such as amputee growing limb, now that would be a miracle, but I guess God doesn't like amputees that much to waste his omnipotence on them).

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

DJ et all...

My last post is off the topic a bit. So I apologize. But because this is about experience the last part makes sense. I only expect some proof of existence and omnipotence etc... before I would believe. I don't think it is too much to ask. So when you say you pray for me, how about praying for a poor amputee to grow his limb back instead? That will certainly convince me in he process and do more good to the amputee. Until anything like a true miracle happens I remain unconvinced by people's experiences.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Wow... this just keeps on going.

Iztok, the only thing I can say is that if you are right, when I die, then I've lost nothing and lived a life centered in others. If DJ and I are right, then you've lost everything. I guess that is what faith is about.. believing in something you can't see,touch, taste, smell, etc.. Otherwise it would be just observation. The funny thing is, I get the feeling that the medical community would find a way to explain that limb growing back.
I think God not poking his head out of the clouds (figuratively speaking) deepens the mystery and draw to Him. Like I said before, I won't meet God until I die. If there is nothing on the other side, I don't have to worry about paying taxes anymore. If there is... wow... I can only imagine...

I say we agree to disagree (I am sure you are used to that) and DJ and I will continue to pray for you (sorry about offending, but regardless of your lack of love for Him, he still loves you)

JJ

D.J. said...

JJ,

Thanks for your contributions to the blog. I have to disagree with your last statement, though. If Iztok is right that God does not exist, then we are fools. Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 that if we have hope in Christ in this life only then we are the saddest souls on the planet. If the gospel is not true, then we have wasted our lives in foolish devotion to a dead Jewish guy. Praise be to God that the gospel IS true and we serve a risen Christ, who will raise us up on the last day (John 6)! Thanks for your love of the Scriptures, brother, and thanks for joining the conversation!

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

JJ,

you bring up false dichotomy. It is not just if I am right or wrong. We both can be wrong as there are several hundred different gods available for you to choose from. It is not a matter of god exists or not it is also a matter have if god exists, which of the hundreds available is the right one.

And also I don't think you've read your scriptures. Your God doesn't love me and according to your scripture I am going to hell. You know that, DJ knows that, I know that and everyone else who really read the Bible knows that. So lets stop pretending here, if God exists I am going to hell (according to you). This is not love, love comes unconditional, what your God demands is compulsory love to him.

I am ok with that. If i am wrong I am going to face God and honestly stand up and admit I was wrong but I based my decision on clear thinking and (lack of) evidence. I think that using scapegoat is not moral and I refuse to participate in such immoral behavior (simple thinking that Jesus died for our sins is nothing but scapegoating). I think everyone should be responsible for its own actions and scapegoating Jesus is utterly immoral act.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Iztok
I have been reading this "blog" for some time now, and am so glad to hear I am Not alone in what I feel! You make Very Good Points, and say things I would like to say, Much better then I ever could. I Too get the "Your a Fine Christian Father" comments, and feel & React the same way you do! I also have raised two Wonderful Children, who now teach in H.S. AND My HUSNABD and I (married 11 yrs) are Gay, and VERY Happy, and NORMAL (whatever that is)
Thank you for your wonderful comments, and for being such a wonderful Father!
Belger143

Anonymous said...

Belger143,

life is great when you get to see the full beauty of it without restrictions isn't it? Wow I am impressed, being out of the closet for two things (gay and atheist - not sure which one is seen worse ;) is really impressive. Hats down to you!

We have a gay family friends who are also in the process of adoption and funny thing is girls look like female version of me and my wife (obviously my wife is female) so it is really funny how we act/think alike. I must say that I enjoy their company very much. On the other hand I also enjoy (well less now because they've moved near DC) our time with another family that is extremely involved in church (southern baptist). I even went with them to church when we visited them last time.

My point? I think that deep down the kindness and togetherness and morality is ingrained into our genes and it was passed down through generations as it benefited us humans over other animals. (I guess obvious exception here would be microorganisms where we can safely say have dominion over us not the other way around, just look at AIDS and MRSA for example.)

BTW: There is an Atheists group in Charlotte that meets twice a month, once is meeting/dinner and another is book club. If you wish to attend. Discussions are interesting (and even my religious wife attended in the past and had good time).

Sincerely,
Iztok