Monday, March 16, 2009

The Big Questions

I grew up in a family of opinionated, vocal, debaters. Well, one side of my family anyway. As a kid I always enjoyed hearing my dad and his siblings play verbal volleyball. My mom and everyone else hated it. Not me. I thought it was fun.

I really am interested in hearing other people's opinions. As time goes on I find that I am more and more interested in why people believe in something or form a particular opinion. And especially why someone changes their previously held convictions. I am mostly interested in hearing "why" someone holds a certain view. Why are you a Christian? Why are you an atheist? Why did you grow up with a minister for a father and now you are an agnostic? I find the answers intriguing and enlightening.

Recently, feeling desperate for something of substance to read, I picked up a book at the library titled Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg. Being a modern book about religion and faith, I expected that I would dislike it and it would just be an exegetical exercise for me to get through. I have found surprisingly that I like it. Though I do disagree with some of the authors ideas, I am finding his look at how and why people believe or doubt or resist faith altogether, fascinating. He doesn't seem to conclude where faith comes from (as far as I have read) but examines how faith and doubt co-exist in human beings. It's a concept I haven't pondered before though it is not foreign to me but present in a prayer that says, "Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief." My own convictions are that Christian faith comes from the Holy Spirit and is not something we can conjure ourselves though we are given the free will to reject it.

The author doesn't tackle any doctrinal questions or disputes. He examines and compares those who are convicted of their religious faith with those who are convicted that faith is useless. And all the doubt that exists in between. On both sides.

I'm sorry if that was only as clear as mud.

I don't intend to write a book review here, but I thought I would share some thought provoking quotes.

Ortberg says, "Many people believe in an Ichabod world - that faith is nothing more than wishful thinking. We'd like to believe we will live after we die; we'd like to think there is a benevolent all-powerful being in the sky, so we talk ourselves into it..." then he talks about Sigmund Freud's ideas of religion saying that Freud said, "the biggest illusion of wishful thinking that human beings ever dream up is God." But this author always manages to turn these ideas on their head. He follows up by saying that a researcher, Paul Vitz, "argues that no empirical research supports the idea that faith is neurotic; but a whole mountain of it says that faith is healthy. This suggests that perhaps it is atheism that requires a psychological explanation. In fact, when Vitz traces the backgrounds of many major atheists versus major theists of recent centuries, he finds that those drawn to atheism are overwhelmingly more likely to come from a background with a weak, abusive or absent father."

In another chapter Ortberg writes, "I invite you to consider two alternatives and their consequences. One of them, to paraphrase atheist Bertrand Russell, is 'You are the product of causes that have no purpose or meaning. Your origin, your growth, your hopes, fears, loves, beliefs are the outcome of accidental collections of atoms. No fire, heroism, or intensity of thought or feeling can preserve your life from beyond the grave. All the devotion, all the inspiration, all the labor of all the ages are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system. The whole temple of human achievement must inevitably be buried in the debris of a universe in ruins. That's what we're all headed for.'
Or you can choose this: 'You are the uniquely designed creation of a thoroughly good and unspeakably creative God. You are made in His image, with a capacity to reason, choose, and love that sets you above all other life forms. You will not only survive death, but you yourself were made to bear an eternal weight of glory you cannot now even fathom and you will one day know.'
You must decide which one to bet your life on."

"If there is no God, there is no story. There is nothing to write, no guideline, no indicator. Nothing makes any difference. Do whatever you want to do! The (religious) pamphlet is blank. The universe is silent."

And finally, this: "...Edward Gibbon's observation on what happened to faith in the decline of Rome: 'Toward the end of the Roman Empire, all religions were regarded by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the politicians as equally useful.' Gullible masses, skeptical intellectuals, cynical power brokers."

Hhmm....could be describing our world today? There is nothing new under the sun.


  1. Very interesting post. I believe It does describe what we are living today.

    I am catholic, as most of brazil and italy, although i have a lot of respect for any religion. It does not matter which god/father/buddha you believe in but the belief that you are here for something, that you have to do good and respect those around you and also be greatful to what you have and your opportunities to access knowledge.
    Apart from that, faith is the only company you have 100% of the time and it helps going through really difficult situations: giving you strengh and confort.

    the only thing that bothers me today is that even though people still have faith, they dont want to practice or disclose it... there might be judgedments for being who you are. People are ashamed of being religious!

  2. Yes. Either it's politically incorrect, a sign of weakness or people may be afraid of religious persecution.

    I believe that for me to know why I am here and what I should be doing I need to consult my Creator. To know who the Creator is I need to find out what He says about Himself. He tells me about Himself in the Holy Scriptures.


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