On Religion 02.24.2013
The following is the entirety of an email interview that was sent to me (and others) many months ago about religion. At the time I answered and replied back but I don’t believe any were ever published. That said, I have kept coming back to it — reflecting and clarifying my original answers. Therefore, the answers that are here now are much different in parts than those I originally responded with.
I think what exists today is a good summary of my own personal beliefs and faith, as well as my own journey and stance on religion in general. I post this here in the interest of full disclosure about my own faith. It is not intended to be anything more than that.
Here is the interview:
Do you believe in God?
No. Or, at least, not in the sense that some people do or would call a god. Certainly not in the sense of an entity or being. That said, I do believe in many of the concepts that one might apply to a god such as infinite love, patience, forgiveness and enlightenment that is far beyond our ability and capacity as humans to fully and completely realize or perceive.
Who/what is God?
In general, we humans are afraid of both the unknown and of admitting that we don’t know and may never know. Therefore, I tend to believe the idea of a god is often used to fill in those gaps, answer these questions, and free us from these fears.
I, for one, am quite comfortable with not knowing. Therefore, the best answer I can directly give to such a question is… I don’t know.
How did you come to hold these beliefs? Who or what has influenced you?
Believe it or not, I used to be a very committed “born-again” evangelical Christian. I come from a long line of Methodist preachers. The problem, of course, is that I’m also insatiably curious about the subjects I’m interested in. At the time, being very interested in Christianity led me to do deep research on all aspects of that and many other religions. This research led me to some ideas, opinions, and truths that eventually led me to a more holistic and philosophical understanding of the nature of faith and my own beliefs.
How would you describe your beliefs?
I describe my current faith practice as “Small “b” Buddhism”. Meaning that it is Buddhist in philosophy and practice without my practicing it as religion. My philosophy and practice seeks personal enlightenment through mindfulness, loving kindness, and compassion. Enlightenment, the ability to be fully present and aware in each moment, being as close to a belief in a god as anything I can fathom, with said “god” being found within.
Why hold these beliefs and not others?
My current faith is based on striving to be completely awake and aware to each moment. I believe this is an achievable human goal.
My extensive study of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism (not to mention lesser study of many more) has led me here.
What place do major religious texts hold in your beliefs?
None. Except through the fact that study of many religious texts helped to lead me to my beliefs and practice of today.
Who do you think Jesus was/is?
Jesus was a Jewish religious leader and revolutionary figure that likely lived around the first century.
This is about all we know about Jesus that can be agreed upon as fact. The closest accounts we have about his life and teaching are several sources and many years distant from it. And those “gospels” are not included in current versions of the bible. Those that we know of that are the earliest make no mention of his divinity nor report him making such. The gospels that did make the cut are most likely amalgamations from several other distant source texts and oral accounts, heavily edited, and none are actually written by first hand sources. By taking this into account, one must naturally look at what other social, political, and practical motivations are behind the authorship of such texts and take such context in their analysis.
Everything else about Jesus is accepted through faith by those that choose to believe it. Which I am in no way disparaging. I think the heart of Christianity and the narrative of the biblical Jesus and early Christian church is incredibly beautiful. Rich with compassion, forgiveness, loving-kindness, and respect for the human condition. Its central goal is towards the enlightenment (salvation) of individuals through such practice. There are many corollaries with what I believe in today (not to mention, yet again, the importance of it to my own journey).
In fact, I believe that such faith is a natural human trait (and likely genetic). We must believe in something. We must have some level of faith in something. That even those who identify as atheist at least have faith that God does not exist, etc. They at least must have a firm unwavering belief in science and verifiable fact.
What place do your spiritual/religious beliefs hold in determining your moral standard?
High. That said, I don’t know if it is a cart/horse sort of relationship. My values and morals coexist with my faith practice symbiotically. They support each other equally.
Do you hold others to the same moral standard? Why/why not?
I try not to. While I do believe that there are some universally agreed upon beliefs of right and wrong, these are few. Often time these are cultural more so than universal. Not to mention that sometimes conditions guide and change such things. Everyone must arrive at such standards on a personal level based on such factors (and many more).
What do you consider the greatest drawback to your beliefs/views/convictions?
I’m not sure. I don’t believe I can identify any that I would have any sort of control over so why dwell on them. Instead, I place such energy on action, growth, and change.
What do you consider the greatest advantage?
Peace. My faith and practice brings me peace.
How do you view those who disagree with you?
People must believe in something. If they choose to believe in something other than what I believe then what matter does it have to me. I treat them with respect and kindness and, if engaged in a discussion about faith I welcome it and try to listen and be open to their views (sometimes I fail at this though).
Do your beliefs influence your familial relationships, immediate and other?
They influence my relationship with the world as a whole.
Do your beliefs shape your work and writing in any way?
As this is who I am, they likely do.
Do they influence the way you live your daily life?