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Friday, March 23, 2012

It's about failure

There's a post at the NYT's philosophy blog - Does It Matter Whether God Exists? by Gary Gutting - that opines that the practice of religious rituals (and I'd guess the comfort of a religious community) without a belief in God us a worthy road to trod .....

Discussions of religion are typically about God. Atheists reject religion because they don’t believe in God; Jews, Christians and Muslims take belief in God as fundamental to their religious commitment. The philosopher John Gray, however, has recently been arguing that belief in God should have little or nothing to do with religion. He points out that in many cases — for instance, “polytheism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, many strands of Judaism and some Christian and Muslim traditions” — belief is of little or no importance. Rather, “practice — ritual, meditation, a way of life — is what counts.” He goes on to say that “it’s only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths” and that “what we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.”

Gutting goes on to give what he thinks will be the opposing view - the idea that belief in God matters because of "salvation" - but then he states that belief in God's existence cannot be logically proven, so he ends up agreeing with John Gray.

I have some thoughts ...

First - I think Gutting is wrong in his theory that the important thing about believing in God for most people is salvation ... relationship with God is what's important to many, and salvation is just part of that.

Second - I know about belonging to a religion without believing in God: that was me when I joined the Catholic Church. Many people find this a worthy endeavor but it didn't work for me and I think the reason why is that joining a church without a belief in God but instead for the practice, the rituals, the companionship of others in the organization, is like marrying someone not because you've fallen in love with them but because you can't stand being alone anymore and want to be part of a family. It's about settling and making the best of things, of embracing the form because you don't think you'll ever find the substance. I think it's about failure.

I can't help but think of what it must have been like for the first disciples of Jesus to decide to join him. They had to leave behind all those things that Gary Gutting's people join a church in order to find, and they were leaving them behind because they had found something better ... love.


Anonymous Richard said...

We were asked as part of the process of becoming Catholic, "What do you ask of God's Church?" I don't remember my answer, but what I wanted was a place, opportunities, encouragements to consider these questions regarding the existence and nature of God. I haven't been disappointed in that. I find still that my belief in God is an ephemeral thing. I like the idea that faith in God is a grace from God. I don't feel any capacity to manufacture it. It comes it goes. I try not to worry about it.

9:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

I don't remember them asking that question or what my answer was when I joined. I didn't really believe then but later it had an opportunity to grow during a retreat. My belief is 'an ephemeral thing' too - neat way of expressing that :)

I used to feel very bad about the quality of my belief, but then I noticed that though my head is all messed up on the subject, the way I actually act and live my life is as though I do believe - I figure I really do believe on a gut level even though it doesn't always make sense to me intellectually.

12:48 AM  

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