unexamined belief: spiritual atheism?

here, finally, is the continuation of my conversation with jan about spirituality and atheism.

says jan:

well, really, how could mulder [from the X-files] possibly have believed in UFOs? something for which there is no tangible proof. he would have had to believe simply on the basis of … faith. that would be silly.

believe simply on the basis of … faith. that would be silly.

i’ll use these dictionary definitions to help me think about the word “faith”:

  • confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
  • belief that is not based on proof: he had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
  • belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.

the silliness, i presume, refers to the idea that there is no logical reason to believe in a god. yes, i said ‘idea. not ‘fact’ because some people – good old pascal and his wager being one of the more solid examples – would argue that there are logical reasons. but let’s just assume that there is no such logical reason.

i have lots of non-logical reasons why i do and think things. indeed, i assume most of my reasons aren’t very logical. i love my children, dislike liquorice and don’t much care for opera. i go out of my way to write poetry and am proud of the rubbermaid sticker on my laptop.

“ah, but these are personal preferences! they’re your private business!”

i am against capital punishment. i believe adequate housing is a right not a privilege. i am pro choice.

ok, we’ve moved out of the personal now. but you know what, if i’m honest, at rock bottom, the reasons for these values are also, how should i put it, extra-logical. the way in which i hold these values dear is not much different from the way i love my children.

is a belief in god different? (and some of you may remember, i don’t “believe” in god per se; i believe in goodness. but that’s beside the point for now.)

perhaps it goes like this: if a belief in god is unexamined, the way my dislike for liquorice is unreflected and if far-reaching decisions are based on such an unexamined belief, then we could have a problem.

let’s throw something else in the mix. jan says

i suspect that many “religious” people don’t really believe. they just want to believe.

and in the meantime they’ll go to all the meetings, listen to all the same old stories from the same books, always hoping that some day they’ll attain that elusive state of belief/faith they keep hearing so much about.

these “religious” people are actually spiritual atheists: they’re atheists as they don’t believe in any deity, and they are spiritual as they’re very concerned with religion, the sacred, the spirit.

does “don’t really believe” refer to an unexamined belief? is it maybe the same as with love – what seems like love, on reflection, frequently turns out to be a craving for the feeling that comes with love-like experiences: being wanted, needed, cared for and cared about; if it’s romantic love, the crazy hormonal surges; knowing that we’re not alone; and generally the warm-and-fuzzies. love as work is often not what we really want to sign up for: staying up all hours of the night to make sure our teenage children come home ok; working on being tolerant of the other’s incomprehensible foibles; supporting our loved ones’ decisions because they’re good for them, even when they tear at our heartstrings.

perhaps it’s the same with faith. most people probably go with comfortable faith: the jubilant choir at christmas mass; the solemnity – never mind the ample buffet – of a funeral; the this-is-the-way-it’s-done of the wedding of a couple that hasn’t darkened the doors of a church for ten years. however, going to the trouble of engaging with god – well, that’s just a lot of work.

these are probably regular congregants of the church of spiritual atheists. great concept, jan, by the way. and i would add that these congregants aren’t even that concerned with religion, much less the sacred or spirit.

i used to be very critical of them; indeed, they are a major reason why as a teenager, i refused to get confirmed in the lutheran church, despite the fact that at that time, confirmation was the biggest and most gift-laden event in the life of a person of that faith.

now i feel much more ambivalent.

is a faith that is not well-thought-out less valuable than one that is deeply examined? and just because someone’s relationship with their deity is not very close, does it mean that relationship has little or no meaning?

i don’t know. what do you think?

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