To say that life is a journey is a huge understatement. Every step we take leads us to some destination. Many see their faith as that destination. Christians, for example, say that they are not of this world. Their true home is in heaven, and they are traveling through this life and world on their way to that ultimate goal. All religions give this hope to their followers. Acceptance of a particular brand of faith seals a final destiny, whether that be a place, such as heaven, or some undetermined oblivion. Others believe that this life is all that they have. Their goal is to make this world a better place since it’s our one and only home.
For one, their faith is set in stone; “revelation” has determined their goal, as well as, their course in this life. Religions that derive their doctrine from a book, such as the Bible, require strict adherence to the teachings they claim were given to them by their god. They set a course based on alleged authority of a group with some mystical connection to the divine mind. Interpretation of the holy writings is generally reserved for a select few as well. The other approaches life as a series of choices whose outcomes determine each successive action. Whether you refer to your life purpose as faith or philosophy, it is simply a choice as to how you will view life and the myriad of decisions that will be faced on a daily basis.
dealing with faith tend to do so from the perspective of a particular religious
persuasion. While almost everyone agrees that faith is spiritual in nature, it
will either take the form of something truly personal, or
it will take on an almost exclusively group dynamic. Cults generally fall into the latter
category, but any religion or denomination can regress into a state where the
individual loses his identity to the group. I was once a part of just such a
denomination; we were known as Fundamentalists, and we knew that we were
“right”… we were the truly faithful “remnant”. It is quite common for a church
or any other religious institution to create this attitude of spiritual
superiority through an atmosphere of “pressurized conformity”. This is most
often referred to as unity within the body. It is natural for people to
identify themselves according to their denomination or group.
I was raised in
a Baptist church. That would most often be the way I would describe my faith to
someone. “I go to the Baptist church”. If you were Methodist or Catholic you
would probably respond in the same way. Any further discussion of your faith
would include things about the church
, its teachings, and activities. We in America generally assume that if you are
religious then you favor the Bible as the source of your knowledge of God. You would probably call yourself a Christian,
but that would be a vague reference to what your faith actually entails. It
soon becomes obvious that there are an extreme variety of “faiths” associated
with the general heading of “Christian”. Jehovah’s Witnesses consider
themselves Christian, yet have a wildly different interpretation of the Bible,
along with “additional” writings that they rank alongside the Bible in
importance. The same is true of Mormonism and many other cults and fringe
religious movements. Some of the more bizarre include the Branch Davidians, who could hardly have been considered Christian in the
traditional sense. We usually have difficulty understanding how anyone could
succumb to the lies of a group such as that. The truth of the matter is that
many people have lived with a distinct lack of love or acceptance to such an
extent that any sign of these two qualities translates to identification with
something truly desirable. The human soul longs for such attention and acceptance;
and this is what makes religion so easy and natural of a choice. This is also
what makes the majority of churches resemble other, strictly social
organizations. It is the gathering of people with common interests and/or
purpose. It is just as common to hear people speak of the activities of their
church when describing their faith, rather than what God means to them in their
Often a church is known by its pastor or the theological stance it takes. Many identify with a University where many of its students go for training in their denominational doctrines. A lot can be known about a church based on what general category it fits, such as liberal or conservative or Pentecostal or Fundamental. Also the degree to which a church practices those differences will attract or repel certain types of people. To some it is a matter of commitment to ones beliefs; the more “faithful” you can be will determine everything from those with whom you will associate in this life to what row you will be sitting in during the “heavenly commencement”. The world will never hear the end of debates over whose interpretations are correct. To many, the outcome of the debate is crucial. They believe that their eternal fate depends on their level of loyalty. It is literally life and death. Others believe that we are all entitled to whatever opinion we wish to express. In other words, no path is any less valid than any other. There are many degrees of opinion in between the two extremes as well.
There are also those who choose to express faith in a nonreligious way. I will expound more on this, but suffice it to say, people in this category either seek God without the aid of church or organized religion, or have chosen a nontheistic approach to life and spirituality. Many world religions recognize a plurality of Gods or an essence that is “godlike”. Americans seem to have trouble envisioning these last two options, as we have been an essentially Christian nation since our inception. I don’t exactly accept this rash generalization, but it seems to be the argument of a good many people that we, as a nation, are worshippers of the God of the Christian Bible. For this reason, our discussion of faith will be largely dependent on my upbringing in a Christian environment, but will not be limited to that viewpoint entirely. I trust that this personal approach will help to illuminate what can be a very confusing and intimidating subject.
My journey has been somewhat varied, but my studies have included many different disciplines, both Christian and otherwise. I am a second generation Christian who was born into a middle-class family somewhere around the transition from the baby-boomer generation to generation-x. As to which generation I belong, it depends on who you ask; I think I am both, and at the same time, neither; I think we make a conscious decision to live with a certain attitude toward ourselves and the world around us. Most of us choose our religion and our faith based on several factors. Family and community are heavy influences in this choice to be sure. Many people cannot see themselves leaving the religion and/or church of their parents. It feels comfortable, and they often have social ties that help to keep them close to home.
We will talk about fear and guilt as they relate to this decision-making process as well. Sometimes there is a high degree of codependency that prevents someone from making an often necessary decision to leave a particular group. I know many for whom the hook is purely financial, although this is primarily a concern of those in leadership positions. Many, like me, are constantly searching for more; we crave greater commitment, greater knowledge, greater involvement, and greater influence in the religious community of our choice. If one seems to be lacking that certain “something”, we seek another where we can “fulfill our destiny”. Sometimes, religion can become a competition where we believe that we are in a constant battle with anyone and everyone who isn’t just like us. Similarly, there are those who refuse to argue with anyone. This might seem to some as uninspired, but to others as the moral high ground.
I was at one time a member of a denomination that glorified separation as a central doctrine and practice. In some ways it was more important than the virgin birth, simply because it was our “separateness” that identified us in our commitment to God and His Word. We thought of ourselves as the “reincarnation” of the true church, virtually lost for hundreds of years, known only in the pages of the New Testament itself. We took a literal interpretation (so we said) of the scriptures and believed every word to be directly inspired by God. I specifically remember being taught that the English Bible I held in my hand was 98% accurate in relation to the original manuscripts. Many in my acquaintance actually thought that the King James Version of the Bible was as inspired as the original Hebrew and Greek texts (which are nonexistent and impossible to verify). Faith in a translation of ancient (not to mention lost) manuscripts seems rather misplaced to say the least. Not to mention that many of the New Testament documents were written, most likely, a generation or more after the events they supposedly describe; while the Old Testament documents in most cases are hundreds or even thousands of years removed from the corresponding history of their world. To this day, I still hear Christians say that the evidence in the Bible is all they need. According to the rules of evidence, I don’t believe that they have a leg to stand on.
Deism is a belief in God without any corresponding holy book or system of doctrine. Instead of dependence on a body of revelation, it focuses on nature and observable phenomena. Since creation is the only evidence that we can know without a doubt came from God himself, there is no need for ancient literature that paints God according to the whims of men. This assures us that we do not worship a God of our own invention; or one that looks an awful lot like those he created.
Another theme of
this book will be evaluation; how do we know that what we are being taught is
true? If the truth sets us free, then what is the relationship between what we
are taught and
are our use of God-given reason? I
intend to reveal the lack of clear thinking that so frequently blinds people to
what they are being asked to accept. At what point do we stop and ask why? I
was always taught that you never “check your brains at the door”; it took years
for me to realize that that is exactly what I and most of the people around me
When talking about cults, we sort of expect to hear of brainwashing and coercion, but seem to disbelieve that it might be a problem in our “mainstream” churches. It may be more subtle, and flatly denied, but nonetheless we are constantly under the influence of the teachers and the tactics they employ to keep us “faithful” to the ministry. Often, the leaders themselves do not even realize what they are doing. I know; I’ve been there myself. In order to continue a ministry they must stop the “revolving door syndrome” that is a natural part of our seeker driven society. If we lose more bodies than we gain, then the numbers game blows up in our faces. What do we do to keep the pews full? Either instill a heavy dose of guilt, or keep the membership so busy that they don’t really know what is going on. Too many churches, and people, operate with this mentality… where does faith fit into this? Kudos to the few who manage to keep their internal faith intact while such abuses threaten everything that is good in the rest of the congregation. This is certainly not the healthiest environment for the development of faith. But sometimes it is all that a Christian can accept because they cannot conceive of a change in their belief system.
In the end, it
is more often about the organization than it is about the welfare of the
average member or visitor. This is often where the group dynamic becomes
confused with personal faith. Faithfulness to the church and its programs is
confused with actual personal development. The concern is less over faith
development than ministry development. I hear it over and over again: building
programs and the ability to appeal to ever larger audiences take precedence
over the real meat of faith and practice. The real concern that prompts this
study of the role of faith in our lives is the matter of personal
We must become willing to question and to take a step back and look with fresh eyes at all that we
take for granted. If we have open minds, then the evidence will lead us to a
conclusion that insists on a certain course of action. A closed mind will only
scoff and refuse to admit whether or not what we see is the real thing.
If only there could be a way to have the spirituality we all so desperately crave, without the need for conformity to a group that is selling hope under the guise of superstition. The answer may be much closer than you think. It may actually be the philosophy with which you already operate; and maybe the truth about what you think you believe will show you the path you ought to take.
evidence points you in a particular direction, as I was taught in seminary, you
must follow it to its ultimate conclusion (even if you don't like or weren't
expecting that result). It is the third factor, that of my natural inclination
toward the "art of study", which led to the second, that specific
instance where I dared to actually ask a question that might give me an answer
that made "sense". Now I am not insinuating that the mere act of
studying "broke the chains" and "set me free". Countless
people were in the same boat as me; studying to find the answers that we were
expected and expecting to find. It is not honest scholarship to begin with the
assumption that the answers are foregone conclusions. One must be willing to
accept an alternate conclusion when the evidence demands it. I found myself in
just such a position: that I had to be willing to accept ANY answer, not just
the one I was hoping for in the first place. If we continue to use the Bible to
interpret the Bible, without changing our method of interpreting
the Bible, then we will be stuck in the same morass of misunderstanding. Until
we are willing to look at the Bible from outside of the Bible, we won't see it
for what it is: superstition. Is a myth any less of a myth because it contains
phrases such as, "thus saith the Lord", or "all scripture is
given by inspiration"? Does the label "God's Word" make it so? Remember,
there have been countless other traditions guilty of considering their
"sacred" books of superior merit than all others. What makes the
Bible more true than any other?
The more I studied the Bible with this mindset, the more I started to see things that I could not accept. I wanted to somehow reconcile everything in the Bible so that I could justify my attitude of "correctness". I, like those around me, had to think that I had "the way, the truth, the life"; that I was somehow on God's inside track to Paradise, AND, that the majority of the well-intentioned, Christian pretenders "out there" were nothing more than lame hypocrites who would get their "just desserts" in the end. Gradually, I came to see that I could not continue to walk around wearing blinders. Just as natural as my thirst for answers, was my thirst for honesty. When I use the word hypocrite, I am not suggesting that I was not one; just the opposite. But I did not leave the church on account of the hypocrisy of other Christians, or even myself. My quarrel is with the Bible, at least when it is demanded to be taken literally and in its entirety. It is this last point upon which my decision ultimately hinged.
The fundamentalist would apply the term "authority" in reference to the truth and role of the Bible in the life of the Christian. This then suggests that the Christian is obligated to obey what the Bible says; which in turn is dependent upon the viewpoint and teaching of the pastor/teacher. See the correlation between authority and control? When the leader of the group or church assumes the same standing as the authors of the scriptures, then the sky is the limit.
One thing I will say is that as I extricated myself from the clutches of this world of bondage, I still felt that the biggest issue was in "cutting out the middle man". I mean to say that I still wanted to believe that the Bible itself was still essentially good, we just had to convince people that the best interpretation of it was their own. This was in part due to my opinion that the church was no longer a reflection of the true church of the first century. Eventually, I would see that this was only an excuse to hang onto a little bit of that control factor. I also began to see my own reluctance to abandon the beliefs upon which my life had been built. First, we will dismantle the idea of accuracy and authority within the Bible (in later sections); and then we will explore the possibility of truth as an entity unto itself, and the church as a social institution and agent of change.
In my search for honesty, I unwittingly put myself in a position to receive a reality check on the truth. This then, is my story regarding the specific path upon which I stumbled, as I slowly and painfully worked my way from "darkness into light". I had been "the blind leading the blind", until one day I heard a Christian teacher, on a Christian program, on Christian radio, poking fun at those who deny God and the Bible. He treated the disbelief of these poor misguided people as pathetic and proceeded to back his position with excerpts from their own statements. While I didn't listen closely to all of the specific "complaints", I perked-up when this teacher gave the website of the atheists to which he referred as a source for his listeners to gain additional "insights" into their character, or lack thereof. As a good student, I dutifully purposed to research this for myself. I couldn't be content to take the word of a total stranger, and my own curiosity would have to be satisfied the right way... personal confirmation of the facts. As they say, "curiosity killed the cat"; of course, the rest of that says, "satisfaction brought him back".
At first, I thought for sure that I, like anyone else brave enough to confront this bastion of evil would at least find some humor in the absurdity of their unbelief, and at best, would see that there was such a great need to "reach the lost". I was confident that even if there were a grain of truth in the atheists’ arguments that that alone would not be enough to shake my faith. This occurred, mind you, before I had any SERIOUS doubts and still felt that the Bible held the key to truth and purpose in life. I had not yet acknowledged my skepticism, but this would prove to be the beginning of a flood that would wash away all pretenses and force me to admit that nothing in my life had been as sure as I wished it to be.