Do you enjoy understanding what other people think and why they think it? Join the club my friends! I’m just a regular guy that likes to muse about the big questions. This particular post is me examining the problems that arise when starting one’s quest for knowledge from a position of faith rather than from a neutral stance that simply acknowledges what is either known or unknown to us in life. You might want to check out the post right before this one titled: Pure Knowledge vs. Faith. Within it I lay out five different problems that I see when people plug faith-based thinking into their equation of knowledge about the world and our very existence! Without further ado here is problem number one:
Faith is a reliance upon a metaphysical understanding of the world that fails to intersect with our present knowledge and experiences.
Now, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here! I think that striving for a metaphysical understanding has its place. In other words, we can strive to build a philosophy from principles that we find within the world. I’m all for having a philosophy for love, and for justice, and for keeping people accountable to one another.
Where I think it is important to draw a distinction here is in the area of origins. Religions undoubtedly make metaphysical claims about our origins and about the specific meaning and purpose of life as it is said to have been revealed by a God or gods. This is where the conversation gets a little dicey because most faith-based perspectives are content with accepting metaphysical religious claims simply on authoritative grounds rather than from investigative grounds. I’ll say more on that in a moment.
It is thought that the Bible is a divinely inspired set of ancient texts. So much so that many conservatives view the penned words of these documents as being guided and preserved by the Holy Spirit. It is as if God breathed these texts into existence through the use of human vessels. Though such an analogy is rather attractive, especially as a sermon illustration, one will be hard pressed to ever truly demonstrate that divine inspiration is an undeniable fact!
For one, we need to ask ourselves how it is even possible to narrow down divinely inspired texts in the present? Assuming that many of my believing friends admit to not having definitive knowledge that God exists I must implore them with this question: What present basis do you have to choose your specific holy book as the starting point for your own metaphysical understanding of the world? Is it simply because Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism got to you first?
Some people may be under a deep impression that they can favor their own religion because of various religious experiences that seem to confirm for them personally that Jesus, or Allah, or the ancient sages have gifted them with special revelation. The kind of special knowledge that I see many claim within conservative Christianity I think can be easily explained as a form of self-delusion. These people, and I am including my former self, are under the impression that certain feelings that arise during worship and prayer serve as some kind of guidance from the Holy Spirit. It gets more complicated when some claim to have been given dreams and various visions but I still have a hunch that within this crowd most would admit that they could be wrong. Especially due to the rather subtle nature of these experiences.
There seems to be a kind of hungry expectation among many to search subjectively for any kind of hints that the Holy Spirit is somehow trying to communicate with them. After many years of evaluating my faith culture I came to realize that this is a form of social conditioning! In fact, these are normative and acceptable behaviors within many contexts of worship and communal prayer. There is a silent rule within this crowd indicating that to not seek a charismatic experience or some kind of intimate connection with God is to have a lukewarm or apathetic approach to worship. The rather rigid folks that stand there awkwardly with their eyes open and hands unraised are often targeted as an illustration for a future sermon. They’ll say, “we need to seek God! We need to break, we need to cry, we need to get down on our hands and knees and repent because we are otherwise lost and given to a life of sin and apathy!” I could say more in that regard but I’ll save it for a later post.
As we bring ourselves to accept that special knowledge is illusory based upon the mass variety of these experiential claims that exist outside of our own religion then we will come to see rather quickly that there is no way to validate the inspiration of a holy book! I tend to describe this knowledge crisis as being one that lacks a bridge to bring us safely into certainty that our most cherished religious ideas are even true or accurate! What is happening here is that we as human beings find ourselves within a specific modern context that does not appear to provide any helpful compass that can point us to the right God or gods. It is a really big and challenging step to admit this, but at the end of the day it is honest! It is a brutally honest thing to admit that we simply do not know that God is at the other side of this knowledge chasm.
What this ultimately means is that religion is kind of like an sd card for the mind that can be switched out at any given time and used to view our origins in a certain way. It doesn’t narrow down on the truthfulness of these claims at all, it simply provides different lenses through which to interpret the world. Faith does not operate from knowledge, instead it operates from authority! We are simply told to trust and not to investigate too far away from the original premise. To investigate too much into other religions or even into various secular views of the world is to not remain loyal to one’s former faith commitment or covenantal relationship (the subject of my next post). I’m challenging the people that think they have fairly evaluated claims outside of their religion and still found them lacking. In my opinion, a truly open mind is one that is willing to put on other hats. It is a mind that is willing to be changed regardless of what kind of social stigmas and consequences that arise from thinking differently. Part of investigating is to step into different experiences and ways of understanding the world.
In closing the main point that I want to make here is that if a God or gods are not intervening into our modern context so as to provide a clear bridge into certainty, then one will be hard pressed to ever demonstrate that the metaphysical claims within their religion are necessary, true, or even accurate to believe in! This is a legitimate problem for anybody that views faith in the unseen as a reliable exercise when trying to acquire pure knowledge. Trusting in what is neither seen or validated in the present is nothing other than metaphysical madness!