Finding Your Faith
Recently, in an online forum, a discussion on the inerrancy of the Bible has centered around the resurrection of Jesus. It was pointed out that the four gospels offer differing accounts, ranging from time of day to who was there to see the empty tomb to whether the stone was rolled away before they arrived or while they were there to other minor factors. As the discussion continued, the focus of the conversation seemed to shift to whether or not the resurrection actually happened more than proving the inerrancy of the Bible. From my perspective, what I saw was someone struggling with the issue of faith— according to him/her, there was no faith in his/her life because s/he had not yet been able to determine which of the various religions in the world had the best probability of being true. S/he was looking for a "basis" for his/her faith. In the course of responding to his/her posts in the forum, the following article evolved.
Nowadays there is so much emphasis on "fitting in". You have to wear the right clothes, have the right hair cut, the right friends, the right shoes, the right car and even the right faith. The question is, what is the "right" faith? And the only real answer for that is "The one that works for you." Now I know I'm gonna get some flack for that, especially from those who believe that there's only one way to find God— by following their faith. But the very fact that they believe that and I believe something different and a Buddhist believes something different proves that there are many ways to find God, although for some people to admit that would be contrary to their faith. A real "Catch-22", isn't it? But how do we each arrive at our faith?
If we look at the history of religion, we see, for example, Christianity becoming one of the "front runners" in the religion race, so to speak. During the Reformation, what do we see happen? Someone disagrees with what is being taught by the Catholic church and when he has enough support, breaks with the Catholics and forms a new sect: Protestantism. Within a relatively short time, we find the same thing happening in Protestantism and soon we have Anglicans, Baptists, Calvinists, Episcopalians, Friends, Lutherans, Methodists, Mormons (who still consider themselves Christians, although the rest of Christianity disagrees), etc. Within each of them, we find further divisions: Southern Baptist, American Baptists, etc.— each and every one of them forming because someone disagreed with what was being taught in the sect from which the new sect was "birthed". Each one thinking that they had the best path back to God (otherwise why follow that faith? Switch to the one that IS the best)
If you take it deep enough, we all have our own religion. While you may identify with the Baptist faith, even the tenets of the Baptist faith say that the ultimate decision on any issue is between you and God. That is all any religion really is: YOURS. What you believe about God and right/wrong, good/bad, moral/immoral, heaven/hell, etc.
There are many who call themselves Catholic: one billion strong. And yet there are sects of Catholicism and even within those sects, there are those who don't agree with or ascribe to every single teaching of the sect. Catholics who use birth control or divorce and remarry are prime examples. Many Catholics who divorce go to Mass anyway and take communion, even though they're technically not supposed to. Many take communion before they make a confession. Again, a no-no for Catholics if you strictly follow their teaching. You'll hear them say things like "God and I came to an understanding..."— they truthfully believe that God has suspended the rules of the faith just for them. They've personalized Catholicism.
In the end, religion is between you and the powers of the universe, whether you call those powers God, Allah, Jehovah, Krishna, science, etc. To ask one to prove or justify their religion is completely unnecessary because it is a personal issue. We need to stop seeking outside ourselves and start seeking inside. To stop trying to make someone else's idea of what is right/wrong; good/bad; true/false with respect to faith fit into our lives and stop trying to make our faith fit into theirs.
So how do we go about finding our faith? Do we follow the faith of our parents or our partner; or the faith that is most prominent in our culture or the one that will give us the most social standing or material advantage? Or do we just put all the names of religions into a hat and pick one?
Personally, I suggest just asking for guidance and seeing where it takes you. Simply because you may be the only one following your faith does not lessen its validity. It may not get you the day off work if you say that today is a holy day for you, but social recognition of your faith is a trap. What good is the rest of society's approval going to mean if you're living a lie? (And I mean a lie in your eyes, not in someone else's eyes.) And conversely, what does it matter if the rest of society disapproves if you're sure you're doing what is right for you?
If you feel that faith must be based on some reasonable belief, then find a reasonable belief that fits you. If anyone else says you're wrong because your faith does not agree with theirs, realize that you could say the same exact thing about their faith: it's wrong because it doesn't agree with yours. If you remember that faith is personal, you'll realize your faith can be wrong for them but right for you.
Faith is not something that can be proven, so you don't need any long-standing tradition or sacred book about your faith. You don't need evidence of its origins and you don't need to justify it with respect to any other faith. It does not have to be well-documented in order for it to be true and valid FOR YOU! What I see so often in so many people is the desire to find a sort of "universal faith", something that works for everyone. The problem is that we're all unique individuals. We all have different needs. We don't expect the same diet or the same amount of sleep or the same music or clothing or anything else for that matter, to be right for everyone, yet we expect the same beliefs to be right for everyone. We all have different spiritual needs, so we all have the need for a different faith. Would you attempt to wear your neighbor's clothes knowing you had completely different clothing styles and body shapes? Then why try to "wear" his faith knowing you have completely different spiritual styles and needs?
For some, without some external evidence to "back up" the faith, there is no basis on which to choose one's faith and therefore no way of knowing the "Ultimate Truth". If they're talking about a universal faith (from which truth springs) that will fit everyone, I agree completely— the truth cannot be known. But personal truth can be known, and is known by all of us, whether we choose to call it a religion or not. We all interact with the forces of the universe: the known and the unknown. How we interact with those forces is a very personal decision. THAT is our religion.
Why do we need a "one-size-fits-all" religion? Why do we feel the need to limit the powers of the universe by saying, "Each human being must do it this way in order to be right"? The basis on which we accept a faith is what works for us. The Protestant Reformation took place because what worked for the Catholic Church no longer worked for Luther. So he started a new faith. Why is it okay for him to do it but not for each of us to do it personally?
Look within yourself. Forget all you have been taught. All you have learned about God and what s/he should do or forbids you from doing. Forget what others say about God. What does GOD say about you? You don't need an external or objective basis for faith: that's really another name for proof or evidence. There are those who don't believe in God because the Bible contains contradictions. But who said the Bible is the final authority? Those who believe it is. And what makes them right? Their faith. And their faith doesn't see contradictions because it is based on faith, not proof. Faith is a matter of the heart and soul, not the outer reality and material proof. Faith believes despite "proof" to the contrary.
Let me put it another way. Why limit yourself to the choices that others have already explored? Why not set out and find a new faith? Where in the rules of life does it say, "Thou shalt only follow that which has already been discovered?" Whether or not Jesus was really resurrected in the physical body doesn't matter— the story of his life and the lessons he taught are just as valid whether or not his body was eaten by worms, stolen and desecrated or physically ascended into heaven. If the story is myth, there are lessons to be had in myths too. Myths always have a seed of truth. Find that seed, plant it and then watch it grow for YOU and see where it takes YOU and don't worry about whether that agrees with what anyone else says or not. They're not you. Their relationship with the powers of the universe will be different than yours because they're different than you.
There are those who argue that this approach— this "pick and choose" what works for you— is not a valid approach. They say that objectively, all religions cannot be completely true in all they say, because they disagree on many important aspects. I have to disagree. While it may seem that contradictory rules or behaviors or statements can't lead to the same truth, they can: if the truth is...broad...enough to encompass them. Like the six blind men around the elephant, I can say that an elephant is hard and smooth as bone since all I can feel is his tusk. Another might say an elephant is sinewy and snake-like because all he feels is the trunk. Both statements are completely true; they just can't feel the whole elephant so they don't know the "whole truth".
Truth is relative to the individual. Let's say I have a bowl of cold water in my hand as I sit inside a warm cabin in the middle of a snowstorm. When you come in and stick your frostbitten fingers in the bowl, you tell me the water is hot. Is the water hot or cold? It is both, even though they're contradictory, because the truth is relative to the individual experience. We can get a thermometer and measure the objective temperature of the water, that doesn't change that truth that it is cold to one individual and hot to another. What is true in an individual's reality is all that matters to THAT individual. The problems arise when we start trying to apply our truths to the lives of others or when we insist that there must be an objective faith (truth) that will fit everyone. I don't think that will ever happen or was ever meant to happen.
I've heard the arguments that say something like "Some say we go to heaven or hell for eternity, others say we are reincarnated. Both can't be true." Again, they can't be true if you're looking for that "universal faith". But they can both be true if what happens after death depends on what you believe will happen after death. It is a personal event and therefore will have personal results. If you believe after death you're going to go to heaven, then you will. If you believe you're going to go to hell, you will. If you believe in reincarnation, you'll be reincarnated.
There are those who say "But what if you're wrong? What if only one religion is right and all the others are wrong? Therefore, if Religion A has the greatest probability of being true, I'm gonna follow Religion A." The problem with this approach is twofold.
First, your belief is based on fear— fear of what will happen if you don't believe. IMHO (which means "in my humble opinion" for those not familiar with chat shorthand), God doesn't want us to believe in him out of fear or threat or force or for any reason other than by CHOICE.
The second problem is what to consider evidence and— as part of that— how to determine if there's more compelling evidence for Religion B that we just haven't found it yet? If you believe based on probabilities, you believe because that's what the evidence says you have to do. You do not believe because you want to so you still don't have faith. Faith is CHOICE, and if you narrow down your choices to one— the most probable, is that really a choice? If you feel that being a Christian is the most probable way to get to heaven, it's not a matter of faith for you, but a matter of probabilities. And if Christians ARE the only ones right, probabilities are not going to get you into heaven. Saying "I accept Jesus as my savior" is not the same as having faith that Jesus is your savior. And as long as you're basing what you do on probabilities, you're never going to have that faith. And if you ever find that faith, probabilities won't matter. In fact, you'll believe in the face of overwhelming probabilities against you and what you believe.
Questioning another's religious beliefs is pointless. For example, the Resurrection is a matter of faith. If you don't have faith, asking for proof of the Resurrection is pointless because it can't be proven or disproved based on any evidence we have or could ever have. (Even if God himself were to come down and say "Yep, it happened" and perform all kinds of miracles to prove he was God, you can bet there would still be some who claimed that God's appearance was a trick or a conspiracy or some such thing.) And if you have faith, it's pointless because you know it's true and don't need proof.
Our faith is personal. It has been so since we were first able to reason for ourselves. I doubt there is anyone reading this who would want someone else to tell him/her what to believe, yet many readers have no problem telling another what they should or must believe. Let me give you a personal example.
I was told once in a forum that considered itself to be based in Christianity that for me to truly understand the Bible, I had to pray to God with an open heart and an honest desire to submit to God's will for my life. I explained that I have done this: after all, God knows better than I what is best for my life, therefore it would be foolish of me to not submit to God's will. They fervently agreed and said if I had done that, God had surely sent the Holy Spirit to guide me in my understanding and that only the Holy Spirit could show me the truth. It was my turn to fervently agree: God had done that. But when I explained what understanding God had imparted to me, I was told I had been mislead. That what I had been told was wrong. These same people now wanted me to follow their guidance instead of that which the Holy Spirit had supplied, despite the fact that they told me that only the Holy Spirit can provide me with the truth. All because my understanding didn't agree with theirs. All because of some desire to have a "one faith fits all" religion.
Finally, there's one more thing to remember. Faith and religion are used fairly interchangeably in life and in this article, but it also takes Faith to follow one's faith/religion. That Faith is not something you can acquire through reading or listening to tapes or sermons. It's not something you can learn or practice. It can't be given to you and you can't take it from someone. It's just something you feel deep inside you that says "This is the way it is supposed to be." You need to find the faith/religion that "triggers" that Faith, and once you do, you'll just know that now you finally have Faith.
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