A planetary nebula designated NGC 2818, photographed by the Hubble Telescope. By NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) via Christianity Today
I was talking to a couple of college friends yesterday. We all went to the same Christian university, but now have very different beliefs. These two friends would probably consider themselves at the most agnostic, or possibly atheist.
I will admit that my beliefs have changed drastically over the past 15 years. When I was younger, I ascribed to a more literal translation of the Bible. This has changed in many ways, although I still read my Bible and use it as my primary source of Truth.
Some things have changed though, and I'm pretty sure they've changed for the better. I'm a lot more open about differing viewpoints, and I feel that I have a better understanding of other people. I do not want to be group with the fundamentalists, the right-wing Christians, or the 'evangelical movement' (although the evangelical movement has a lot of really good things going for it, there are plenty of bad apples that make the whole thing stink to a lot of people).
I think the really interesting part of our conversation last night was that these two friends of mine differed so greatly in their beliefs, and they enjoyed challenging mine. I welcome a challenge, so I was okay with it.
The thing that most struck me about our conversation (besides the fact that one of these guys was high and had a hard time putting his thoughts in actual words) was that they were ready to write off any idea of the Divine, any Being, any Creator, any spiritual experience that one had as a part of his psyche that he is just not conscious of. For instance, if I pray and feel that I've gotten some comfort or joy from it, or an answer to a question, it is because I have calmed myself down, assessed my situation and accepted it (or learned from it), and if I have received an answer it is because my subconscious gave it to me.
I do understand that this happens sometimes, but it seems to be leaving a whole lot out. When they asked me why I still believe in God (assuming that I am a fairly intellectual, logical person) the reasons I could give seemed strange, or like they could be reasoned away. The reasons they could only explain as my 'subconscious' were the hardest to explain. The conclusion that I gave was simply this: I have experienced enough in my life that, while understanding myself fairly well, I could only attribute some things to an external Something. I have felt peace come in difficult times when I know myself to spiral in anxiety, and not find sudden calm. In very dark times I have cried out to a Someone that is more than I can imagine, and I have felt love and comfort.
The beliefs that have less to do with my personal experiences and more to do with the way I understand the world and the possibility of God are in a way easier to explain, but harder for other people to understand. I almost want to try to explain these things here, but I'm not sure how it would translate when written. I feel that my spiritual believes are both known and felt and believes, but hard to quantify.
At the end I quoted this poem of Rumi:
"If you haven't any knowledge and only opinions, have good opinions about God. This is the way. If you can only crawl, crawl to Him. If you cannot pray sincerely, offer your dry, hypocritical, agnostic prayer; for God in His mercy accepts bad coin. If you have a hundred doubts of God, make them into ninety doubts. This is the way. O, Seeker! Though you have broken your vows a hundred times, come again! Come again! For God has said, 'Though you are on high or in the pit consider me, for I am the Way.'" - Rumi (emphasis mine)
What about you? Do you identify yourself as a member of a religion? Do you use labels, or do you prefer "spiritual?" Do you consider yourself a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, Humanist, atheist? What makes you believe or disbelieve? Do you feel like you can accurately articulate your beliefs, or are they same that defy explanation? What does Truth mean to you?