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Explaining religion to the uninitiated is an enormous part of what I do through my writings and through other work. It should be said that I don't see myself as an evangelical spreading the Good News and never have. I am not in the business of presuming that my understanding is better than another's, nor do I zealously wish to save souls from an eternity in hell. What I will say is that I am quite aware of the vast numbers of seekers who want to have a relationship with God.

Living by example is my first approach. Bolstering the authority of my message by skillfully utilizing persuasive argument is the other medium I've embraced. I have some fine old company in this regard, dating back centuries. Any number of activist and identity groups across the political divide use those same tactics, though some take more liberties than I ever would. I never wanted to be an extremist, nor do I believe that being intentionally offensive to make a heavy-handed point is a successful strategy.

I strive for a much more even-handed approach, but among people of my faith, our approach was once very radical. Believe it or not, the Early Friends took liberties of which most 21st Century Friends would no longer approve. Certain Quakers went around naked, asking for a sign from God. Disrupting Anglican church services by loudly interrupting sermons, mid-sentence, caused more than a few uproars and got many thrown into jail. That behavior, to me, is no different than a pro-choice group (or any other group) making a public scene during a Congressional hearing.

The impact of this outlandish behavior in 1640's England must have been successful, as the sect grew like wildfire. We retain today some of that rabble-rousing tradition, but are paradoxically afraid of too much change. Quakers are no less strongly opinionated and individualist than we were back then, but we have, in some respects, become what we originally criticized. Our unprogrammed Worship is meant to be the pinnacle of informality. We conclude Worship with a handshake, not an ornate, elaborate piece of classical music played on a massive church organ. However, even shaking hands becomes a reverent gesture with time, ritual by any other name.  

I return to the beginning of this post. Over the years, I've learned a few things here and there. The non-religious people I regularly encounter usually take one of two approaches to faith. One group automatically rejects it out of hand for being repressive and hypocritical. The second views religious belief the way I often dismiss New Age, woo-woo practices. I'm highly skeptical of energy healing or discussion of past lives. My mind is closed, for the most part.

Listening for God isn't easy. Like most disciplines, it requires careful study and practice. But practice alone is not sufficient. Belief is not like Yoga or exercise, a learned routine that provides a greater payoff with the time one puts into it. What I find prevents most from hearing what Quakers call the still small voice of the Holy Spirit is doubt. A mind that cannot believe with the natural trust of a child, as Jesus pointed out, will never be receptive to a direct relationship with the Divine. The skeptical will parse any movement, organization, or group to find reasons not to believe.  

Understanding the real nature of religion, in its purest form, does not require us to jettison our common sense. It does, however, insist that we momentarily suspend our disbelief and open ourselves up to the possibility of more. We are not alone. Even the most observant believer loses sight of God from time to time. The people for whom God is always present and always barking orders are the ones I worry about the most.
 

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." "My Lord and my God!" Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus told him, "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me."
Doubting Thomas wanted to believe. Had he not, even direct proof would not have been enough. Though we may be living in a so-called Post-Christian world, where shared biblical references become fewer and far between, and fewer people attend Worship, many people continue to desire a relationship with God. It will never work, however, if God always must exist on their own terms. This idolatry is hardwired into us, but we must resist, if we wish to truly find what our hearts have been seeking most.

There is room at the inn for everyone. We will never be abandoned or cast aside, though if our whims deviate from his because of our headstrong attitudes, it may appear that we are being ignored. A Quaker term of which I am very fond implores Friends not to outrun their Guide. So long as we listen to the guidance of the Spirit, our actions will be neatly in line with God, and therein lies true happiness.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:17:57 AM PDT

  •  a most interesting diary but i'm confused (4+ / 0-)

    by this paragraph:

    ... people continue to desire a relationship with God. It will never work, however, if God always must exist on their own terms. This idolatry is hardwired into us, but we must resist, if we wish to truly find what our hearts have been seeking most..
    but from my point of view, god always does exist on peoples' individual terms. could you clarify?

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility- mperiousRex.

    by terrypinder on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:31:25 AM PDT

    •  Hmm (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      Well, to me it's both. God is very personal, but his authority is separate from ours.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:41:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  that's the thing though (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama, wilderness voice, pvasileff

        the authority, to me, seems entirely human derived too. It was always a sticking point between me and sunday school teachers.

        (I should note here that I went to Quaker school for the first few years of my schooling and even though most of the school wasn't Quaker or even Christian, everyone had to go to Meeting on Wednesday afternoon. I've more or less always been an atheist but I've always found the Quaker faith pretty darn cool and humanistic.)

        Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility- mperiousRex.

        by terrypinder on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:01:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I appreciate that (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama, terrypinder

          I will say that each of us who considers himself/herself a believer must always use careful discernment. Is this God, or is this me? In Worship, we're implored to do the very same thing and share a message ONLY if it really is Spirit-led.

          I'm glad to hear that Quaker school left a favorable impression upon you. Once upon a time, Quaker schools were for Quaker kids alone. I personally wish we'd go back in that direction, but there is too much money to be made and parents of all faiths (or no faiths) pay huge amounts in tuition for progressive education.

          We're supposed to be all about equality, but it eliminates many deserving kids who just can't foot the bill. Anyway, that's a whole different personal gripe.

          I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

          by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:07:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I wish I could have continued at (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Wee Mama, pvasileff

            the Quaker school to be honest. Progressive before progressive was an actual thing. If only all education was that way; we'd be in such a better place.

            anyway I didn't want you to think I was being antagonistic. I know how this site (and sometimes, even me,) can be and I was genuinely curious as to your thought process. Thanks for engaging :)

            Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility- mperiousRex.

            by terrypinder on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:30:12 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  You and the Diarist (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, wilderness voice, pvasileff

      are talking about two different groups of people. There are seekers who put aside their own opinions and ask, and there are those who have been taught not to do so, but to proclaim loudly that they have all of the answers. Among others. Con men, for example, form another important category. It is also very easy to start out as a seeker, but then seize on whatever first presents itself, and to abandon further seeking.

      There is a Hindu tale about a determined seeker who finally met Vishnu, the highest version of Godhood in Hinduism, who appeared in the form of a little baby. The seeker was mightily offended, and Vishnu had to teach him a lesson about what they call Vishnu's Maya (illusion). That is, appearances are not reality, and one should not therefore only value appearances. The lesson took the form of transforming the seeker into a young princess and allowing her to live out her entire life, only coming back to being the seeker after her death. In the tale, it worked.

      Similarly, in what some of us laughingly call real life, slave ship Captain John Newton converted to Christianity and wrote the popular hymn Amazing Grace, and only years later concluded that he had to give up being a slave ship captain, become a minister, and join the campaign to end slavery in the British Empire. Many who called themselves Christian never took the step of breaking from Curse of Ham theology, used in the American South and elsewhere to justify slavery as good for the slaves.

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 08:37:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ummm, no. (13+ / 0-)
    ...people continue to desire a relationship with God.
    Only those people who actually think there is a god desire any such relationship. The rest of us, not so much.
    •  You are missing the point. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      I never implied that belief is for everyone, but there are lots of people working through their own issues with belief and trust.

      Can you say what you will believe in twenty years? Who knows, you might see a need for religion someday down the line. But until then, you have a right to not believe.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:50:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  could you make it more clearly? (4+ / 0-)

        Some generalizations about "people" are intended to be universal; some aren't. In this case, it doesn't seem clear to me what you intended. And this is the wrong sort of generalization to be unclear about. If you tell a group of skeptics that "people continue to desire a relationship with God," it's only reasonable for someone to reply, "Well, I don't." Skeptics have to put up with a lot in this society.

        "I am not sure how we got here, but then, I am not really sure where we are." -Susan from 29

        by HudsonValleyMark on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:34:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  If you want to convince skeptics that religion (0+ / 0-)

        involves divinity you must be prepared to answer the "as evidenced by" questions.  As an atheist Quaker myself, I joined the local meeting because I found the philosophy of right living agreeable and i liked the individuals in the meeting.  My meeting approved my membership although I was open about my disbelief in any external divinity.  When the meeting turned more toward being God-centered I stopped attending.  

        I believe that gods are only a substitute for parental authority for those who cannot deal with reality on an adult basis and wish to achieve a parental type approval for following a particular set of rules.  How old were you when you realized that Santa Claus was a myth?  Are not all religions mythical?  Humanist goals cover the supposed good that religions profess without any divinity involved. Religions developed to provide power to a few and comfort to some.

        If you find solace in religion so be it, but you will change no skeptic minds without evidence.

        "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe it." Neil deGrasse Tyson

        by pvasileff on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 12:10:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Please don't parse what I'm saying (0+ / 0-)

      In a very Meta way, you're proving exactly what my diary poses.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:51:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Many people desire something that over time and (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cabaretic, wilderness voice

      through experience turns out to be a desire for the transcendent.

      Evelyn Underhill said something that has long been known, that neither personal nor impersonal language is wholly adequate to talk about the transcendent. Many skeptics who loathe the simplistic anthropomorphism of literalist fundamentalists may have a deep, even aching desire for something that beauty or mathematics point to but cannot replace. Because of the great differences in how these two experiences are described the possibility that they are at root grounded in the same reality can be lost.



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:55:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's true (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        And that's why I keep looking for commonalities. We're never going to solve problems if people don't do the hard work of translation.

        But in the meantime, we've got to be honest with our motivations and the hidden things that must be taken into account to have successful communication.

        I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

        by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:57:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  How can New Age practices (9+ / 0-)

    be harder to believe than the idea that a human was born without a human father and then came back to life three days after dying and then went to a place no one has ever seen by unknown means?

    •  Maybe they're not? (0+ / 0-)

      I'm merely saying I don't believe in them, as a means of contrast. Sometimes we believe because we believe. We have our biases and our experiences, and these guide what we believe or don't believe.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 06:54:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maybe a better question is, (7+ / 0-)

        is such 'belief without evidence' a good thing? Both personally, and for humanity in general?

        You bolded the sentence: "Blessed are those who believe without seeing me." which tells me that you hold this ideal in high regard. Yet, applied broadly, this seems like a very, very poor way to interact with the world.

        Why should it be encouraged, be it belief in energy healing, or belief in Jesus' divinity?

        •  Good Point (0+ / 0-)

          I don't thing Jesus intended for people to believe for the sake of believing. His critique was for people who had faith, felt a direct connection with God, but went astray from Divine teaching.

          I'm sure there are religious people now who are only going through the motions. Belief for them may be little more empty habit, but they feel guilty if they don't act the part.

          Thomas shouldn't be faulted for his doubt. Everyone doubts from time to time. But when doubts remove believers from direct communion with God, then it can be problematic.

          I don't pretend to know how to tell anyone to have faith. That's a very personal, inward-looking process. But I do know that it's easy to avoid the inner work that being a Christian requires. It's not easy and it never was. Nor will it ever be.

          I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

          by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:32:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm not asking for the how, (4+ / 0-)

            but rather the 'whether' someone should have such faith, and as importantly...'why'.

            If lapsing religious folk are feeling guilty, then it would seem to me that helping them to a state of complete lack of belief would do more to alleviate such feelings than shoring up an already shaky foundation.

            I don't see how this is 'problematic' as you state.

            Are you really sure you targeted this diary 'for skeptics'?

            :)

            •  How do you define skeptic? (0+ / 0-)

              We are all skeptics. Some of us embrace the title of "skeptic."

              I often run across convert Quakers like myself, more so that what we call Birthright Friends. Many of them have felt excluded by other faith groups. They want desperately to believe, to fill the gap that another faith previously provided them. They might call themselves skeptics, but they're really seekers.

              Guiding skeptic seekers towards a greater understanding of God, as they define it, is most of my work. No one comes to me looking for a way out. Instead, they want a way in. But if someone felt that his/her conscience was troubled by religious belief, I would not stand in his/her way.

              People leave my Meeting all the time because of Spiritual crisis and feeling of doubt. While I hope they come back, I don't discount their inner turmoil.

              But again, I don't usually see tortured believers who might become skeptics. What I see instead are people who want to belong and to have faith so badly, but they aren't certain how to go about it.

              I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

              by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:53:22 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  You underestimate the long journey (9+ / 0-)

    many people go through.  I am not the only one who was raised in a loving religious family and community but simply could not deny logic and could no longer live a life of delusion even if it was comfortable.

    •  That's Entirely Your Decision (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      I can only share with you how comfortable a relationship with God has been for me. My aim is for the people who are seekers, who want to believe but often just can't take the plunge. Not you.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:35:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It seems to me ... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        IndieGuy, LyGypsy, trumpeter

        ... that you are the one who is parsing your argument here. You wish to believe in "Magic," as defined by Jesus or "Religion" or whatever it is you specifically believe, yet you maintain that you do not believe in New Age "magic." Obviously, there is a limit to what you are willing to believe.

        Furthermore, you rhetorically posit "seekers" as the religious, which flies in the face of what religious belief actually entails -- namely, Blind
        Faith. Science and Skepticism SEEKS! ... religion (New Age or otherwise) ACCEPTS and BELIEVES.

        As the saying goes: "When you understand the reasons why you reject ALL the other religions in the world, you will understand why I reject yours."

        --GA

        Appraise the Lord! : Tax Church Property. O <-- Circle of Trust. YOU are Here: ------------> x

        by Great Ape on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 08:10:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  doubt is very useful (5+ / 0-)

    It keeps us from adopting just any belief system because someone in authority says so.

    One can commit to a particular practice for a period of time and put the doubts on hold in the meantime. As you say

    momentarily suspend our disbelief and open ourselves up to the possibility of more.
    Buddhism distinguishes several forms of faith, the strongest form being that which arises from experience.  As Buddha says: "Test my teachings as you would a piece of gold, and adopt them only if they prove useful in practice."
    •  My view (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      I think we have to have a basic framework in place, otherwise there's not enough substance.

      The whole point of Quakerism is that we have an Inner Teacher, often called the Inward Light. We have God within us, guiding us, challenging us.

      It's not easy to be a Quaker. A right-wing Christian faith provides easy answers and guidelines. We, by contrast, are asked to constantly live up to a very high standard. We say that there is that of God in everyone, and we are expected to seek God within ourselves. God's teachings are between he and us, and that is the measurement that is most important.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 07:44:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why do Christian have the same faith in life (0+ / 0-)

        Such as non believers ,seem that their outcome in life is about the same as a non believers ,would Christian faith in God give the them a  mathmatical better outcome overall in the daily grind of life

  •  This should be a really short discussion (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Great Ape, IndieGuy, trumpeter

    There is no god (or gods).

    Feel free to get on with your life.

  •  If you were really writing Religion 101 (6+ / 0-)

    FOR Sceptics, you might provide some argument as to why sceptics should become less sceptical.  

    Bolstering the authority of my message by skillfully utilizing persuasive argument is the other medium I've embraced.
    Frankly, I don't see any skillfully utilized persuasive argument in the diary.  In fact, I don't see any persuasive argument even attempted, other than self-congratulatory rhetoric.

    As my father used to say,"We have the best government money can buy."

    by BPARTR on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 08:20:01 AM PDT

    •  I agree 100% ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IndieGuy, BPARTR, pvasileff

      ... the diarist writes about "being a Quaker" ... yet also claims to be "an Atheist" when it comes to New Age practices. Talk about "hedging your bets!"

      What's more, I'm entirely unconvinced that ANY religious believer can be sincere when giving advice about what skeptics should or should not do or believe. It's likely that the religious are physiologically hard-wired to delude themselves through Religious and Mythological belief, and, if that's the case, then why should anyone trust their opinion on Truth seeking?

      --GA

      Appraise the Lord! : Tax Church Property. O <-- Circle of Trust. YOU are Here: ------------> x

      by Great Ape on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 09:12:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Seems like the height of arrogance (5+ / 0-)

    to assume that, because someone isn't religious, they somehow magically know nothing about it, despite the fact that America is drenched in it 24/7.   We grew up in religion.  And then grew up.

    •  yes, as one of the benighted uninitiated (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Great Ape

      I found this whole diary smug and condescending, especially presented to what purports to be the reality-based community.

      Presuming to say that what the diarist believes on no evidence whatsoever is somehow correct, while what others may believe on no evidence whatsoever is somehow incorrect.  Or simply presuming that anyone actually cares about supernatural belief systems.

      I actually expect better from Quakers...

      don't always believe what you think

      by claude on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 11:26:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... and one might reasonably expect better than "Pascal's Wager" as the strongest rationale for believing such ridiculous bullshit as continues to be espoused by believers of religious doctrine, especially in that self-same "reality-based" community.

        Then again, some people are so afraid of the Unknown that they feel the need to cling to the philosophical equivalent of "whistling past the graveyard." Why anyone would actively and purposely choose to believe SOME bullshit, as opposed to not believing in any, is beyond me. They defend it by acting as if they aren't losing anything, but that's how indoctrination works, and they are wrong.

        Religious people get upset when you hold their beliefs up to the light and demand proof, yet they hypocritically condemn Science when it has to self-correct. They've had thousands of years to prove something definitive when it comes to their outrageous beliefs, but they're still just whistling the same old tune.

        --GA

        Appraise the Lord! : Tax Church Property. O <-- Circle of Trust. YOU are Here: ------------> x

        by Great Ape on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 12:24:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Ummm... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Great Ape

    You know, every time I took any "___ 101" class (I have a BA and a BS and got halfway through one more of each before the money ran out, so I have taken quite a few) the instructor began by defining the terms to be used, and what they meant.

    You jumped in the middle.

    Not good technique.

    If you try it again, please consider this.

    I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

    by trumpeter on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 12:46:52 PM PDT

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