Written by Conflicted Pastor -not me- for the book “Fumbling Through Our Faith”
The Circle of Belief
by Conflicted Pastor
There are many things in our lives that are as real as we choose to make them. Some things we dismiss immediately, while other things we choose to hang on to. What is the difference between the two? What makes us believe one thing and not another? My immediate answer to this is that the things that we really believe are things we have spent a great deal of time thinking through and firming up, while those things we no longer believe are things we have also spent a great deal of time thinking through, but somewhere along our journey of discovery we decided that thing is not worth believing.
There are many stories and claims in the Bible that people believe in different ways. An atheist, for example, only believes the proven historical facts of the Bible and does not believe any of the stories that go beyond physical explanation. Jesus existed, sure, but he was just a charismatic man who had many followers. Water to wine, leprosy disappearing, walking on water, all of these things are either fabricated stories or, at best, exaggerations by people who wanted to believe that Jesus was indeed a savior. On the other hand Christians, both Catholic as well as all Protestant denominations, believe that the stories in the Bible actually happened as they were recorded. That’s probably oversimplifying. Most Christians say they believe everything in the Bible happened as it was recorded, but I think, if pressed, many of them would have a hard time admitting they believe some of the more fantastic stories were literal accounts of events.
Acts 8:39-40: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.”
Let me translate: Philip baptizes an ethiopian fella with no dick (ironic?) and is then teleported to a town over 30 miles away. I love this story because this is a great example of where the rubber hits the road for a lot of people. What is the spectrum of belief for this story?
Atheist: straight bullshit
Christian A: It’s in the word of God, so it definitely happened.
Christian B: Philip wasn’t teleported, he just got there in some mysterious fashion.
Christian C: Philip was teleported, but this is not something that has happened since despite wild historical claims to the contrary.
Christian D: Philip was teleported, there have been saints who have been teleported as well.
Christian E: Philip was teleported, saints have been teleported and modern day evangelists have been teleported. If you really believe it, you can also be teleported.
Random guy from the show “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel: Jesus was an alien and Philip was abducted and transported to the next spot by the aliens.
Who is right? Each group has arguments that make their points plausible on some level, but the real problem is that no group can truly prove that they are right. The difference between Atheist and Christian A is simply the framework of their belief. An atheist doesn’t have to investigate the claim because her framework of belief says that it is false because it was recorded in the Bible. A christian doesn’t have to investigate the claim because her framework of belief says that it is true because it was recorded in the Bible. So who is right?
Let’s take this a step further. Let’s assume that the atheist and the christian were both born into their respective frameworks of belief. Neither has a better claim to truth than the other because neither has built their framework. But let’s move on because Atheist vs Christian is a tired argument and is, quite frankly, boring as shit. We know, you don’t like each other. The much more interesting argument is Christian B vs Christian E. This is where the claws really come out.
Here is the argument in a nutshell: Christian B (CB) thinks Christian E (CE) is a crazy freak who is teetering on the brink of heresy. CE thinks CB is a faithless robot who is christian in name, but not deed. So who is right?
If we make the same assumption as we did for our Atheist vs Christian battle that both parties were born into their respective frameworks of belief, then it doesn’t matter who is right. Better yet, they are both wrong. Not wrong in the sense that they have the wrong answer to the question, but wrong in the sense that they have not earned the satisfaction of rightness.
I have lived a significant portion of my life moving from CE to CA and back again. At each point in my spectrum of belief I thought that I was right and that people who disagreed with me were wrong. What I have learned throughout the process is that you have to be able to accept knowledge and resources from people that live in different parts of the spectrum. If we get trapped in our own perspective, then we are wrong even if our beliefs are right.
I get frustrated with Creationists because I think they exemplify that point. The perspective they have is that the world was created by God in seven days and that the world is a few thousand years old. The important part of Creationism is that God created the earth. Why do we have to be so goddamn certain that it was done in seven literal, twenty-four hour days? We are so committed to our framework of belief that we refuse to even entertain evidence that falls outside of that framework. Many christians would look at this way of thinking and call it fickle. “It either is one way, or it is not. God does not change.” I agree that God doesn’t change, but the way that we perceive God changes. If it doesn’t that means that we aren’t expanding our perspective. There is no explanation in the Bible of a major event that is less detailed than creation. So instead of saying that there is a lot of room to interpret how it actually occurred, we close ourselves off to evidence that isn’t even contradictory.
Our framework of belief should always be expanding and changing shape as we learn more about ourselves and about our world. Those are the two things that open us up to the spiritual realm. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us, so our best chance of knowing Him is to get to know ourselves. Knowing ourselves is not a finite thing. You don’t all of the sudden know who you are because you are always changing as you experience new things. Each day provides unique experiences that change who you are.
We run into problems when we don’t see that we are changing on a daily basis. We see this all the time in christian society. Someone appears to have all their spiritual shit together, then suddenly you find out they have been fucking transvestite prostitutes. We are so doctrine-oriented that we are unwilling to accept a changing framework. Just because God doesn’t change does not mean that our understanding of Him should not change.
We’ve trapped ourselves in a prison of our own belief. Sure we say that we are willing to change, but we also chain ourselves to core beliefs. We spend millions of dollars on facilities and the service presentations, but our beliefs are still stain glass and wooden pews.
I learned something today that both blew my mind and made me stain my pants a little bit (in the good way). I learned that in May of 2012 quantum physicists in China reported successfully teleporting photons over a distance of 143 kilometers between two Canary Islands (http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/09/06/physicists-quantum-teleport-photons-over-88-miles/). I already believed that Philip was actually teleported from one place to another. It wasn’t a belief that I was necessarily passionate about, but I believed it. So my excitement wasn’t that I now had proof that I was right. I was excited because I realized the convergence of science and belief drastically increases the meaning of both.
Yet this type of discovery will be attacked by both sides. Atheists and CB’s won’t want it to be possible because it bolsters the claim of the CE and the CE won’t want it to be possible because it takes the spiritual mysticism out of the story.
A discovery like this opens up the realm of possibility so that we can further understand our physical connection to the Holy Spirit. But a discovery like this also threatens rigid frameworks. This is why they have to be immediately categorized as right or wrong by the owners of the framework. If we associate ourselves with a track home builder, then we look to that builder to determine if this new piece will be compatible with our home. If we have a custom home, then we get to decide if it fits or not or, better yet, how to make it fit.