Archive for Saturday, November 15, 2008

Faith Forum: What do I do if I don’t believe?

November 15, 2008


Faith addresses questions about how we are to live

Jill Jarvis, pastor at the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road:

We humans live with the knowledge that we will die, and religion is our response to the question, "How then, are we to live?" In search of answers, we wonder: What does it mean to be human? What is the source of good and evil? Do we have souls? Is there a God? Is there anything beyond the natural world?

It is beyond the capacity of human intelligence to know, with certainty, the truth of ultimate reality. How, then, can any spiritual seeker hope to discern truth among the conflicting claims of religions?

If we feel free to seek answers, then no matter what beliefs our families, cultures or religious authorities insist we embrace, we ultimately believe what our reason and experience tell us is true. Our beliefs may or may not conform to others' (or our own) expectations. But if we are committed to an ever-unfolding, free and responsible search for truth and meaning, then we can't just believe whatever we or others want. We believe what we must.

This is not to say it doesn't matter what we believe. It matters greatly, to ourselves and to others. Some beliefs promote fear and alienate people from one another; others provide a sense of compassion and connectedness, celebrating our differences. Some beliefs are rigid, requiring us to wear blinders lest we fall away and be condemned; others encourage and support our ongoing quest for new insights and understandings. We can honor and trust our beliefs if they are worthy of our very highest ideals, nurture our personal worth, help us make sense of our experiences and inspire us to act in ways that bless the world.

- Send e-mail to Jill Jarvis at

What you believe is your own business

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher of the Kansas Zen Center and a member of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center:

If you come to the Zen Center, nobody asks what you believe, and nobody tells you what to believe. We tell you our practice forms: how to meditate, how to chant and so on. What you believe is your own business.

When I was growing up, my Orthodox Jewish relatives didn't ask what I believed or tell me what to believe either. They told me to go to services, to keep kosher and to observe the Sabbath.

More important than belief is practice, and more essential to practice are what in Zen are called great faith, great courage and great doubt.

Great faith doesn't mean faith in something, or faith that things will turn out your way. Faith needs no object. It's living life in the way your foot meets the ground in walking. Your foot never wonders if the ground is there for it.

Great courage means not giving up. Changing course is no problem, but you have to keep going. Great courage doesn't have to be dramatic either. Every time you do something that's a little difficult or a little unpleasant, and do it without complaining, and do it until you're finished, that's great courage, right there.

Great doubt is most important. People think religion is about belief, but it isn't. What am I? What is this universe? What should I do? These are not questions that can be answered once and for all. Don't evade them. Find a spiritual practice that helps you look at them steadily, and then practice with great faith and courage.

Belief comes and goes. Even if you believe in God your whole life, your idea of God is always changing. But spiritual practice is not dependent on belief, and it can last a lifetime.

- Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at


tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years ago

Would that be a circumferential measurement, Buffy?( BTW, your reply does still seem to beg the question. )

whoswho 8 years ago

Also If man really knew where he/she came from this world would be crazy.... In my opinion and everyone has one, there is a higher power but to point to a specific religon is not the answer..could it be that every religion has a different piece of the puzzel and if we embrace different religions we might be better off?

FreshAirFanatic 8 years ago

Average...You're right...lunatics can say anything they want, including that they are an airplane. The problem is, they aren't an airplane. Thus the lunacy. Find one thing Jesus said that didn't happen or wasn't true. Then and only then can you say he was a lunatic. And you have to do that by objectively looking at history, cultural cross-references and archeology instead of emotion.Tangential...Excellent point. That pesky why question comes from somewhere. Where could that be...

mrjcg2 8 years ago

Most organized religion, especially the American version, is an industry, requiring and asking for, and receiving, large amounts of cash. If you don't believe in that, count yourself lucky. Otherwise, just because you don't "believe" in a second hand hearsay mythology, it doesn't mean you're a bad person. However, that industry would like to sell you your right to feel good about yourself.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years ago

It's one of those Babblical tales, like Joaneus and the Wheel.

lawthing 8 years ago

The human brain is the only living organism in the entire universe that is aware of its own mortality.That knowledge was instilled in the human brain to give it the reasoning power to accept or reject salvation.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years ago

Fanatic: "Find one thing Jesus said that didn't happen or wasn't true.",:-)[tangedit:] "Find one thing Jesus said."

Calliope877 8 years ago

whoswho,Hi. I'm not an expert on scripture, but it seems like there is a verse somewhere in the old testament that many christians cite as a vague reference to the dinos. It's along the lines of, "And in those times, giants walked the earth.." I don't remember what book it was in, or what the original context of the verse is. I just remember that specific line because that was the one cited to me in Sunday school when I had the very same question about why dinosaurs aren't directly mentioned. It's vague and open to interpretation like almost everything else in the Holy Book.

whoswho 8 years ago

I have a question about dinosaurs....Was this ever mentioned in the bible and noahas arch did it not have them? I believe in a higher power but why no mention of dinos?

jonas_opines 8 years ago

Ahhh. . . what the heck."Find one thing Jesus said that didn't happen or wasn't true."Problem is, it seems the only record of what he said is written by the very people that started out believing that he said everything that he is written to have said.

jonas_opines 8 years ago

Unless there are alternate sources verifying what he said?

smarty_pants 8 years ago

"And in those times, giants walked the earth.." I don't remember what book it was in, or what the original context of the verse is...No! Here they were talking about the Elohim!

jonas_opines 8 years ago

"Why can we not have a variety of opinions from main-line and not so well known churches rather than these "New Age" and Eastern religion things so often?"The viewpoints of the main-line churches are not exposed enough? I, for one, appreciate the variety.

Tom McCune 8 years ago

Science addresses the question of "How?" Philosophy and religion address the question of "Why?"

persevering_gal 8 years ago

Two great books to read whether you're Christian or non-Christian are the "Case for Faith" and the "Case for Christ" both by Lee Strobel. Excellent, excellent reads that really help people who want the facts rather than just being told what to believe. These books really make you think.

Jennifer Forth 8 years ago

"Find one thing Jesus said that didn't happen or wasn't true. Then and only then can you say he was a lunatic."Of course, a Muslim would say you should "find one thing in the Koran that hasn't been proven true" and they would feel justified as well. Since both the Bible and the Koran are secondary sources, I'll wait until I hear something from an original source (and no, I am not talking the Book of Mormon!).

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years ago

And, lest I be misunderstood... hmm, what are the chances of THAT happening? ... much as the current administration and the religious right have given the Republican party a bad name, organized "religion" ( especially 20th Century American "Christianity" ) seems to have colored religion rather badly. Religion is the mother of science, part of a rich human heritage. Let us not throw "mom" out with the anionic-surfactant-laden deuterium oxide.( Yeah... "heavy." )

average 8 years ago

Anneht - It is worth noting that the Unitarians (along with Congregationalists and Quakers) were directly involved in founding Lawrence in the 1850s. Several US Presidents also considered themselves Unitarian. It's not exactly "off brand".

jonas_opines 8 years ago

lawthing (Anonymous) says:"The human brain is the only living organism in the entire universe that is aware of its own mortality."I don't know if I buy that. You certainly can't say it with certainty. I think it's safe to say that there's a lot of things in this universe that we don't know, as of yet.

Tom McCune 8 years ago

More often than not, this column is dominated by fundamentalists. It is refreshing to see some more open minded writers this time.

anneht 8 years ago

Surely, with the many churches we have in Lawrence, we should not be subject to these 'Off brand" beliefs as much as we are in this column! Why can we not have a variety of opinions from main-line and not so well known churches rather than these "New Age" and Eastern religion things so often? I am a little tired of it....

AjiDeGallina 8 years ago

I get really tired of WalMart, my government and many mainstream churches trying to force me to practice faith.If I am Jewish, or Pagan, or athiest or whatever, I prefer happy holidays to merry christmas.If I choose to enjoy Christmas, but I am not a Christian, then for me, he is not the reason for the season.God bless you is meant as a warm loving greeting, that, Merry Christmas and other such comment..they do not offend me, what offends me is that there is this pressure or force for me to honor the faith without any honor if I believe something different.When faith beliefs are forced, or especially forced upon others without respect for their beliefs, they become meaningless, even cruel. it is a false witness when Christians turn supremicist.I am open about my faith and will share it with anyone who wants to listen, and I in turn will want to listen and learn about what they believe. I will not force others to conform, live by my rules or even listen without their consent.I am, by the way, a Christian.

average 8 years ago

FreshAirFanatic - The trilemma presupposes that the gospels are an accurate representation, not books formalized years later that cribbed off each other's notes.But, between the three branches, I have no problem with lunatic. A lunatic can say profound things, as well as think he is an airplane.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years ago

The ( highest ) authority is God.Never stop questioning authority.

jonas_opines 8 years ago

well. . . . . ahhh never mind. Can only go in the same circle so many times in one week.

Mixolydian 8 years ago

This is an incomplete question...Believe what? Believe in God? Believe there is no God? Believe that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the best beer in the world?This question is on par with...."How does that make you feel?"

Jennifer Forth 8 years ago

Can science even speak to why that question seems to be instilled within us? - Yes, it's called your frontal lobe and some folks have larger areas than others.

FreshAirFanatic 8 years ago

  1. Understand that it is OK and normal to struggle with belief. 2. Ask "Why don't I believe? Is it because of fear, lack of evidence, the way "christians" behave, or something else? 3. Look around you. The sunsets, clouds, trees, wind, the texture of your fingers, the details of your eye, the beauty of the your significant other. Did all of this just happen?4. Read one of the 4 gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John...each have a different perspective and flavor. Try as best as possible to forget the horrible way "believers" have acted thru the ages and focus only on the person of Jesus. 5. After you finish reading, answer this question. "Was Jesus a liar, a lunatic or is he Lord?" He has to fall into one of those categories. If it's Lord, you're left with a decision...and maybe the beginnings of belief.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years ago

Clint: "and [as] science takes over as the preferred mode of understanding, the tough question really is, "why...?"Does science really address the question of "Why?"Can science even speak to why that question seems to be instilled within us?

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years ago

Fanatic: "Did all of this just happen?"Apparently.

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