Monday, November 28, 2011

On Faith: what it is, and what is not...

In my opinion some of the most engrossing discussions I have with both religious and non-religious people include discussing the following: faith. But before I speak to you my dear reader regarding my thoughts on what faith is, what is not, what it could be and so on, let us look as a dictionary definition of the word faith (according to Miriam-Webster):

Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust

Definition of FAITH
allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions

belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust

something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

It appears to me that most of these descriptions of faith point to 'belief'. But the question must be asked: does belief = faith? I would say that while elements of 'belief' can play a role in 'faith', belief does not equal faith. In fact if you my dear reader are a Christian allow me to ask you: do you think that saying "I believe in Christ" is the same as "Having faith in Christ"? We shall go back to this later.

As a Facebook user, I see arguments about religion (along with politics, sports, sci-fi, etc) all the time. When it comes to religion, faith always comes up in some way or another depending on the context. A regular scenario is the one where a 'Theist' (many times from a Christian point of view) would say to an Atheist the following: 
Theists should not expect atheists to believe in a creator because atheists lack the key faculty to understand. Faith is not a natural faculty. It can only be found in those who have been regenerated. Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. ESV

Then came the replies: 
Faith is gullibility and In that first quote, "regenerated" is open for interpretation. I read that and equate it to "indoctrinated" rather than "rejuvenated". As you said, faith is not natural. Therefore, it must be instilled. On the other hand, free thinking is natural because it provides us with the basic tools to analyze the world around us. Therefore, freethinking is "lacking" in theists rather than a "lack" of faith in atheists. As you measure the world around you, you use free thinking tactics. Therefore on a weekly basis you must be reminded of your faith because if left unchecked it will diminish with lack of evidence. Hence, church.

The movie 'Cool Hand Luke' comes to mind since perhaps what we have here is a "failure to communicate". Taking the examples above while being aware that they are not fully representative of all Christians and all Atheists we get the following: 1) Belief (or not) in a Creator. 2) Lacking (or not) the "natural faculty" to have faith. 3) Faith is found in those who have been regenerated. 4) Knowledge and analysis of the world. 5) Gullibility. 6) Faith is "instilled". 7) "Freethinking" is 'natural' unlike faith. 8) Lack of evidence. etc, etc.

I try to tell my Atheist brothers and sisters is that faith is NOT "lack of evidence", "belief in spite of evidence", "rejecting freethinking", or "evidence diminishes faith", etc.  Also, I tell my Christian brothers and sisters that faith is NOT "belief in God", "lack of hope", or "that one must be a believer", etc. All of this points to something that can be related to faith but is not faith. (Note: I am glad to say that some of my Christian and Atheists brothers and sisters agree with what I am about to say.)

Theoretical substantiation, trust, and knowledge deals with the scenario of how much or how little evidence there is for something. Our daily lives deal with this and in many ways we sometimes operate in auto-pilot: getting up in the morning, having breakfast, going to class or to work etc. Otherwise we would never leave the house thinking: "a flock of seagulls (not the 80's band) could attack me since I live close to the ocean", or "I am not going to start my car since I insulted Joe Pesci and he could put a bomb in my car", or "there was no Roman Empire since for all I know the book is lying about Julius Caesar and he could only be a cartoon for a pizza chain".  The history book (along with the history teacher) acts as an authority that we either trust or not. Even if we are skeptical (nothing wrong with that by itself since it can be healthy at times) at some point we trust certain things. Otherwise we could only believe those things that come to us by direct experience and then we have to deal with the scenarios of what is real, what is not real, etc.  In other words, there is knowledge, there is trust, there is belief AND all of these can play a role in faith; however they are not in themselves faith. But then what is faith?

Before I answer my dear reader, I would like to hear from you. In a respectful way and keeping an open mind toward the opinions of others, what does faith mean to you?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Please try to remember, while some of us have a feast tomorrow...

While some of us have a feast tomorrow....

Try to remember that some of us are alone.
Try to remember that some of us cannot find a job.
Try to remember that some of us lost a family member.
Try to remember that some of us do not have anything to eat.
Try to remember that some of us do not have a home.
Try to remember that some of us do not have a special someone.
Try to remember that some of us do not have good friends.
Try to remember that some of us have a broken heart.
Try to remember that some of us are in the hospital.
Try to remember that some of us are child soldiers.
Try to remember that some of us are sex slaves.
Try to remember that some of us are in pain.

So, while some of us have a feast tomorrow....

Give thanks for the food we will have.
Give thanks for the roof over our heads.
Give thanks for the smiles we will get.
Give thanks for the mental and physical abilities that allow us to talk and share with others.
Give thanks for the family members that are with us.
Give thanks for that special someone who loves us.
Give thanks for the good friends we have.
Give thanks because it is right, and a good and joyful thing.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Mario :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hate mail from a hate group: because we are a "GAY friendly church"

A few weeks ago my church received a letter from a certain hate group. According to the letter they saw that we were listed as a "GAY friendly church". Here is the full text of the letter:

To accept sexual deviancy as normal is a sin.
You put your soul in danger of eternal damnation for welcoming unrepentant homosexuals into God’s house. You blaspheme the Name of God. 
Homosexuality should be criminalized. Homosexuals commit crimes against God, against nature, against the Holy Bible and against the human race. 
Because of your church, I now know why God wrote: 
Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. 
Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 
:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 
:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell 
because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins 
and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and 
take away my sins and give me eternal life.


This of course is very tragic and sad. According to this group my church is guilty of the following:
1) Accepting "sexual deviancy" as normal.
2) Welcoming "unrepentant homosexuals".
3) Blaspheming the "Name of God", per points 1 and 2.

They believe that:
1) "Homosexuality should be criminalized".
2) Homosexuals are criminals.
3) Homosexual crime includes: crime against God, crime against nature, crime against the Holy Bible, and crime against the human race.

They conclude that it is churches like mine that the following verses from Scripture apply:
Leviticus 20:13
Romans 1:24, 26, and 27.

According to them, my church and I should pray to Jesus over all of this. In fact, I believe I will do that and a bit more. First, I offer the following verse from Scripture as a prayer: Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 23 Verse 34). Second, I will hope that some of these people will one day recognize that homosexuality is not "sexual deviancy". That argument was put to rest more than 40 years ago and all the other arguments build upon that erroneous premise (like "Homosexuality should be criminalized" and crimes "against nature" and "the human race") should be rejected since they reinforce ignorance and bring nothing but unjustifiable pain and suffering. Perhaps they will read all the arguments from science, psychiatry and psychology that confirm this. Education about sexuality is very important and can play an important role against the ignorance and myths that feed the fear of well-meaning people and give ammunition to the horrible arguments of hate groups.

Third, since they took the time (and the organizational skills) to write us a letter (from what I hear my church was not the only one to receive this letter) my hope is that perhaps they would consider turning these hateful energies into positive efforts. Perhaps they can join you and me (with both religious and non-religious groups) in supporting programs and initiatives dealing with: raising money for local food banks and food pantries, the fight against poverty in the United States and around the world, relief to heavily indebted countries in order to free up funds for education and health care work, HIV/AIDS initiatives, unemployment, providing access to clean water, helping people (specially women and children) suffering from domestic violence and sexual exploitation, and many other worthy causes.

Finally, I have decided to take the following action: I am going to frame the letter we received from them and I will hang it on my wall. I do this not only as a reminder that we must be vigilant against hate and hateful efforts, but to remind myself that hate leads nowhere. Thomas Merton once said that sometimes we act in the following way: We seek the cause of evil and find it here or there...and we discharge upon this scapegoat all the virulent force of our hatred, compounded with fear and anguish, striving to rid ourselves of our dread and of our guilt by destroying the object we have arbitrarily singled out as the embodiment of all evil. 

I ask you my dear reader (both Christian and Non-Christian) to join me and do the opposite; to do so is to say "NO" to hate and "YES" to good, to humanitarian love, to justice, to compassion, to solidarity, to kindness, and to understanding between people. Let us say "YES" in a loud voice to all these things as human beings.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Brother Jed came to Purdue and called me an Atheist...

Here at Purdue University, a certain fire and brimstone preacher ("Brother Jed") was visiting our campus today. My friends from the Purdue Non-Theists told me yesterday he was coming, and of course my first reaction was: "Oh no. Here we go again." He has visited Purdue many times in the past, so I am familiar with his style of preaching: we are all horrible, decadent, depraved sinners, etc, along with women are for making babies and other things. So today instead of trying to speak to him (many tried their best to talk to him or to ask him questions only to be frustrated with the responses) I decided to become "Brother Mario".

I took a guitar, sat on the grass across from him, and wished everyone that was passing by a good day. Some of my friends (who I alerted of my plans) were already there talking to him before I showed up so...some kept talking to him and some sat with me singing songs by the Beatles, Green Day, Kansas, and other songs while smiling and saying hi to everyone. (Thank you to all of you who sat with me :) Thank you very much).

He was a bit confused by what we were doing...

Why did I do this?

I am not going to lie: it was fun :)  But more than that it was my way to go against everything he said but in a peaceful and non-confrontational way; he had a "You Deserve Hell" sign, I had a whiteboard with "Brother Mario says: Have A Good Day". Many people said hi back to us and some thanked us for being there.

The most interesting part about this whole exercise was at one particular moment, when he said something about Atheists and then I realized the following: he was calling me an Atheist because some of my friends who were arguing with him were Atheists. The funny thing was that there were Christians arguing with him as well but I guess it did not matter to him.

So, Mario the Christian became Mario the Atheist just like that. And I thought that for me to become an Atheist I had to admit that to believe in God is like believing in Thor, or in Sky Gandalf, then wake up tomorrow and pledge alliance to the armies of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

There is a a proverb in Spanish: Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres. It is loosely translated into "tell me with who(m) you hang out with and I will tell you who you are". I guess hanging out with Episcopalians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Non-Theists, Improv people, Musicians, etc makes me an Atheist. I had no idea.