humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

I Used To Believe

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 6, 2010

The public image of contemporary philosophers is that their personal stories are all stories of losing faith or of never having had it. The stories in this volume shatter the image. …

… They are stories by contemporary philosophers— many of them world-renowned— of coming to faith or returning, or of enduring in faith. The spiritual journeys narrated were never easy, there’s a lot of suffering and desperation here, and perplexity.”

~ Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale

Man before Buddha

God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, features Christian and Jewish theists. One of the longer pieces is Peter van Inwagen’s Quam Dilecta, which tells the story of his rejection of teenage spirituality, twenty years of atheism and his long slow turn to Christianity. He writes with an urbane cynicism that I find amusing:

My attachment to Unitarianism (and its three pillars: the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Neighbourhood of Boston) did not survive my going away to college. That sort of thing is, of course, a familiar story in every denomination, but it’s an easier passage for Unitarians, since it does not involve giving up any beliefs. My wife, who is one of my most useful critics, tells me that this is an unkind remark and ought to be omitted. It seems to me to be an important thing to say, however. I did not experience the crisis of conscience so common among Evangelical or Roman Catholic university students who leave the church. … It is, however, simply a fact that a Unitarian can sever his connection with Unitarianism without changing any of his beliefs.

~ p32

Have you given up a belief? (Perhaps one belief out of many, a scientific belief or belief in humanity, if not a spiritual one.)

Is it possible to have a spiritual life without beliefs? Perhaps we could say that Buddhism is also a practice that requires no intellectual assent. But is this, in fact, the case?


? What do you think?

“In yourself, believe. It’s alright”, sing the phenomenal King‘s X. There’s a live version here, with an inspiring message— recommended. Or, you can listen to

King’s X – Believe. Belief Lyrics.

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22 Responses to “I Used To Believe”

  1. I don’t think I ever gave up a belief because I never bought into existing paradigms. People are very resistant to my spirituality – I’m used to it and maybe I expect it.

  2. meryl333 said

    Belief vs Non-Belief,. Does it really matter? Because I choose not to believe the Earth is round, does it mean it is not? Before the days of photos, I may have chosen not to believe in the existence of the amazing Great Wall of China. Though if the person telling me was credible and my curiosity tweaked, I would want to make the effort to get instructions on how to locate it and see for myself.

    When someone like Billy Graham’s son or Glenn Beck talk about God, I would not believe them and, if I did, I wouldn’t want to discover this “God” for myself. I wouldn’t want to follow the instructions or practices of people who are mean-spirited, contracted and angry. No. Not for me. And yet, when Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Francis of Assisi, Ramakrishna, Tich Nat Hahn, Dalai Lama, Sarada Devi, Mohammed, Rumi, Hafiz–or even my own humble teacher (add your own examples) speak of the reality of God/Emptiness, I listen. Why? They are men and women who are utterly unselfish, have great composure, contentment, Joy. They exude Love and when others are around them they are more loving, more compassionate, more content & joyful.

    This is the end of the discussion. The Four Yogas of knowledge, meditation, devotion & action are at the core of all the great spiritual / religious practices. They are the roadmaps, the practices that existed for thousands of years to unite Man/Woman with God/That/Emptiness/Divine Self. You can try the adventure on your own, or if you are very fortunate, you may find the one-in-a-million realized being who will give you guidance and help to make the journey easier and faster. In any event, we are blessed to have videos, mp3s and access to these realized teachers in a way that was unheard of many years ago. If the ideal appeals to you… go for it. If not, it’s not for you. Why all the fuss?

  3. Cristine said

    I was conservative Christian for many years because I was desperate to believe. I was even a Bible Study leader in the women’s ministry but the entire time, I never completely bought it. I would cry out “I believe, please help me with my unbelief” (verse) but was constantly haunted by the idea that I was believing in fairy tales.

    It was a relief when I stopped trying and I was condemned by my Christian friends and told I was going to hell. But I don’t understand how a God can punish me for not being able to force myself to believe something. How do you FORCE yourself to believe something?

    • I agree, Cristine. From what I know about christian theology (quite a bit), the idea is that God does the romancing, not us. So if we don’t believe, it’s God’s fault for not woo-ing us 🙂

      Also, imho doubt is part of faith. Don’t get me started 😀

      Did they actually tell you you’re going to hell? I find that incredibly sad.

  4. Anne said

    Well, I used to be a Unitarian Universalist. I didn’t join when I moved to the Pacific NW (US) because the congregation near me was too political. In Minnesota, I did find spirituality in the UU. Not in the creed sense, but in spirituality as humanity.

    Perhaps we could say that Buddhism is also a practice that requires no
    intellectual assent. But is this, in fact, the case?

    To me, Siddartha’s experience is both spiritual and intellectual. I think only someone with intellect would be able to first, understand why giving up desires will change him and second, be able to go through the pain of giving them up and stay true to the contemplative way. I believe that is a cognitive process.

    • Thanks Anne. I think you’ve made a great point about Siddartha’s experience appealing to the cognitive side of us. (As well as the spiritual.)

      I was afraid my UU friends would be offended by that quote. All I can say is I give myself, and my beliefs the same humorous ribbing that I give anyone else’s. I actually think UU might be something I could ascribe to.

      • Anne said

        Humor is welcome! …And in case you wondered if I might be offended, not at all. I, too, was laughing at van Inwagen’s Neighbourhood of Boston, and thinking that he was right about not having as much to give up. Maybe that’s why I joined. : )

  5. leesis said

    A really interesting post Jon…can’t wait to get the book!

    Personally I think my beliefs…or perhaps rather suppositions continue to evolve. I find the ‘return to christianity’ concept interesting. Recently I have found wisdom in certain christian/judhism (spell check where are you 😦 )writings…even quoting them…for example the other day I found ‘be still and know that I am God’ comming out of my mouth in response to a client asking how to escape their pain. My meaning involved the concept of simply being…sitting with where you are in the moment rather than trying to run away.

    Now I am very comfortable internally with this…there is great wisdom in all ‘scriptures’ but I’m not so comfortable with then finding others putting me in the christian box as I absolutely reject the RCC concept of Jesus dying for sins, being the only son of god etc.

    You know the only belief I’ve really given up (many have evolved) is the belief that any one way is ‘right’. Alternatively I guess I have a new belief that everybody is right…for them.

    • Congratulations on giving up a belief! 😀

      I know that verse you quoted. My background, of course. And, I think, totally appropriate in context.

      I agree – everybody’s belief is right… and my belief is that yours is wrong 😉 (hee hee)
      (Who cares about spelingg among friends.)

    • PS: My local library has been amazing – so many cool books, which is great ‘cos I can’t afford them.

  6. Sugarpop said

    I wonder if “giving up a belief” is the same as disillusionment? Or maybe it is the result of it?

    I am a naive idealist who has experienced the dispair of disillusionment more than once, as well as the thrill of genuine and exquisite belief. I am forever changed by both, and I expect to continue to experience both in some measure until I shuffle off this mortal coil.

    • leesis said

      oh my goodness Sugarpop I so wish I had written your second paragraph! 🙂 Beautifully written!

      • I’m often awed by Sugarpop’s writing style, and wish I could emulate it too 🙂

        Many deep-thinking Christians (since that’s the belief system I’m most familiar with) expect doubt to be a regular part of their spiritual life. I guess that might include some disillusionment too.

  7. I’m curious that pretty much everyone has interpreted “belief” as a religious belief. It’s not surprising, given the content of my blog I suppose.

    For me, I gave up belief in hell while I was still a Christian. I gave up belief in Santa Claus when I was under 6? (Thanks Mum & Dad)

    And I’ve given up belief that an eternal universe is likely (current science says we began with a bang).

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