I believe that I believe - but I might be wrong.
When I was in high school I came to consider myself a bad student - although I didn't get bad grades. I think it was because I was always questioning what I was being taught, or why I was learning it; its relevance to me in the future etc. So, as a consequence, many of my teachers would struggle with me - usually in very good spirits and with a good sense of humor. They would chalk my behavior up to my "rebellious youthfulness" or to the pervasive attitude of "social defiance" that many children of the 60's seem to have been "infected" with.
For example, I can recall an English class where we were reviewing sentence structures and parts of speech. We had a verbal test where the class was to pick a sentence and then break it down into its parts. For example - "The man ran across the road." Pretty simple right??
The class was really clicking and everyone was doing a fine job of following the instructions. But, then it was my turn. I had been running the sentence through my head over and over - thinking about the words and examining their use in the sentence, and it dawned on me that, technically speaking, the definition that we had learned for Noun, i.e, "a word that can be used to refer to a person or place or thing" - fit every word!!!
It seemed to me that the precise definition fit the whole sentence, as a group of words that were being used to refer to the name of something, i.e. the name of what is going on when a man puts one foot in front of another quickly to move across the road!
For that moment I couldn't break down the sentence - it didn't make sense to do that once I understood the meaning of what was being said.It seemed clear to me then, and now, that words are merely tools that we use to communicate - so, even if the words are not correctly sequenced, but the meaning is understood, then the tool has fulfilled its purpose.
In the movie "E.T." there's a great scene where Elliot is showing E.T., the Alien, around his room and trying to explain everything to him. E.T. picks up a large plastic Peanut shaped money bank (i.e. a peanut version of a "Piggy Bank") and Elliot exclaims: "That's a peanut, but really it's a bank!" - E.T. scratches his head!!! It's an incredible "Zen-like" moment when we share in E.T.'s alien perception of these strange beings called humans.
We understood what was said, but what did the words mean?
Here are some questions that provoke this kind of thinking:
Does a Tomato taste different if we classify it as a vegetable, than it does if we say it's a fruit??
When I drive a nail into the wall with my shoe - is my shoe really a hammer for that moment??
When does NOW begin?
THOSE WERE THE GOOD OLD DAYS
I've been revisiting my way of thinking from back then - and strangely enough, I miss that about myself!! As I've "matured," I've lost some of that "simple-minded" insight that I used to think was a problem - but now see as a possible blessing or gift. To use a twisted version of an expression I once heard; I've "traded my bewilderment for cleverness," and come up with the wrong end of the bargain.
BELIEFS ARE NOT THE SAME AS THE TRUTH
One of the most used and most often misquoted quotes of Jesus is "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." from John 8:32. Most of the time I hear it quoted as "the truth will make you free." - which implies that there is a particular truth that when grasped will free you from all suffering, or from all kinds of bondage. However, I think it communicates something more than that. At face value I think it's really saying that knowing the truth is what enables the truth to free you. In other words - what you know about the truth will free you.
So, the question is - how does one come to know the truth? Is it something that can be agreed upon - or is truth simply reality? Isn't truth just the way things are?
We make statements about believing the truth - but belief and truth are not the same thing.
Belief is a decision. But truth just IS. There is no choice in the truth - we can only decide our way of understanding it. Truth is not a verdict that we vote on as a group, where we represent a consensus of what is believed - truth is what really happened, regardless of whether we believe it or not.
Faith, as a practice, is believing in the same direction but beyond the facts, and in that respect, faith should be flexible, fluid. Because beliefs are based on interpreting our understanding and our interpretation can, and should change when our understanding increases.
THE BENEFIT OF NOT KNOWING
In studying so many different religions I have seen various themes that run through all of them - and most of them agree about the verifiable factual things - i.e. locations, tribal customs, archaeological references, and common traditions etc. (By the way, the false religions are those that fall short on the verifiable issues - archaeological proofs etc., let alone on their questionable revelatory points. - I won't name names but they know who they are!!)
Where the religions really disagree is mostly on the things that are revelatory - or matters of pure faith - with no verifiable proofs. Like the definition of God, the nature of the soul - which are very important, but basically unknowable from an intellectual standpoint. Thus things like "Creeds" or "Belief Statements" serve as place markers in determining the "truth" of a particular religion. Thus, ultimately people choose their "creed" of choice, or choose not to have a creed - thereby declaring "no creed" as their creed! This becomes the divider and therefore the thing to fight and die over. Creeds, as symbols of the truth, are often mistaken for the truth.
AN AWAKENING TO NOT KNOWING
I awoke the other morning with the complete awareness that the truth is beyond knowing - beyond classifying - and it is too valuable to me to break it apart. This appears to be the knowledge about the truth that I have come to know, that I have found by seeking, and knocking. Ultimately, like the sentence about the man running across the road becomes somewhat meaningless when dissected. So, also, I have decided (as if I really can decide anything about the truth) that I can no longer recite any creed with total conviction - the most I can say is that "I believe that I believe....." Therefore, although I may be climbing out on a dangerous limb - (which is faith - isn't it?) I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer subscribe to any religion whatsoever. Religion has come to the end of the line for me and I'm jumping off. I intend no criticism for those who are still on the journey. This is just my choice.
This is a huge decision for me - a few hundred years ago it could have been reason enough for excommunication - and perhaps in some churches it might still be the case - read on!!
But, of course, I could be wrong........