I’m Not Sure I Believe in God, and I’m Not Sure You Do Either, Part II

So then, just how can I call myself a “Christian” still (and do I, even), especially given that the title of this series of posts suggests that I may not even believe in God anymore? First, let me say that previously on this blog I’ve made a case for faith that is not rooted in giving intellectual assent to a series of propositions about God, which I call “checklist Christianity” but you may simply call orthodoxy. You can read all of that here. I’ve also previously worked out that I’m not terribly troubled by all the inaccuracies, etc. in the Bible because I’m less concerned with “Did it happen?” than I am with “Is it (in some way) true?” and “What is it (the Bible) for?” I’ve “answered” the middle question by suggesting that yes, of course the Bible (and hence, the Christian story) is true. It’s true in the same way that all great stories are “true” (whether they document a factual occurrence or not) and it is incidentally by virtue of the Bible’s role as story that I’ve found an “answer” to question number three above. In other words, the Bible doesn’t answer all of the questions posed to it by modern science very well because it’s not meant to. It’s not a science textbook; it’s a story, and I for one am okay with that.

As always, Frederick Buechner says all of this much better than I ever could. Here is Buechner on believing in Jesus:

Believing in him is not the same as believing things about him such as that he was born of a virgin and raised Lazarus from the dead. Instead, it is a matter of giving our hearts to him, of come hell or high water putting our money on him, the way a child believes in a mother or a father, the way a mother or a father believes in a child.

Here he is again on being “sure” of one’s faith:

Humanly speaking, in fact, who can say for sure about anything? And yet there are some things I would be willing maybe even to bet my life on. That life is grace, for instance- the givenness of it, the fathomless of it, the endless possibilities of its becoming transparent to something extraordinary beyond itself…That if we really had our eyes open, we would see that all moments are key moments. That he does not love remains in death. That Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us, full of grace and truth. On good days I might add a few more to the list. On bad days it’s possible there might be a few less. Beyond that, all I can do with real assurance is once more to echo my old teacher Paul Tillich to the effect that here and there even in our world, and now and then even in ourselves, we catch glimpses of a New Creation, which, fleeting as those glimpses are apt to be, give us hope both for this life and for whatever life may await us later on.

Likewise, Buechner says in regard to the choice to follow Jesus:

If you tell me Christian commitment is a kind of thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say go to, go to, you’re either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine. Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: “Can I believe it all again today?” No, better still, don’t ask it till after you’ve read The New York Times, till after you’ve studied that daily record of the world’s brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible. Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day. If your answer’s always Yes, then you probably don’t know what believing means. At least five times out of ten the answer should be No because the No is as important as the Yes, maybe more so. The No is what proves you’re human in case you should ever doubt it. And then if some morning the answer happens to be really Yes, it should be a Yes that’s choked with confession and tears and…great laughter.

Buechner’s next statement will be controversial to some of my atheist and “believing” friends alike:

Many an atheist is a believer without knowing it just as many a believer is an atheist without knowing it. You can sincerely believe there is no God and live as though there is. You can sincerely believe there is a God and live as though there isn’t.

I do think one can find support for this last point in Scripture, though. I John 4:7-8 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” A surface reading of this would seem to suggest that because God IS love, you can’t love without somehow knowing Him, whether you realize it or not. Likewise, if you don’t love, this passage seems to suggest, it doesn’t matter who or what you know or think you know, you obviously don’t know God. I think all of this begs the question, then, does it really matter? Does it matter whether or not one professes faith in God as one loves, or, whether one rejects God as so much superstitious mumbo-jumbo but chooses to love all the same? This is a compelling question that frankly I’m still working out, but I take some comfort in the words of Buechner above and Scripture alike.

One more Buechner quote takes us to the heart of my “crisis of faith,” if that’s what this is: He says, “It is not the objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.” This is important because what I’ve asserted previously is that in a world where the Bible seems to contain factual inaccuracies in the light of modern science, in my view it still holds validity because my answer to the question of what the Bible is for involves contending that it is not for answering questions posed by modern science, as  I stated above. Rather, it is for conveying the story of God’s wooing of humanity through the ages so as to provoke in us a response even today, a response that leads us to encounter the Jesus that the Bible points to. So the Bible is a story ultimately that points to Jesus. It’s not primarily a set of rules or a “book of heroes” or a template for morality or anything else. The point, then, is to meet Jesus, to encounter him in some way that matters.

In my past, I believe this has occurred to me, and I know that in this “experience of God” I am one of the lucky ones, for I have friends (more than one) who once struggled to follow Jesus and eventually chose not to precisely because of the lack of such an experience.  Buechner suggests above that the miracle we are (all) really after is the experience of God’s presence, and he hopefully suggests that we get it, that this miracle is finally somehow available to us. I can’t help but wonder, though. I’ve just asserted that I did experience it, or I thought I did once. Now, however, I know him only by his absence, and this has been the source of much struggle for me. I struggle because I’ve claimed that experience of “meeting Jesus” in some way as the basis for my faith, since I cannot “stand on” an inerrant “word of God” any longer (because it isn’t, after all, inerrant).

I’ve said that I don’t believe in Jesus as much as I simply believe Jesus. It’s again about a relationship with a living deity that I somehow encounter in daily life. This is the “concrete God talk” that others have taken me to task in the past for. But what does this mean? How can I say I’ve experienced God? Have I seen him visibly or been physically touched by him? Have I heard his voice? No, of course not. My experience(s) of God occurred during worship and can only be described as a sense of ecstasy, a feeling of exaltation as I focused all of my energy and attention on that which is greater than I. Did I somehow connect with God during these worship times? I think so. Can I say for sure? Again, no, of course not. So far, then, I’m suggested that my faith, which no longer rests on an inerrant Bible, rests instead on my relationship with a living God that to this point I’ve described only as a fleeting sense of ecstasy during worship that I experienced mostly when I was a kid. I would like to think and will suggest that there’s just a little more to it, though. One can read in Scripture that we have opportunity to meet Jesus in the “least of these” as we work to love and serve them, and I would like to think this has happened to me too. I’ve given strangers a ride in my car before. I’ve “picked up” a homeless guy and taken him out to dinner once; I’ve even worked professionally to empower and equip poor, struggling families to stay together and keep their kids. In all this, I hope I stand in the great tradition of many saints- professing Christians and avowed humanists alike- who have dedicated their lives to serving others and bettering the world and have by doing so encountered something “bigger” than themselves.

So I don’t know how much of a “Christian” I am, but I know I’m not an atheist. Call it stubbornness if you like, or some psychological, opiate-needing weakness, but it’s simply where I’m at. I can give you some reasons, but I think they’re almost beside the point. The fact is, that like Douglas Coupland in his seminal work, Life After God, “I need God… I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.” I need God to be there. I need the Jesus story to be true, and I desperately hope that it is, and according to Bart Campolo, this surety of what I hope for (not what I know) is the very definition of faith. Besides, at this point in my journey I’m too pissed at God for him not to exist. I need him to be there, if only to work out all my “stuff” with him.

Look, I know the story of Jesus is problematic in and of itself. It raises all kinds of hard questions not even taking into account the miraculous nature of it all, questions like, “Is the Jesus story a case of cosmic child abuse?” Another very troublesome question has to do with making Jesus the focal point of human history, the “lens” through which the rest of the Bible is read. Does this somehow excuse God’s annihilation of round 1 of humanity before the flood, or his frequently mandated genocides early in Israel’s history, which is to say nothing of what he’s put his “chosen people” through throughout the centuries? Likewise, the story not only of Christ but of Christianity is even more troublesome still, and I’ve built a case for that in this series of posts (and others). So Christians have done lots of awful things, and the Jesus story- while full of wonder and wonderful subversion of the domination system it’s historically rooted in- is also terribly problematic in a variety of ways.

Nonetheless, some pretty wonderful things have also been done in Jesus’ name, with a few notable examples being MLK, Jr.’s execution of the civil rights movement and his shifting focus toward peacemaking in Vietnam (which likely finally got him killed), or Dorothy Day‘s wonderful work for the poor and her co-founding of the Catholic Worker movement, or Mother Teresa’s work in India, just to name a few. I know there are some who would say that, on balance, religion/Christianity has done more harm than good, and I respect that argument, though I think it’s irrelevant. I would contend, conversely, that evil lurks in the human heart just as the capacity for loving self-sacrifice does, whether one espouses faith or not. Hitler used religion to justify some of his actions, for sure, but that’s just it: he used it. As a madman, I’m convinced he would have done what he did (given the right confluence of events) whether “faith” was in the picture or not.

If that’s the case, then, if people will engage in exalted acts of love or evil whether they claim faith is involved in any way or not, the question above remains: does it (God/faith/Jesus) really matter? I still believe that it does. You see, I think that I am rather ordinary. Those luminaries in human history like MLK, Jr., Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and even Hitler or Stalin may love or hate in the grandest of ways on the world stage with or without any claim for faith, but what about the rest of us? I think all of us are called to love and serve the world in the most magnificent ways possible, but I at least and maybe you too lack the will to consistently choose the needs of others and/or the world over my own. So again, call me weak if you will but I know this about myself. When I make a concerted effort to respond to the call of God in my life as I read it (through the “lens” of Jesus) in Scripture and, more importantly, experience it in community with other Christ-followers, when that happens I find myself daring to reach for heights of loving service to others that I know I wouldn’t even aspire to otherwise. Like Bart Campolo, then, I’m compelled to struggle still to follow Jesus because I truly believe it is a better life- better for me, better for the world. Kirsten and I once lived as part of an intentional community, for example, and hope to again some day, however brief and ill-fated our initial experience of it was. The first time around we lived with another married couple, a college student, and another woman with the intent of sharing resources and perhaps even raising our children and growing old together. We had a common checking account into which we contributed a percentage of our income and we had hopes for doing much good together that we couldn’t have done on our own without sharing those resources. Obviously, it didn’t work out that time, and Kirsten and I are mostly to blame for that, but without the Jesus story and the sense of calling it inspired, such an arrangement never would have even occurred to us, and we certainly wouldn’t have been crazy enough to try it. Likewise, having failed at it once, I’m sure we wouldn’t want to try it again if not for a sense that following Jesus- that “believing in God” perhaps in a way that most don’t- is something so hard and yet wonderful and world-changing that it simply can’t be done alone.

This, finally, is why I’m not so sure these days that I do actually “believe in God,” because I don’t think I’m living very much like it. I think if I’m going to go to all the trouble to claim some sort of faith still despite ALL the reasons not to that I’ve already discussed, then obviously there has to be a pretty compelling reason to do so. Life with Jesus in the end has to really matter. It has to change everything. It’s damn hard to follow Jesus, or I would argue you’re probably not really doing it “right.” If I “believed in God” like I would like to I probably wouldn’t be quite so materially comfortable, I’m sure (nor would I have the debt to show for it). I’m sure I wouldn’t live in a neighborhood that offers quite so much for liberal, eco-minded white “yuppies” like Kirsten and I. I’m sure I wouldn’t make so much time for watching television or pursuing other insular activities. I could go on, but perhaps you get the point.

Similarly, I’m not sure most would-be “Christians” really “believe in God” either. If they did, I’m sure we wouldn’t have the Christian shopping “ghetto” that I described previously, and the “worship wars” would never have occurred. There probably wouldn’t be over 33,000 Protestant denominations, and all of the inane debates over healthcare reform and welfare, for example, would likely never have occurred because folks who were actually working a hell of a lot harder (no pun intended) to follow Jesus and focus on what he focused on would have made damn sure that their neighbors‘ basic needs were met and that their neighbors were empowered in the midst of a loving, life-changing community to reach their full potential to contribute to that community. Of course, this assumes that such would-be Christians actually have “neighbors” with tangible material needs, which usually isn’t the case since so many “Christians” are relatively (monetarily) wealthy and place such a high priority on protecting that wealth that they isolate themselves in middle-class ghettos of mind-numbing privilege. It’s hard to believe in God and follow Jesus, especially in the U.S., because we middle-class white folks live such very, very easy lives. We may have the occasional mouse to deal with (which is why I was up so early this morning and am just loving apartment-living again), but we don’t aspire to a secure government job paying under $300 per month as a night-time rat killer, as some do. We are so terribly spoiled and in love with our money that we think our money can solve all of our problems and are even lulled into thinking that our money can solve everybody else’s problems on those few occasions when we’re roused enough to be aware of them. We practice social work and “give money to the poor,” usually in the hope that by doing so folks will finally be able to overcome their difficulties and live middle-class (or better) “American” lives like we do, all the while failing to finally realize that our “middle-class American lives” are unsustainable and are likely a part of what’s causing much of the world to be so poor in the first place. To invoke the old “parable of the river,” we continually do the work of rescuing people who have been thrown in the river without going upstream to stop the guy who’s throwing people in in the first place.

To really follow Jesus and live world-changing lives that actually make a difference for the world’s poor, hungry, sick, and dying- not to mention for the world (the environment) itself- we absolutely must do so together. Community is vital to such a life. It really does “take a village.” The domination system at work here in the U.S. will inexorably draw you in and propel you down the path of thoughtless comfort and demoralizing/disempowering consumeristic individualism. Everything in our lives is geared toward this and it’s nearly inescapable, which again is why community is so terribly important. It’s important because we need each other in order to actually subvert the system, and likewise it’s important because love only really happens in community. After all, as previously discussed God is love and we read in Scripture that we know him if we likewise love each other; moreover, the world will know we know God when we live such lives- together- of love. So, please, let us finally begin to do so. Let us cast off our fears and differences and begin trusting God and one another more than our pensions and insurance. Let us risk discomfort and struggle and conflict for the sake of community. Let us “vote,” for sure, but let us do so with our feet and hearts and hands and wallets as we support minority businesses and make micro-loans to the world’s poor and as we rehab old buildings and turn them into thrift stores. Let us risk our pervasive individuality and move in together with great intentionality, remaking “family” along the way and creating space for those who have no place to go, or who want to spend their days serving others for little or no pay instead of punching a clock for no good reason. Let us do all these things because we do believe in God and are trying follow Jesus, or at least because we desperately hope to.

God, let it be so, for your sake and ours too.

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4 thoughts on “I’m Not Sure I Believe in God, and I’m Not Sure You Do Either, Part II

  1. I usually don’t respond to your writing because I think I will only make things worse for you, and I don’t want to do that. For some reason I feel compelled to now though. It’s probably because I can identify so much with what you have written, having been in a similar crisis a few years ago (has it been that long?). I don’t have long to write, so I’m just going to through a few thoughts at you as they come to me (just wanted to explain so that the tone is not misunderstood).

    First, I think we both know that regarding your ecstatic experiences, “God” is simply the label that you put on it. That’s why it’s so easy to look back on it differently later. It’s not a fact that you experienced God’s presence, like I experienced yours when I picked you up from the airport when you were here last. “God” is the interpretation of the actual experience. Again, we both know this. I’m going to kind of echo you and say “who cares” about the label. What really made such experiences valuable to you had a (natural) cause. Perhaps its a sense of peace, a feeling of being part of something important, or pride in an expression of cooperation. These things are great, and can be pursued without the label “God.”

    So much of your writing strikes me as a desperate need for your own approval. MLK, Ghandi, etc. did great things and got famous for them. Lots of people do great things and don’t get the recognition. Many people, famous or not, don’t do great things. I think you could do with a good dose of Ecclesiastes. Forget everyone else. Forget about comparing yourself with the rest of middle-class America. You think that by calling yourself to a higher standard than the rest of us that you will be happy, but it doesn’t work that way. Even if you successfully practice what you preach, you will still be unhappy. Just decide what you find fulfilling and work toward that end. If that is living in community and doing … then do it. Just quit judging yourself and everyone else. I think your days under the sun will be happier.

    I think you need to try out meditation. It really helped me, even though I haven’t done it for a while (but like you, I intend to do better). I say this for a few reasons, including what I’ve already said above. It just seems to me that the underlying assumption behind your view of life is that it is intrinsically worthless, and only gains value if spent in some grand way. I think that’s wrong. Life is wonderful, even if it’s “just” lived quietly. Of course there are better and worse ways of living it, which will bring varying levels of pleasure and pain for more than just the individual. How we live is important – I’m not saying it isn’t – but I think you need to broaden your view of the good life.

    I probably have more, but gotta go. Later, friend.

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  2. Hey man, I’m really glad you chimed in. Of course, I’m very interested in your thoughts. I miss our talks; so this should be fun. So, here’s my question. How do I know that my experience of you, Jared, is any more “real” than my ecstatic experience of God as a young person? I could be suffering from any number of delusion-causing psychological maladies (and probably am), and consequently could have a very intricate and long-standing relationship with my “friend” Jared who, so far as anyone else is concerned, doesn’t exist. The point is, perception is everything, right? By the way, I’m not sure actually that I look back on those ecstatic experiences and now see them differently than I did then. What I have said is that I had those experiences- whatever they were- then, and haven’t really had them since (or at least not for about a decade or so). I haven’t said though that I thought they were something then that I now somehow “know” them not to be. We agree, though, that the label may not matter.

    You’re right that I could probably stand a little less self-judgment. As you may know, I’ve been told more than once that I’m a bit of an “intense” person. Still, I wonder- if a revolution of some sort really is needed to bring about a life of more love and justice for folks here in the U.S. and around the world- I can’t help but think it’s going to take some intense folks doing rather intense things. Even so, less judgment on my part all around is in order, I’m sure. As for being happy, though, I can’t say I’m all that interested in it, perhaps because you’re right- I know I’ll never be whether I do it my way or yours or anyone else’s, for that matter. I still hope for joy, though, and believe that it’s possible, even for me.

    I think you know, or I hope you do, that I do believe life has intrinsic worth, from my perspective because God made it “good.” You’re right, though, that I do think my life will have been somehow “wasted” if I’m not actively engaged in a lifelong journey of loving service to my neighbors in truly tangible, “significant” ways. I’m obviously fairly well convinced of this because I believe I was called to live such a life, and so long as I manage to avoid it there’s a sense in which I do myself- and the world- a great disservice (which, in turn, makes me truly unhappy). Having said that, Jared, can I challenge you a little bit? You once said (in my words) that you didn’t need God (anymore) to live a life of loving service to others, that humanism could give you all you needed in order to do this. Can I ask, then, how that’s going? I know you may still be involved with Kiva, and I commend you on that- and perhaps there’s much more you do that I’m not privy to, in which case you yourself may live one of those lives of quiet greatness, and so I likewise commend you. Is that the case, though? If not, can I ask why (and please know that I’m not judging you at all; I’m really curious)?

    Of course, you may not think that much needs to be done to change the world, in which another type of conversation is likely in order. For me, though, the world’s suffering is such that I am simply unable to sit idly by, and so while I hope for the “good life” for me and mine, I know that I/we will never be able to fully appreciate it so long as so many others are barred from access to it and I have the power to do something about it.

    Hmmm…..I’m just reading over what I wrote above, and realizing that I repudiated most of what you said (or at least tried to :). I want to have this debate because I care about the issues at hand, obviously, and appreciate your willingness to engage me about them. So, please, if you have more to say, do so, and if you want to call “b.s.” on anything I said, feel free to do that too. Thanks for chiming in, man.

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  3. Hey, Robert.

    Your retreat into solipsism is disappointing, although I might have said the same thing a few years ago. There is a lot that I could say in reply, but let me try to keep this somewhat succinct. As a response to my rather banal point that god-experiences are tenuous because they are heavily dependent on interpretation, the fact that you cannot be certain of anything (even my existence) is a non-sequitur. Let’s have a brief philosophical sidebar before I make this point, because I think it will be helpful.

    Modernity, at its worst, equates knowledge with certainty, and then recognizing knowledge thinks it has found certainty (positivism). Postmodernity, at its worst, equates knowledge with certainty, and then recognizing the impossibility of certainty it denies knowledge (solipsism). This is, of course, a crass generalization, but it will serve my purpose here. These two seemingly opposite philosophical views (positivism and solipsism) share a common and flawed assumption: they equate knowledge with certainty. In my view, only by drawing a distinction between knowledge and certainty and breaking this linkage can a middle road be found. N.T. Wright calls this critical realism. He gives a great analogy… Imagine a field that must be crossed, which has tall grass and is in an area that is known to have many poisonous snakes. Positivists whistle as they tread through the field with abandon, oblivious to the danger. They get bitten and die. Solipsists are so afraid of the snakes that they never venture through the field. Critical realists recognize the danger, but move cautiously through the field to the other side.

    Now back to my point… I wasn’t arguing that you can’t be certain that what you experienced was God, in which case your reply would be spot on. Sure, if you really want to be THAT critical we cannot be certain of anything. I was asserting that even at significantly lesser, more common levels of criticism the real presence of God in such experiences fails to meet the standard for knowledge. Come on, man, we’ve both listened to religious folks talk about experiencing God in ways that left us seriously in doubt about the truth of their claims. I know that you don’t really believe everyone who says that “God told me…” What often follows this phrase is something that you abhor and would never believe that God would say. At normal levels of scrutiny you have way more evidence for my existence than for God’s. Therefore, claims about my existence are much more objective than claims about God’s. (By the way, I should point out that you use these normal levels of scrutiny all of the time. You cannot be certain that the laws of gravity will always be inviolable, but you don’t jump off the roofs of buildings.) Do you really disagree with me on this?

    Regarding the intrinsic value that you place upon life, perhaps I am simply wrong. This is just how you come across to me. I’m glad to hear you disagree, and would be happy to be wrong. I still think that you judge yourself and others too harshly, and am glad that you are open to the possibility that this is so.

    You are welcome to challenge me on how I live. I have no problem in answering such questions (which is not to say that I live up to my ideals). If I were defensive I would say that I am still active on Kiva, and have partially funded 106 loans to date. Actually, I haven’t been able to make any loans for the last four months, since we bought our house. I am going to pick it back up next year once my bank account recovers though. Still, as much as I believe in Kiva I do not want that to be all that I do, and right now it mostly is. Oh, I show kindness to people and generally try not to be an asshole, which is good, but I would like to do more. Like you, my ideals and my life don’t match. In general, I would say that the more good you want to do the harder it is to do it, and the less likely you are to accomplish it. I think this is a problem for everyone – religious and nonreligious.

    I must acknowledge though that my attitude has changed. I’m not obsessed with doing great things anymore. I realized that so much of my drive for that was just a self-serving need to feed my ego. That’s why I challenged you as I did. Now I try to situate the problems that humanity (and perhaps life itself) faces in a larger context. I recognize that they are all bigger than me and outside of my power to change on my own. I try to identify things that I can do, and do them. I also try not to set impossible standards for myself, which are only discouraging. I feel less guilt now than I used to. Guilt is one of those tricky things. It has a purpose in that it can be a great motivator, and it was my primary motivator when I was religious. Now that it has lessened I have less motivation to live as I want. I’m convinced that less guilt was what I needed, although I’ve probably swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. Some guilt is returning as I have recently begun contemplating morality again. I am reading, together with Tony, The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris. It is excellent and thought provoking. Now I think that a little more guilt is probably a good thing.

    I am convinced that the solutions to our problems will require great cooperation, but this will take many different forms. Kiva is great because it allows many people with little-to-no expertise to contribute toward solving a significant problem. Many solutions will not be achieved in this way though. I think that science and technology will play crucial roles in solving many problems (as they have in the past), but they require a great deal of expertise. I am not a scientist nor an engineer, so I can only lend them my solidarity by supporting their professions and institutions as best I can. It can be difficult to know how to do that though.

    Okay, I think that’s enough for now, and I’m out of time anyway. Feel free to respond, of course. I’ll be happy to write more later.

    Peace,

    Jared

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  4. Jared, I’ve been busy with many things as you know, but I apologize for not replying to this sooner. I appreciate the philosophical sidebar, and your accusation that I retreated into solipsism is probably a fair assessment. However, I disagree with your conclusion that “the real presence of God in such experiences fails to meet the standard for knowledge.” Let me say that of course (of course!)I agree with you when you assert that knowledge need not be equated with certainty, and I like Wright’s notion of “critical realism” (maybe I’ll keep those books of yours for a while longer after all). This approach seems very useful to me. Still, once knowledge is freed from the need for certainty, I would assert that no one- including you- is in any position to make any type of categorical or absolute epistemological claim, and I would further assert that this is just the type of claim you were making when you said that my experience failed to meet THE standard for knowledge. This statement of yours presupposes that there is just one such standard, but who are you or anyone else to assert this?

    How do you know, for example, that Tina loves you (or perhaps more to the point, how does she know that you love her)? Is it because of the “loving” acts of service, sacrifice, and care that you perform for one another (I know, I’m treading on dangerous rhetorical ground, but this is a family blog after all)? What one couple might assert is their knowledge of love for one another could look very different from another couple’s, and this opens the door to the possibility of multiple standards for the knowledge of “love.” Sure, there will be great areas of overlap (hopefully) that can be generalized up to the level of common human experience, but as we’ve said there’s no certainty here, and without it, we’re left with little else than assertions by individual “knowers” which may or may resonate with our own experience or that of most people throughout time. The point is, you may call my experience whatever you like; if I choose to call it “God,” it is beyond refutation unless we both retreat into solipsism or positivism.

    None of that really matters, though. After all, it was Christopher Hitchens who wrote, “So then, let the advocates and partisans of religion rely on faith alone, and let them be brave enough to admit that this is what they are doing.” I’ll accept his challenge and take that stand, remembering that “faith is being sure of what you hope for.” I sure hope my “experience” was God, and I sure hope that God is ultimately loving and working hard even now to ultimately “save” all of humanity and the world itself. It is that hope that keeps me going inasmuch as I am able to keep going. It is that hope that keeps me engaged in the struggle for peace-with-justice for all through loving service and self-sacrifice on behalf of my local and global neighbors. Maybe you think of this as trying to be “great,” which you’ve said you no longer strive for. Likewise, you’ve said you’re content to do those non-“great” things which are within your reach. I commend you on that, and will continue to challenge you to do so. Perhaps I’m vain, or overly ambitious or suffering from delusions of grandeur or a “Messiah complex” or whatever. I would like to think that the challenges humanity faces are great and require “great” acts of love and service if ever there will be hope of overcoming them. Nonetheless, if we all do what we “can” and if some of us dream big dreams regarding what that “can” might be, perhaps peace, love, and justice will come (or, as I would assert, God’s will will in fact be done on earth as it is in heaven). Either way, may we all strive with all our might to do that which is put (or found) before us to do.

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