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October 25, 2012


Our beliefs reflect our intellectual conclusions about our world and ourselves. They assume therefore that we have given some thought and  have gone through some reasoning process to reach those conclusions. But all too often, we tend to accept what others tell us to believe. We even ask sometimes, “What am I supposed to believe?” We are bombarded by advertising telling us what to believe about everything from soap and cars to medicines and political candidates. We have become skeptical and even cynical about what we are told to believe. We even question whom to believe. We need to appreciate that as human beings, we have an impressive brain with which we can think and reason for ourselves, with which we can evaluate and distinguish ideas from other peoples’ thinking and conclusions. We can be educated!

As children we usually accept our parents’ beliefs without much thinking, for they “know everything.”  But as we get older we discover that some of those earlier beliefs need to be modified or even supplanted because of new knowledge. We no longer believe that the earth is flat, for Magellan sailed around it, and the astronauts have circled it and taken pictures. We can no longer believe that God literally sits on a throne in a place just above the sky, for our present cosmology is of a universe of moving galaxies and stars in space-time. Our understandings and beliefs about ourselves and our world have changed and grown as science has provided so much new knowledge.

But most people and institutions are uncomfortable with change. The Christian Church in particular has developed creeds that have become icons themselves, still being recited some 1,600 or more years later as statements of belief. It took the Catholic Church 400 years to admit that Galileo’s beliefs were right! Only in the 1990s did the Catholic Church admit that Darwin was right – although somewhat limitedly. Many Christians – Protestants as well as Catholics – are still being told by their church and their leaders what to believe, all the time ignoring even long-accepted science.

Why do we put so much emphasis on belief? The Greek word in the Bible is “pistis,” and it does mean belief, conviction of the truth of anything, giving assent to propositional statements. But it also means trust or a willingness to put one’s confidence into something or someone. The Latin word for that is “fides” from which we get our English words, fidelity and faith. So to me faith is having trust and confidence in God, without a necessary dependence on an intellectual belief about God. For me God is to be experienced, to be a living part of me.   Creedal statements are helpful guides for the development of my understanding and experience of God, but the words of the creeds must be understandable in the context of current knowledge. So I accept the old words from another time as a precious heritage of our Christian story, as words reflecting very real God experiences of those writers. But I welcome new creeds that reflect our new knowledge and new experiences.

After all, how I live is more important than what I say. Freeman Dyson, noted physicist and devoted Christian, said, “Sharing the food is to me more important than arguing about beliefs. Jesus according to the Gospels thought so too.”

Loren Bullock
October 23, 2012

From → Beliefs

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