Here is something I wrote back when I still considered myself a liberal theist. Although I’m now practically a deist who is rather skeptical about a Creator’s intervention beyond causing the Big Bang, I still stand with most of what I said albeit not quite as smugly. More importantly, I believe there are a few noteworthy points here that the freethinker might find interesting.
* * * * *
Lately I’ve been renewing my spirituality (I did not say “religion”) and what’s rather ironic about it is that it all started when I stumbled upon some atheist blogs and a discussion about the Problem of Evil.
Although I have always maintained that I am a Christian albeit a non-traditional one, I do admire the atheists’ and agnostics’ attitude towards the search for Truth by practicing Freethought – a philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any other dogma. (Wikipedia)
Ah, science, logic, and reason instead of authority, tradition, or dogma. One thing the atheists mock about the fundamentalists is the latter’s preference to dogma over reason. And that’s the same reason why so many young Christians question their beliefs and then feel guilty for not being steadfast in their faith. Some of them take the first scary step in the journey seeking Truth while others abandon science in favor of authority and end up still feeling guilty and thirsty for answers.
I am going to share something I read from Scott Peck’s book several years ago because it attempts to answer the questions begged by the previous paragraph. Of course I could also just direct you to the link here but that would be plain laziness on my part. Besides, it’s a rather long article and I do not want to take so much time and energy from my dear readers, and so I will try to paraphrase and condense it from what I understand, interjecting my own personal experiences. It’s called the Stages of Spiritual Growth.
Stage 1: Chaotic, Antisocial
All children are born into this stage, but some reach adulthood without ever leaving it. These are the people who submit to nothing but their own free will and have no beliefs or principles, and their relationships with other people are often manipulative and self-serving.
Stage 2: Formal, Institutional, Fundamental
Because of the chaotic life in Stage 1, some people experience intense psychological pain or get into trouble and end up converting into Stage 2 by joining or being committed to an institution – military, school, an organization, jail, a church. Stage 2 people follow rules but do not care to think about the reasons behind them. They do not want to hear anyone question the beliefs they hold so dearly especially if it is a logical, valid question, because the institution with its dogma is the only thing preventing these people from falling back into the chaotic life in State 1, and they especially do not want that. (Some criminals, when caught and imprisoned, quickly turn into model prisoners and given early paroles, only to commit another crime on the first day of their release. That’s because they rely solely on the institution – prison – and have no principles of their own.)
Stage 3: Skeptic, Individual
When Stage 2 people marry and raise a family, their children often become Stage 2 at a very early age. But as they grow into their teens they become so used to order that they tend to take for granted the rules and beliefs of their parents and even question these beliefs. Here they are already into Stage 3, the truth seeker. For the Stage 2 people, Stage 3 is the same as Stage 1 – non-believers – and so they would try to convert them with their doctrines, only to end up getting ridiculed. But Stage 1 and Stage 3 are very much different even though they both do not submit to an institution or dogma. Because while Stage 1 people submit only to their own free will, people in Stage 3 submit to something higher: Truth.
People in Stage 3 are often atheists or at least agnostics because they are very logical and scientific. Let’s face it: until now we still cannot scientifically prove that there is a God. There are many personal testimonies about experiences with Grace of course, but they are never enough to let us arrive at a conclusion based on scientific method, which demands that the outcome must be repeatable in a laboratory-controlled experiment (like water always boiling at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level or at one atmosphere of pressure). Now there are many who claim that God took away their cancer, but not all who pray are healed.
Stage 4 – Mystic, Communal
Since this is a rather complicated stage, I would like to quote directly from the book instead of using my own words:
If people in Stage III seek truth deeply and widely enough, they find what they are looking for–enough pieces to begin to be able to fit them together, but never enough to complete the whole puzzle. In fact, the more pieces they find, the larger and more magnificent the puzzle becomes. Yet they are able to get glimpses of the “big picture” and to see that it is very beautiful indeed–and that it strangely resembles those “primitive myths and superstitions” their Stage II parents or grandparents believe in. At that point they begin their conversion to Stage IV, which is the mystic communal stage of spiritual development.
Now the problem with some atheists is that they automatically assume that all religious or spiritual people are in Stage 2: ignorant and superstitious. This should not be the case because while Stage 2 people think of God as a sky daddy who will always rescue them, for the people in Stage 4 it is more of a personal relationship. As Scott Peck explained about how all the great religions have the ability to communicate with both Stage 2 and Stage 4:
In the Christian example: “Jesus is my savior,” Stage II often translates this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his name. At Stage IV, “Jesus is my savior” is translated as “Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation – man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky – mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself – that is what I must follow for my salvation.”
Personally, I do not think that I am already in Stage 4. Most likely I am still on Stage 3 and just beginning to approach Stage 4. And that is why I kept quoting from the book instead of using my own words when explaining Stage 4.
And although I could never scientifically prove to anyone that there is a God, I do have many experiences with what I would call Grace. These experiences may not be enough (and especially not repeatable in a laboratory-controlled experiment) in order to arrive at a conclusion based on scientific method, but the blessings are far too many and far too gracious to be attributed to mere chance alone – or I must be a very lucky guy.
Yes, I know there is so much unnecessary suffering in Africa and in other parts of the world, even right here in our own country. Yes, I recognize that there is the Problem of Evil. But I still believe in God, and although His Grace may not be consistent or even predictable, I believe that when one keeps his life open to Grace, he will be able to catch it when it comes.
And considering myself blessed beyond what I think I deserve, I could now only ask, “What return can I make?”