Saturday, April 3, 2010

An Invitation

Since it is Easter,a day that calls for the most strenuous belief even for those who are convinced Christians -- it asks us to believe that a dead man came back to life -- it is a good day to propose a year-long experience of looking at the phenomenon of "faith." I invite us to start from scratch -- in so far as any person can -- to look at how it is that people "believe" anything. We'll read about current theories of how the mind works . . . we will think about how we think.

With that groundwork in mind, so to speak, we'll read some folk who have used their minds to come to what is by any standard a minority opinion, namely, that there is no god. A number of atheists have been writing very good books of late, stating their case in convincing manner. Most of us come to the opposite opinion, not by careful thought, though. "Starting from scratch" means hearing the atheist point of view fairly -- understanding their objections not to refute but to learn.

An argument against belief in god calls for an argument for belief . . . not in any specific god or gods or system of belief, but in the possibility/probability of something beyond matter -- a "spiritual" realm, and a god of some sort living therein. That is, do we believe reality to be completely defined by and confined to the physical realm, or do we believe there could be reality in addition to what we can see and feel, taste and test?

The issue of science vs religion comes in play here; and evolution shows up in that regard. So we'll need to read and think about that important question.

The discussion narrows at this point. One cannot possibly read about, let alone understand all the religions of the world. Our context is the Christian religion, and we'll stick to that this go-round. You can't talk about Christianity very long without talking about the Bible, and the Bible is a huge stumbling block for many people. So we'll look for better ways to understand this ancient collection of writings.

Lastly, we can think together about just what an informed, contemporary and intelligent Christian faith might look like for us.

One could devote years of study to any one of these topics. Since none of us has the luxury to do so -- nor the inclination, speaking just for myself -- we will (rather I will) choose a book on each. We'll read it, and have opportunity to talk about it face to face, online, or both. I propose that whoever is interested and available meet two Saturday mornings a month, for an hour, preferably over coffee. Exact time and place to be decided. If you can't come, or would just rather participate online, you can take part by commenting on a blog I'll publish every two weeks, maybe more.

I am being unashamedly discriminatory, though -- men only. It has been men I have talked with about these issues, and for whatever reason men seem more willing to talk about these matters with other men. Besides, women have TWO book groups they can go to at church . . . we should have at least one, don't you think?

Here are the books I propose we read, in this order, over the coming year:

+ On modern theories of how the mind works, especially, in faith matters: Why Would Anyone Believe in God?, by Justin L. Barrett

+ On arguments against the existence of god, or any spiritual realm: The End of Faith, by Sam Harris.

+ On the possibility/probability of god: Is Nature Enough? by John F. Haught

+ On Science and Religion: Rocks of Ages, by Stephen Jay Gould.

+ On the Bible: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, by Marcus J. Borg

+ On taking a fresh look at a contemporary, intelligent faith: Not sure yet!

You can check out the tables of contents, and read portions by clicking on the Amazon links. To really participate in the discussion you need to have read the material.

Everything is on the table here -- I have no prescribed outcome for you, nor even for myself. You may, after carefully considering the various materials end up with a strong, or stronger faith. Or you may conclude that faith is not for you. But at least we want to give it a fair shake.

You'll need to sign up -- whether you want to participate in person, or online, or both. Only people registered with me will be able to post comments on this blog -- but anyone in the whole wide world can read it. If you want to be in the group, send me an email -- and buy the first book. I'd like us to start May 1st.

Two months per book gets us up to next Easter!