I am a religions junkie. Probably because I don’t have one of my own, I kinda find the same pieces floating everywhere, in different language, but the symbols are all the same…


My early background, until 14 really is Vedanta. And it shapes me, no doubt. But I also know a fair bit about Judaism and more about Christian Scriptures than even some clergy have been able to appropriate. I have gone into many churches, talked to many, many kinds of people, Protestant or Gnostic or otherwise, Jewish, Kabbalah, etc. I still can’t find a spiritual tradition that I can take whole heartedly — and that’s not to say I don’t “believe” in God… hardly the case at all. Here on my blog, I have written: “I guess I’m just another born-again Pagan” for lack of a better descriptor. But I am not Wiccan or any other “label” that gets assigned with the word “pagan” — If I could really quantify anything, I would probably say wistfully that I am a Mystic, while knowing that few will actually understand what I mean by that.


… and since I am a Religion junkie, I read a lot of religious blogs… and the past two days I have been rifling through a new one: Conversion Diary, which is about a woman who converted to Catholicism from Atheism. And I’m reading through her book list, many of which I have been given by religious friends, born again or otherwise… and found them to be unconvincing while she found them to “ring true” — why is this the case? Is it because I have been exposed to so many different religions that I know, for instance that the Krishna mythos extends before Christ by aprrox. 1200 years?


I have had Experiences that no clergy, so far, could “get” — and sometimes I think, maybe the Catholics would. I mean they are the ones who gave us Aquinas and Eckhart ( I won’t bother with Aquinas’ anti-semitism the same way I wouldn’t with Heidegger), St. Francis and Catherine of Bologna (my favorite Saint). Not only that — but I just don’t think “believing” that Jesus died for you, “saves” you if you never aim to live a life like His, to actually follow in his footsteps (he did not ask to be worshipped, but to be loved and prescribed that we might love others) but so many “believe,” we can never be like him, even though he tells us we shall do even greater things than he. This is troublesome. I also don’t feel comfortable looking at the Bible as a stand-alone. Even the Jews will tell you: don’t take the Torah on its own — you need Talmud and Mishna and Midrash. To do so, to take it on it’s own, is dangerous, among other things. So, I do like that the Catholics have a mystical tradition and commentary traditions… I think the Saints are important. I think Mother Mary is hugely important. Even if I don’t always agree with how many interpret even those things.



So I go (again) to researching catechism, etc. And the very first word, I get stuck — “I believe” or “we believe” it begins. This is a word that is thrown around alot, and I remember feeling slightly miffed even when Obama during his inauguration called upon religions of the nation as well as “unbelievers” and couldn’t shake it: was he speaking to me? Belief is a trouble word and I think it’s misleading and
it’s over-used and often, not in the correct context, from what I can define. So here’s what I found: check out the OED, for all your etymological
needs.

belief
c.1175, replaced O.E. geleafa, from W.Gmc. *ga-laubon (cf. O.S. gilobo, M.Du. gelove, O.H.G. giloubo, Ger. glaube), from *galaub- meaning “dear, esteemed.” The prefix was altered on analogy of the verb. beleafa The distinction of the final consonant from that of believe developed in the15c. Belief used to mean “trust in God,” while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” (a sense preserved in keep one’s faith, in good (or bad) faith and in common usage of faithful, faithless, which contain no notion of divinity). But faith, as cognate of L. fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited tomental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a
matter of religious doctrine” (c.1225).


believe
O.E. belyfan, earlier geleafa (Mercian), gelefa (Northumbrian), gelyfan (W.Saxon) “believe,” from P.Gmc. *ga-laubjan “hold dear, love,” from PIE base *leubh- “to like, desire” (see love). Spelling beleeve is common till 17c.; then altered perhaps by influence of relieve. As a synonym for “Christian,” believer is attested from 1549. To believe on instead of in was more common in 16c. but now is a peculiarity of theology; believe of also sometimes was used in 17c.

And so then I start thinking about other words that this is used with and I remember “make-believe” and wondered how that came in:

make-believe
“pretence,” 1811, from make (v.) + believe. To pretend. make
(v.) Look up make at Dictionary.com O.E. macian, from W.Gmc. *makojanan (cf. O.S. makon, O.Fris. makia “to
build, make,” M.Du. maken, O.H.G. mahhon, Ger. machen), from PIE *mag- “to knead, mix, make” (see may). Sense evolution probably is via prehistoric houses built of mud. Gradually replaced the main O.E. word, gewyrcan (see work). Meaning “to arrive at” (a place), first attested c.1624, originally was nautical. Formerly used in many places
where specific verbs now are used, e.g. to make Latin (c.1500) “to write Latin compositions.” This broader usage survives in some phrases, e.g. to make water “to urinate,” to make a book “arrange a series of bets” (1828), make hay “to turn over mown
grass to expose it to sun.” Make do “manage with what is available” is attested from 1899. Make out “get along” is first recorded 1609, sense of “understand” is from 1646, sexual sense first recorded 1939. Make time “go fast” is 1887; make tracks in this sense is from 1834. Make the grade is 1912, perhaps from the notion of railway engines going up an incline. To make up “end a quarrel, reconcile” is from 1669. — OED

So, lets “make sense” of all this, shall we? What do all these evolution of definitions tell us?
Well, firstly, it tells us that use of the word belief or to believe or even believer did not come into common practice until as late as the 15th, 16th and in some cases 17th century. Our current understanding of the word hasn’t changed much since the mid-1500s, which is: the mental acceptance of something as true. Where before it meant to trust in, or to love. To be of faith, was to
be loyal to
, from c.1250, in the “duty of fulfilling one’s trust.” So to believe was to love or to hold dear as with esteem. So when Jesus says, believe in me – he is saying trust in Me, and love Me. To have faith is the action of duty, to fulfill the action of (belief) Love. A believer is someone who loves and
trusts, and thus does not fear.



Both terms have been absconded to be entirely theological. And they miss the point. So what does it mean to believe something? Acknowledging that we have moved away from the original meaning, we are limited to a mental process vs. a holistic process.


To believe something is to think it: As a man thinketh, so shall it be done unto you. (Proverbs 23:7) It’s something we experience on the inside of ourselves and then project outwards to “try it out” – to have it be done unto us. This is as much a warning as it is a promise.


This is seen very easily when we witness a child invested in a world of make-believe. To make something is to assemble pieces, it is not creationary, which accomplishes manifestation from scratch. But like we “make tea” or “cookies” we are combining and mixing items already available. So what if the child is “making” a “belief” — what are they doing when they pronounce their long stick a fencing foil or sword? Or their cat suddenly becomes their trusty sidekick Tyrannosaurus Rex?

In the child’s mind he interprets a “story” with which he can bodily interact. For his purpose, his mind allows him to use and believe what he sees to be absolutely so. To play make-believe, i.e Making a Belief is to create a construct which allows you to interact with your environment. The difference with making a belief or pretending as a child does and “believing” as an adult might is that the child knows he can walk away from his world and use the exact same cat and stick for another purpose tomorrow. His mental process of belief has not become stagnant or constricted, he knows that he can create anything he’d like to fulfill the purpose of the day.


The problem for us is we got stuck making beliefs and forgot how to change the props. We got stuck thinking the stick can only ever be a sword and the cat only a dinosaur, when we really just need a stick to go fishing or to build a fire or wave a flag, and sometimes we just need a mouse-catcher or a friend.


The process of making belief, which we always try to grow children out of so quickly is a tragedy, for they inherently seem to know what believing is all about – to be in love with the moment, and use whatever is available to achieve the love of the moment. And that when the moment changes, believing what you did before may not serve you in the same way, or at all. Everything is a choice, moment-to-moment.


Now I can just feel the religious squirm but it works the same… to believe in god is to love god – and to act in each moment in ways that allow you to achieve an unending love of god. It does not really matter if you use a cat or a stick to do so. So long that your “faith” and “love” are true and pure, is this not so?


The difference is, the child seems to know that believing is only half of it, the making that occurs on the inside is what “makes the magic happen.” Our interior experience always works to project into our external environment, so that we might experience what we have made. This happens 100% of the time. Our beliefs about the world arrive in such a way that we can make use out of it. Why is that we are surprised that our beliefs show up again and again – to test us? To posit, is this what I want? Now? … and now? How about now?


The problem is we have come to think what we are is made up of our beliefs, — that we make ourselves out of them as a substance we have versus something we do — a collection of worlds all of our own making that clash and vie for space and dominance. Versus a child, who will drop the stick when it becomes broken or too small and find something bigger and better that suits their needs better. As adults, we really are a little stupid: we will hang on to that stick forever because we think it’s the stick that was important, not realizing it was what our minds made of it that provided us with any meaning. Believing has abandoned love. It has become an insurance policy. And from what I can see in my fellow human beings: running too many programs on any device will eventually crash the system.

Views: 36

Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 21, 2010 at 12:05am
Probably certain religious books fail to nourish you for much the same reason that rabbits don't care for steak and tigers aren't fond of hay. Maybe you should be reading another [atheist to generic Episcopalian] conversion book I very much liked: Take This Bread by Sara Miles. I also feel like suggesting Alan Lew One God Clapping, not because it's exactly a 'conversion' book; it's more like the old story of the guy traveling to a distant city to find the treasure he keeps dreaming about... and mainly, it's not about 'religion' but about what religion is about, as seen through one bright and lively mind/heart.

"Make believe" is probably a bad adult metaphor for what children actually do. They construct imaginary settings and play roles, and they don't fool themselves in the process one bit. There are also the words "imagine", and "fantasize", which can mean mentally wallowing in something very crude and unreal-- but can also mean creating a very intricate, coherent and potentially illuminating sort of artwork, a toy universe to explore, a thought-experiment...

Actually "believing" something without actually believing it... is a common "religious" trick, akin as you suggest to 'whistling past the graveyard.' Believing that Spirit underlies the universe because you've found it so; that's an entirely different matter.

Feel free to switch your metaphors as you move from trying to model one aspect of reality to modelling another-- but please don't forget that a metaphor is a way of making analogies between one thing we understand well-- and something else that may or may not actually correspond to it.
Comment by Lindsay on 4th mo. 21, 2010 at 8:27am
"Believing that Spirit underlies the universe because you've found it so" -- if it has come about from a true experience, well then .. it no longer requires belief -- for it's something known. Belief (as a mental practice) is just a place holder. I'm not much into atheism personally, I think it's silly to be honest and I'm not really feeling the episcopal sense... explored that too. I am well aware of metaphor and its uses... you can always check out my long theory here.
Comment by Lindsay on 4th mo. 21, 2010 at 8:34am
and there's nothing inherently negative at all about the words imagine and/or fantasy/fantasize

IMO, they work perfectly in fact. I will take a look at the books you suggested....
Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 21, 2010 at 6:36pm
I found that post at "here" intriguing, feel like trading bibliographies etc. [Hast read Ursula LeGuin's The Language of the Night yet?]

So much agreement, so much disagreement has great potential for mutual inspiration/ mutual bewilderment!

I know there was a pretty active trade route through the Middle East, all sorts of people talking religious shop/trading stories along the way. And much religious talk is necessarily about the same "Thing", because that's what there is -- just as "that thing in the sky with the rabbit in it" and "that thing in the sky with the face in it" both turn out pointing to "Moon!" despite the apparent contradiction.

All the same, there's also a lot of room for the meaning of a symbol to change in shipping. I've seen a lot of stuff about "This god is really that god because someone had exactly the same story about him!"-- and I'd need to know a lot more to know how much validity to ascribe to any of it. The three little pigs and the three sons and the three bears don't necessarily have much significant overlap!

We can be fairly sure that Christianity influenced Buddhism because there were (Eastern church) missionaries along the trade routes just about the time the pre-Kwan Yin guy had his sex change (and started being depicted with a baby!) The Jesus Sutras (not as good a book as its title) quotes a few Chinese Christian writings from the period, and the only thing I find at all interesting about them is the way they give a Buddhist-sutra flavor to some pretty standardized pidgin-religion tract material; the personality of Jesus gets thoroughly washed-out in the transmission.

As far as Christian origins go, I'd say we had a real historical human being, a rather profound poet/mystic, whose original rural Messianic movement got adopted and overwritten as it spread through the cities of the Empire... where the mystery cults you mention were so well established that people readily squeezed/trimmed/stretched the original story into conformity with whatever they'd believed all along. There's no obvious difference between the processes people use to understand something and the processes they use to misunderstand it... both involving efforts to put it into whatever terms they're most familiar with.

My main objection to turning Jesus into a generic Sacrificed God is that it leaves out that sharp social/economic edge you find in much of the synoptic material, his place in the ethical tradition of the prophets. That's what got him executed by the Romans, that was what made him unpopular with their Judean client-rules, and that's the most tempting element for prosperous modern Christians to sentimentalize and/or leave out of the picture. (Nobody yet has come up with a good complete picture; but this is an aspect that really needs some emphasis, a part of the message the modern world needed badly and hasn't wanted to receive!)

Oh well, oh well, too long a comment is worse than too short!

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