One of my first Church of the Churchless posts, "Just have faith," was written in November 2004. It's still one of my favorites. Re-reading it today, I was pleased that I still agree with just about everything in it.
The reason: even though thirteen years ago I was more open to the hypothesis of God and life after death than I am now, the method of open-minded scientific faith that should be used to investigate all sorts of hypotheses -- both worldly and spiritual -- rings as true to me today as it did back then.
My personal research into the nature of reality has led me to the conclusion favored by most other scientifically-minded people: there is no demonstrable evidence for the existence of a conscious being, power, or force we could call "God."
So I have come to reject the God hypothesis, even though my previous belief that God exists was highly pleasing to me.
This is the power of faith. Real faith. Meaning, faith that whatever reality consists of, knowing this truth, even if it makes us uncomfortable, is preferable to embracing a false comforting belief.
Below is what I said in my "Just have faith" post. Note that in the last sentence I speak of "God" being another name for "ultimate reality." This is a rather unusual use of the word, God, but it makes sense to me.
I still pray to God, even though I'm an atheist. However, when I say "God, show me your true nature," I'm really saying "Reality, I want to know you as you are."
Just have faith
Faith is wonderful.
Faith is all we need to be spiritual.
Just faith. Faith alone.
So we shouldn't have faith in anything other than pure, naked, empty faith.
What is faith stripped of thought, emotion, perception, expectation, imagination? Whatever it is, that's what we are seeking. Such is the message at the mystical core of every deep spiritual teaching. A few examples:
Christianity: "Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin....Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding....If you understand anything about him, then he is not in it, and by understanding something of him, you fall into ignorance." Meister Eckhart (Selected Writings, Penguin Books)
Judaism/Kabbalah: "God is not what we think It is. God is not a thing, a being, a noun....Jewish mystics often refer to It as Ein Sof, which means Endlessness....Ein Sof precedes thought and it even precedes the Nothingness out of which thought is born. Nothingness is viewed as a level of awareness that is the result of the 'annhilation of thought.'" Rabbi David Cooper (God is a Verb, Riverhead Books)
Islam/Sufism: "Anything that has a beginning and an end is a 'shell.'...There is more to the pronouncement of faith than what is said with the tongue because it too has a beginning and an end....We know then that the 'soul' of prayer is not only its external form but also a state of total absorption and unconsciousness during which all these external forms, for which there is no room, remain outside." Rumi (Discourses of Rumi, Threshold Books)
Buddhism: "If you want to reach the other shore of existence, give up what is before, behind, and in between. Set your mind free, and go beyond birth and death....I have conquered myself and live in purity. I know all. I have left everything behind, and live in freedom. Having taught myself, to whom shall I point as teacher?" Teachings of the Buddha (The Dhammapada, Nilgiri Press)
Here's how to tell the difference between true faith and false faith: Imagine that you are standing in the middle of a bare windowless room. Two doors lead out of the room. Both are closed, but can be opened with a turn of the doorknob. The doors are marked with signs that describe what awaits on the other side: (A) Reality, (B) Belief
After you open a door, you have to walk through it. The door then will shut and you never will be able to leave the place you have entered. Choose Reality and you will know things as they really are, from top to bottom of the cosmos. You will know whether or not God exists and, if so, the nature of this ultimate divinity. You will know whether death is the final end of your existence or if it is the beginning of another form of life. You will know whether there is a meaning to the universe beyond what human beings ascribe to it.
Or, choose Belief and you will know only what lies within the confines of your current suppositions about the nature of the cosmos. For the rest of your life you will be confident that what you believe to be true, really is. Any evidence to the contrary will not make an impact on your mind. You will remain doubt-free, faithful to the beliefs you now hold about God, creation, life, death, and the purpose of human existence.
Which door would you choose to walk through?
Before answering, consider carefully the potential ramifications of your choice. Reality is an unknown, a mystery. It could be frightening or fabulous, painful or pleasurable, warmly loving or coldly uncaring. Do you want to embrace absolutely real reality? Or would you rather hold on to your beliefs about what is real?
Someone with the type of faith extolled by the Church of the Churchless would unhesitatingly choose Door A and boldly stride into Reality. For their faith is not in anything particular, but is a faith that truth can be known, should be known, and, indeed, must be known.
This is the faith Henry David Thoreau speaks of in Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living it so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the Devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to 'glorify God and enjoy him forever.'" (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For chapter)
Such is a scientific faith, a faith that does not foreclose in advance any possibility about what reality may consist of, a faith not in the unproven pronouncements of some supposedly holy person or book but in one's own direct experience of divinity--or direct non-experience, as the case may be.
Still, there is nothing wrong with belief, so long as our beliefs remain subservient to reality. When reality extends its hand, we should be able to happily surrender even our most cherished beliefs. This will not be difficult if our faith is in the rightness of whatever spiritual experiment we have chosen to undertake, and not in the surety of realizing a particular outcome.
A material scientist adjusts his beliefs, or hypotheses, in accordance with the results of his experiments. He does not design an experiment to produce certain desired findings, for this would not be science. The scientific method is what a scientist has firm faith in; everything else is provisional until proven.
Similarly, the height of spirituality is to just have faith.
Faith that reality is better than any and all beliefs.
Faith that the ultimate reality we may call "God" will be reflected in an open mind...but not a closed one.