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11/19/2018 8:39 pm  #1

A religious urge

Some may glean from my post history over the last couple of years that I'm a Catholic who has gone through bouts of nihilism and agnosticism. I've never felt quite comfortable with the whole religious picture of the world because it often requires metaphysical presumptions premised on faith, at least to the modern lay-Christian. Yet I find myself always pulled by a sentiment towards the transcendent, longing to boldly commit myself to an eschatological hope in both mind and heart. Perhaps this sentiment is born out of an admiration for classical thought and the idea that Christianity is both an outgrowth and fulfillment of the classical ethos--perhaps I idealize Western Civilization. Or perhaps I desire the simplicity of a single metaphysics, something I devote my life to, instead of entertaining a symposium of ideas that threatens to reduce my life to a never-ending search for the right metaphysics, the right epistemology, the truth. In fact I think one of the benefits of devoting oneself to a religious worldview is that it allows one to settle his mind on truth, an ordering picture of the world. In this sense devotion is a practical matter.

I currently practice the Catholic faith but on pure fideistic grounds, aware of the Church's metaphysical notions that I think can be justified and the ones I think can't or at least require more investigation on my part. But for now "I believe" in Christ and his Church despite doubts, despite the discordant philosophical ideas that float around in my head. Perhaps I'm being intellectually dishonest or maybe I'm staking out some hope in the transcendent and wagering my bets with the Church. But if you were to ask me if I am a full blooded Catholic I would answer in the affirmative.

Can anyone else sympathize or offer advice?

Last edited by RomanJoe (11/19/2018 8:50 pm)


11/19/2018 9:51 pm  #2

Re: A religious urge

"American pragmatic philosopher and psychologist William James introduced his concept of the "will to believe" in 1896. Following upon his earlier theories of truth, James argued that some religious questions can only be answered by believing in the first place: one cannot know if religious doctrines are true without seeing if they work, but they cannot be said to work unless one believes them in the first place. William James published many works on the subject of religious experience. His four key characteristics of religious experience are: 'passivity', 'ineffability', 'a noetic quality', and 'transiency'. Due to the fact that religious experience is fundamentally ineffable, it is impossible to hold a coherent discussion of it using public language. This means that religious belief cannot be discussed effectively, and so reason does not affect faith. Instead, faith is found through experience of the spiritual, and so understanding of belief is only gained through the practice of it."

However, unlike fideists I believe that the intellectual approach is very important. Humans are intellectual beings and so are wills follow our intellect. This is why when you're having an argument and you're winning the opponent often starts to cover his ears and shout over you. He knows that if he understands your point, then it's game over for the will.

If it makes you feel better, I think you're better off than the people who converted from the reformoevangelibaptist tradition. Those tend to be extremely bitter. The most acerbic and bitter atheists have invariably been (de)converts from them. What do they DO to their sheep that cause them to have such a deep hatred?

Last edited by Tomislav Ostojich (11/19/2018 9:57 pm)


11/19/2018 10:04 pm  #3

Re: A religious urge

Hi Joe,

I hope my opinion helps you. I used to have an interest in having a justified belief regarding the existence of God.  However as I went on, I saw that there are many questions and doubts and if one wants to be strict, it would be extremely cumbersome to form a justified opinion. Even if one narrow his/her scope and considers only Christians, he/she finds strong contrasts in terms of opinions (e.g. W.L. Craig and E. Feser). You can even consider the user by the name 119 here who in numerous occasions has argued against Christianity and rejected it based on Old testament. Assuming that everyone is being honest with their opinions, these observations would mean that it is impossible to reach at ultimate truth with complete certainty.

Therefore, I shifted my focus from establishing the truth to the practicality of a given religion (not necessarily the mainstream interpretation, for example I like the Sufi version of Islam even though the main stream Shia Islam rejects this interpretation). Let us grant that a given religion and its practices are true, can you actually follow its standards and practices? Can you actually become a better person (Also don't bring the topic of ethics here, except the issues of abortion and homosexuality, we are aware of the goodness/badness of almost all situations we face in life). Now, if you have earnestly tried to follow the model of a given religion but yet have failed miserably a thousand times, it would no longer matter whether it was true or not. What's the purpose of these teachings if you cannot follow them? (e.g, pedophiles in catholic church) 

Rather what I am finding more intersting these days, is to find which path (as prescribed by a religion) provides better self-understanding. A path is true as long as it endows us with knowledge of ourselevs, our strengthes, weakenss and ways of improving ourselves so that one can get closer and closer to living a moral life. Any path that does not satisfy the above conditions should be discarded. This is how I treat religion these days. It also another reason why I no longer pursue philosophy; even if you have the truth, it would not enable you to live a moral life. People do not live an immoral life because they do not know good or evil, they live a immoral life because they do not know themselves enough to change their ways. I would like to finish with a quote from my favorite Sufi:

"There are more fake guides, teachers in the world than stars. The real guide is the one who makes you see your inner beauty, not the one who wants to be admired and followed"


Last edited by nojoum (11/19/2018 10:27 pm)


11/19/2018 11:38 pm  #4

Re: A religious urge

I can definitely sympathize, since I'm in a similar boat. Not Catholic, but I can neither truly accept nor reject Christianity. It's one of infinite live options, but the one that everything else tends to coalesce around just because of how reality-shattering its claims are.

I would ask you why you think it might be intellectually dishonest to introduce a bit of fideism to the picture. "I believe, help my unbelief" can be a legitimate aspect of Christian faith, and Pascal really isn't the sort of thinker who should be disregarded without a fair hearing.


11/20/2018 5:25 am  #5

Re: A religious urge

I have a lot of sympathy for you. Philosophy demands inquiry; Christianity demands child-like obedience. Philosophy teaches that we can't have truth in this life (or, at least, that we're rather unlikely to); Christianity that we have it revealed to us in Christ Jesus. To live as both homo philosophicus and homo religiosus is, I think, to live inside a contradiction. 

The purely philosophical man will tell you that you should subject everything to the harsh light of reason. He will say that we have no way of knowing whether the “certainty” of faith is anything more than a subjective certainty.

The purely religious man will tell you to subordinate philosophy to religion. He will say that you should start from the truths of religion and reject any conclusions that contradict them. He will make philosophy into religion's handmaid. Philosophy is the search for truth; Christianity requires the cessation of that search. This is why most Christians see philosophy as a tool to clarify and understand the truths they already have (and, perhaps, to turn others towards those truths).

I confess that I come down on the side of the philosopher. I want religion. I want demanding religion. I have the “religious urge”. But I'm a philosopher and I can't imagine living my life any other way. I can't help but subject everything to the lumen siccum.

Anyway, like I said, I have a lot of sympathy.


11/20/2018 10:36 am  #6

Re: A religious urge

nojoum wrote:

It also another reason why I no longer pursue philosophy; even if you have the truth, it would not enable you to live a moral life. People do not live an immoral life because they do not know good or evil, they live a immoral life because they do not know themselves enough to change their ways.

Change their ways to what? 
I think it's perfectly possible that, for instance, some brutal consequentialist could be doing evil, thinking he's doing good, because he doesn't know what is truly good or evil. As Sextus points out (and the history books bear witness to), people through time and space have earnestly acted on contradictory beliefs about right and wrong.

In the Euthydemus, Socrates argues that since we require knowledge of how to live the good life (wisdom) to know how to use all the other purported goods and all those other goods can be evils depending on how they're used, wisdom is the only good in itself. Hence, that the study of how to live the good life is at the very least an essential part of living the good life. (cf. 278c282d.)

(Sorry for the digression, Joe. Farzad: If you want to discuss the argument (which I've just fixed my summary of and reposted, sorry), drop me a PM and I'll start a thread. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to contribute to it, but I know that it's a subject that interests a lot of other people on here who do have time. It might be worth starting a thread on it even if you don't PM me.)


11/20/2018 11:50 am  #7

Re: A religious urge

Begin with the beginning. How to get close to G-d.


11/23/2018 9:42 am  #8

Re: A religious urge

I'm of the 'Philosophy is a handmaiden to religion' bent. Human rationality is extremely fickle, and it's quite humbling how weak our minds are if you think about it. It's worth taking a few postulates as given even without mathematical proofs, ie the Uncaused Cause, and work your way from there. Base your postulates on a 'more likely than not' basis and then seek out God with all your heart. If you truly seek Him, He will reveal himself to you with a level of clarity no amount of philosophy can provide. Then, and only then can you use philosophy to fine tune your understanding of your relation to God and what he wants of you.

Noli turbare circulos meos.

11/23/2018 1:22 pm  #9

Re: A religious urge

Thanks for all of the responses--it really helps. I tend to gravitate towards John's comment. It does seem that there appears to be a contradiction between the life of the religious and the life of the philosopher which I find somewhat puzzling considering some of the greatest philosophical minds both living and dead are and were religious. I think there's more to it than mere contradiction. Maybe it's just a seeming contradiction. I appreciate Nojoum's advice on seeking the practicality of religion while  foregoing truth--or redefining, rather, truth as that which leads to a greater self-understanding--but my attraction towards religion is prompted by a feeling of transcendent subordination towards a reality both unknown yet intimately a part of history and its genesis. The consolation of religion is that it purports to be the Truth, it saves one from dilly-dallying in metaphysical struggles to understand the world. It gives one a cosmic narrative to inhabit. 

Last edited by RomanJoe (11/23/2018 4:12 pm)

     Thread Starter

11/23/2018 2:34 pm  #10

Re: A religious urge

RomanJoe wrote:

The consolation of religion is that it purports to be the Truth, it saves one from dilly-dallying in metaphysical struggles to understand the world. It gives one a cosmic narrative to inhabit. 

Interesting. For me all that matters about a religion is its description of me (or humanity in general), my purpose and the path to that purpose.  It is a lie If I say that I'm not curious about the innerworkings of the world but to me it is just an amusement like playing video games!

Last edited by nojoum (11/23/2018 5:44 pm)


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