Sunday, November 30, 2014

Solitude in Theism

One reason I've never felt particularly in sync with other Christians is that my belief in God A) is logically prior to my belief in Christ, and B) my commitment to Christianity is based partly on willful commitment, alongside rational persuasion - with emotional investment taking the hindmost.

I never had a moment, as near as I can remember, where I suddenly had tears in my eyes at realizing the presence of a loving God who wanted a personal relationship with me and who really loved me. I'll go further - I find people for whom this kind of experience is key to their theism (or the lack of it, the key to their atheism) to be... pretty weird, frankly. I'm ill at ease around people whose emotions seem to drive their intellectual lives, rather than the reverse, even if I'm on the same page with them politically and religiously.

One problem with this is, there's very little social space for people with the attitude I have. There is no real group for people convinced by mere theism, and the belief in God or gods or designer, in and of itself, gets treated intellectual as at best a waypoint towards an ultimate religious destination. This, lack, I think, is one of the current and largest cultural mistakes, one that needs addressing. Intelligent Design came within a razor's edge of addressing it, but ultimately was sandbagged by a combination of a dishonest and vicious media treatment, as well as - to be frank - a substantial portion of their own membership treating the entire thing as a Christian project.

That means I've been pretty isolated for a long time when it comes to the question of God's existence, because - even if I'm Catholic, even if I'm pretty damn orthodox - I'm just approaching the whole question in a way that is utterly alien to most people, and I know it.

Luckily I'm a guy who prefers isolation to the usual alternatives.


malcolmthecynic said...

Yeah, that would be me. When I nearly left Catholicism first for atheism, then for vague Eastern leaning theism, then for Protestantism, what brought me back into the faith were three people: My theology teacher, who I owe way more than he realizes and Dr. Feser (My Aunt was very important to living my faith, but not so much to my semi-conversion...non-conversion?).

So I'll always have a real soft spot for Dr. Feser. His defenses of the Five Ways were unbelievably influential in my life. But I've never had anything that could be called a religious experience.

Crude said...

For me, it goes beyond Feser, but Feser absolutely helped in a lot of ways. I had very, very little patience for Catholicism when Catholicism was (as near as I was able to tell) 'a bunch of schmucks holding hands and singing and talking about loving everyone' V2 style.

malcolmthecynic said...

My problem was almost the opposite. I didn't "get" gay marriage at all, and at one point tentatively supported it. And I didn't "get" what the big deal was about abortion. And I found Mass boring. Still do (might as well be honest), but I get the importance of it now.

And when I nearly left theism it was mostly the gnus that got me. Hence Dr. Feser's influence.

Crude said...

Yeah, Feser's one of the best for answering the theism objections at the absolute heart, and for doing so in an intellectually powerful way. Vox's book is also pretty good, since he goes after specific non-philosophical claims effectively.

James said...

I know that feeling (or lack thereof, considering the topic) all too well, Crude. So, so many people get misty-eyed and gushy when it comes to Christ and I find myself on the polar opposite end of that. I don't find anything wrong with it unless it's the only expression and fuel for one's belief, though.

I really wish I could get at least some of that emotion in my experience, but I think that only ever appeared during my first year of Christian belief.

I really appreciate your "theist first, Christian second" sentiment, too, if I'm understanding you correctly. It seems a lot of that emotional attitude frequently manifests itself in apostates as a completely unwarranted, monstrous leap past bare theism, past deism, and to atheism that results in today's Gnu fundies.

ccmnxc said...

I went to a youth conference the summer before my freshman year of high school, and that had a significant impact upon me insofar as I really started caring after that point. And while I will go on the occasional retreat, I tend not to be too into the emotional experience end. So I guess for me, it is not intellectual to the exclusion of emotion and experience, but I would say that the intellectual side is predominant. And I too would tend to shy away from the uber-emotional, charismatic end of the faith. It tends to make me uncomfortable.

Crude said...

Keep in mind, my problem here isn't people who get emotional on the subject of God, or who forge emotional attachments. That I do not forge that is probably a strike against me, as far as Catholicism goes.

But when there is nothing behind the wheel BUT that feeling? Then a problem comes in - yet that seems to drive a lot of people. Including atheists.

Ed said...

I would go along with cc's comments.

The interesting thing is that I often get "accused" of having your disposition, Crude. When someone brings up an argument or objection, I'll take out the books, push up my glasses, and sip the bourbon - it's thinking time.

Very often, the response is that I'm being too heady, too focused on principles, to the detriment of how a person feels or, you know, "humanity." (I'm fairly sure they don't know what that means, either).

Then, when I've tried to explain that I think my position is rational, but that I also find it quite emotionally appealing, they take that as an opening to compare the depth and sincerity of feelings, and thus legitimize their view.

I'll say, too, as to loneliness - I find myself a bit isolated as well. To be sure, I have a friend or two with whom I can commiserate, but...

If you look for someone to talk with, intellectually, that emotional dimension is often missing.

If you look for someone to grasp the depth of feeling one feels at a beautiful exposition of God's love, or at what I take to be an encounter with God, you often get that mushy, lukewarm emotional response which does not do it justice. Only the mystics seem to get this right.