I have wanted for several years to create a basic resource for people with a variety of questions about faith and religion. Friends encouraged me to write a book like this.
I first published a draft of this book on the Wonder Cafe 2 website and thank participants in that community for their comments and questions.
Chapter 1: Testing Faith
Chapter 2: Revelation in Creation
Chapter 3: Perceptions of God
Chapter 4: Morality and Common Sense
Chapter 5: Brief Overview of Faith
Chapter 6: Spirituality
Chapter 7: Angels
Chapter 8: Contributions of Ancient Cultures to Judaism and Christianity
Chapter 9: Religion, Faith, and the State
Chapter 10: Panentheism, Spirit, Universal Christ and Gravitational Fields
I am a third generation Albertan, grew up in Calgary, and started teaching in 1971 in Northern Alberta. My BSc degree i in biochemistry with a math miinor and my BEdA was in Elementary Science. I havve enough Classics courses between the two degrees for a minor in Classics and enough Biology courses for a mnor in Biiology.. My teaching experience included seven years teaching high school math and science and other courses in an Indigenous Residential School outside of St. Paul, Alberta run by an Indigenous council with representatives from seven reserves. I also taught adult upgrading in Northern Alberta for several years with most of my students being Cree and Metis with a few Chipewyan and Dene students. I entered seminary in 1986...
Chapter 1: Testing Faith
Bernard Lonergan was a Jesuit priest, science teacher, and theologian who finished his career serving the Catholic Church in Rome. One of his beliefs was that our beliefs need to pass the test of validity by our observations.
For example, if we believe that God punishes bad people and rewards good people, that needs to be proven by what we observe. Our honest observations will reveal that belief to be false.
People used to believe heaven was somewhere up there above the clouds with God and others looking down and watching us. A member of a lectionary study group I led shared how a crisis in faith for her was when Yuri Gagarin commented that he did not see God anywhere around him from his perspective in space...
Chapter 2: Revelation in Creation
The first and most recent book of revelation is the universe and all that is in it. For those who believe in Creator (and I do), creation reveals the nature of Creator through the clues we found and continue to find.
Bruce Sanguin, a United Church of Canada minister, in his book, Darwin, Divinity, and Dance of the Cosmos, proposed that Creator is self-sacrificing and favours increasing complexity. He drew upon what scientists have deduced about the history of the universe through thousands of clues and tests of guesses about what those clues mean. Scientific best guesses based on evidence from creation suggest there have been several generations of stars, and the deaths of each generation created the...
Chapter 3: Perceptions of God
There are many different perceptions of God. A traditional Christian perception of God is that God is like an old white man with white hair sitting on a throne, watching events around the earth, and responding to those events. This perception is held by many, even though it is against the teachings of the Bible beginning with the second commandment, make no images of anything or worship them. This same commandment speaks against making an idol of the Bible.
Some see any depictions of God as imaginary views with no basis in fact, that “God” under any name is a fiction created by humans for human purposes.
Most ancient religions saw the gods as having human character with superhuman powers. They could be...
Chapter 4: Morals and Common Sense
Some people believe there are foundational morals and that common sense equals wisdom. Neither is true. Both are deeply grounded in the culture of the group. Neoconservatives and neoliberals believe society is more productive if wealthy people pay lower taxes. To them it is both common sense and morally correct as they take risks to earn their wealth. In reality, economic studies have proven their common sense to be folly. This reality is ignored. Their blindness to the risks that other people take to earn money explains their defective morality.
In the past in some societies where protein scarcity increases the risk of starvation, it was immoral to waste the protein in the body of a person who died...
Chapter 5: Faith
Faith means several different things. Faith means a system of belief shared by several people. Faith means adherence to a set of rules. Faith means a quality that relates to how well a person deals with a challenge. When talking about faith, clarifying how a person uses the word helps the conversation be productive.
Faith as a shared system of belief has many layers. The largest layer includes systems of beliefs shared by millions of people: Christian faith; Jewish faith; Islam; Bahai; Hindu; and so on. One or more core beliefs are shared by most people in that grouping.
Within each major faith, there are a few to many layers with groups, subgroups, and so on. Within Christianity we have Orthodox, Roman Catholic...
Chapter 6: A Not-so-Brief History of Faith Evolution
We speculate about what ancient people believed. We cannot be sure what people were thinking before the gift/curse of imagination, of being able to imagine things never experienced or abstract ideas like spirits or gods or right and wrong or good and evil or group identity. When we see cave paintings by Neanderthal Man, we do not know the thoughts behind those paintings.
The study of cultures with very old roots, mostly hunters and gatherers, possibly the most intelligent people who ever lived, shows a diversity of beliefs from atheism to spirits for everything. Along with that diversity of beliefs, morals, social structures, and values diverge. Some societies are/were matriarchal...
Chapter 7: Angels
Angel means messenger of God (ang = messenger; el = God). (Evangelist = messenger sharing message from God approximately)
Angels in the Hebrew scriptures refers to messengers or agents from God including the ones walking by on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah whom Abram invited in to share a meal and the one who stopped Abraham from killing Isaac. There are numerous angels in the Hebrew scriptures. Luke names Gabriel as the angel who appeared to Mary. Matthew has a nameless angel speak to Joseph in a dream. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have angels taking care of Jesus after his encounter with temptation or Satan.
Milton built on a mix of beliefs and stories about angels and a battle between Satan and his followers with...
Chapter 8: Ancient Cultures
Everything builds on or with what came before. This applies to religions as well.
The ancestors of the Aramean people were nomadic shepherds and traders. For them, water sources, grazing lands, weather, shelter, predators, and other people would have been among the most significant factors in their lives. Based on the Adam and Eve story, they would have been matriarchal in their structure.
Often nomadic people choose high points of land as sacred spaces that feel close to the heavens. The Majorville Medicine Wheel sits on a high point in Southern Alberta from which one can see a long way in every direction. The Viking Ribstone in Eastern Alberta sits on a high point from which one can see a long way in...
Chapter 9: Religion, Faith, and State
Before addressing the changing relationships between religion and the state, we need to understand the functioning of the state.
Each state has an established leadership class which can be closed or open. The rules, laws, and practices of the state are designed to serve the interests of that leadership class. When the gap between most of the people and that class gets too wide and the people see the leadership class as their enemy, the state breaks down.
When people feel connected to a religion, that religion tends to share its fate with the people. Christianity started as a fringe religion with mostly marginalized people and religious visionaries who sought a better world, or at least a better...
Chapter 10: Panentheism, Spirit, Universal Christ, and Gravitational Fields
Panentheism, Bruce Sanguin’s Spirit, and Richard Rohr’s Universal Christ, also known as the Cosmic Christ, share the concept of something being within everything and everything being within that something. Panentheism believes God/Spirit is in everything and everything is in God/Spirit.
There is no perfect analogy for this concept, but gravitational fields might help understand this concept.
Every thing is held together in part by gravitational fields, though mostly by chemical bonds and electrical fields. Each particle in an atom has its own gravitational field. Each of us has our own gravitational field related to the distribution of mass in our body. We...
Chapter 11: Evolution
Evolution combines random events, possibilities, probabilities, populations, and traits.
Traits are characteristics seen in individuals and shared usually in a population of similar individuals. Some are visible like skin colour, size, and motion. Some are invisible but easily identifiable like blood type, pH, and temperature. Some are difficult to discern like resistance to infection, endurance, and vulnerability of body parts like the heart or to cancer.
Traits are affected by genes and life experiences. A child might be born with genes for tallness but malnutrition when young could prevent those genes from being fully expressed. The connections between genes and life experiences are complex and vary for...
Chapter 12: Faith and Human Rights
Different religions have different beliefs about human rights. This chapter is primarily about Christianity and human rights.
I begin with the first story of creation in Genesis. In this story, God is claimed to have said, “Let us create humans in our image, male and female.” This story claims all humans are made in the image of God. Failing to treat another person respectfully can be understood as a failure to treat God respectfully.
The Jewish scriptures are grounded in Middle Eastern culture including laws of hospitality. Sodom and Gomorrah, implied by Jesus, were destroyed for breaking those laws of hospitality for strangers. The law about leaving the edges of a field unharvested was a law to...
Atheism is probably the oldest form of belief held by humans. I thank Pavlos Marcos (Avatar name) for some of my edits to this chapter.
Chapter 13: Atheism
Atheism is essentially a belief there is no God, no deity that is influencing the world. An atheist holds this belief.
Some atheists hold the belief there is nothing beyond what we can see, detect, or measure. The physical universe is all there is.
Some atheists are dedicated to attacking traditional religious views about God as some sort of human like being somewhere who sees everything, knows everything, demands people hold certain beliefs. Many religious people shake their heads they do not believe in that kind of god either. Other atheists attack all forms of religion.
Chapter 14: Agnosticism and Gnosticism
Gnosis is Greek for to know. Agnosticism is the choice to accept that a person does not know what to believe about a god or anything else that is not part of the physical reality of the world. Many or most people are agnostics at some point in their faith or spiritual journeys. It opens the mind to new ideas, new possibilities.
Gnosticism is believing spiritual completeness is to be found through acquiring secret knowledge. Some of the ancient scrolls found in the Middle East came from caves that were hiding places for people who belonged to a community of Gnostics. A community of Jewish Gnostics existed before Jesus was born and continued for some time. The scrolls that were found seemed to...
Chapter 15: Spirituality
Spirituality can mean many things from seeking connectedness to believing in a variety of spirits. Whatever it is, seeking something beyond physical reality provides the core.
Being connected and feeling connected challenge measurement but they are real to the person feeling connected. The connection seeking includes with self, with others, with certain items like works of art or a car or canoe, with elements in the natural world or places, and with the mystery underlying or within physical reality.
Ken Wilbur and others speak of the Spirit driving the evolving of the physical world and us and evolving along with us. I have this Spirit in mind at times when I mention the Holy Mystery.
For many artists, the...
Chapter 16: Charismatic/Altered States
Charismatic usually refers to being possessed or controlled by the Holy Spirit and is associated with the Pentecostal churches and with Charismatic Roman Catholics, Charismatic Anglicans, and some charismatic members of other churches. A common demonstration of being charismatic is speaking in tongues (glossolalia), using words not part of usual languages.
It provides an example of an altered state, a state when the person in that state experiences the world in a much different way than usual. It seems to have been a critical part of the early Christian communities, or at least in the memory or experience of the community with the author who named himself as Luke. This is indicated by the stories...
Chapter 17: Non-Christian Religions and Christianity
All religions mix cultures past and present, insights of the founders, elements of original religious beliefs, additions, and deletions over time. They mix wisdom, spiritual experiences, other experiences, random events, and ego.
Followers of Jesus can find bits of wisdom and helpful insights in studying other religions if they approach with an alert and open mind.
Almost always, religions are not inherently good or bad, though the practice of their followers can be helpful or hurtful.
In making friends from various religions, they have inspired me in many ways. My Bahai friends inspired me with their focus on peace, justice, and commitment that puts faith first before material...
Chapter 18: Christianity and Judaism
Jesus lived at a time when the branches of Judaism included Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.
The Pharisees and Sadducees had most of the power within the Judaism in Jerusalem. The Sadducees were more conservative in terms of theology, believing that when a person is dead, they are dead. No life after death nonsense, from their point of view, for them. They believed it was best to cooperate with the Romans as there would be no reward in pursuing activities that could get a person killed. They tended to be wealthy.
The Pharisees were conservative in many ways, but believed in life after death, heaven, and hell. Jesus probably grew up within this branch of Judaism. Their belief in life after death...