Belief and non-belief: at Christmas

Today, this very afternoon, I read one of the lessons at the Block Island Ecumenical Choir and Service of Lessons and Carols.  This year it was held at the Harbor Church. I was very pleased to be asked to read, glad and moved when doing so, but felt I had to tell Steve when he asked me that I was in fact “a no-faith person and would be reading as a person who valued a story many have shared, not as a believer”. I am glad he said it was fine for a non-believer to read. I used to say I was an atheist, but then Richard Dawkins and others whose rationality I might sometimes share, turned that word into a fundamentalist type of Capital “A” Atheism, which I don’t share.dawkins

As far as I can tell, belief is something one has inside oneself, whatever it is about. It is not a product of rational thinking, though maybe it and its companion, ‘faith’ can be affected by thinking. But, as far as I understand this, the notion is that belief is inside one, an ineffable unexplainable part of who I am, in my life and spirit. This is the meaning of the word for me, and I think for everyone: an “I am” sort of essential. It is just that everyone does not believe the same thing. I can’t insist you believe what I believe, nor can you insist that I will believe what you believe.

[This post is not going into what people might SAY they believe, whatever their reasons: pretence, hypocrisy, white lies, necessary survival lies.]

I expect that this is all connected with internalisation, what is taken in unconsciously of our culture and family beliefs even before we know the meanings of the various words. But what does that matter in the present, when I can no more change my belief by my will than I can change my DNA?

Another part of my understanding of belief, and my own state, non-belief, is that if change takes place it is by means of something equally ineffable: revelation. A something which arrives from outside the self and is taken in. A thought, a feeling, then a conviction which had not previously been there. So, at this point in time, and as far back as I remember thinking about it, I happen to be a non-believer in any of the religions of the world. I have heard and valued many of their stories. What I do believe is that LIFE in people and indeed other sentient animals, our dogs and cats etc. is precious and complex and develops conscious appreciation of truth, goodness, beauty, kindness, courage, compassion… and may also suffer under grief, anger, fear, anxiety, … These are all very real and we all learn one way or another to live with our passions. The more we see them for what they are, the more we can channel them where they serve what we believe to be good – hopefully at least.

matthew2Say again: I cannot insist that you believe what I believe, nor can you insist that I will believe what you do.

I can value and respect what we learn from each other.

Today I read Matthew 2:1-12  the coming of the Magi. When I heard which lesson Steve wanted me to read, I remembered that once upon a time, aged about 10, I read this very same passage in Church in Dungannon, as part of the Dungannon High School Christmas Service. That was a nice connection for me personally, but I probably have not read it very carefully since.

Today, following the horrific killings in Newtown, Connecticut which is close, and in the minds of those who were present, I heard more from this lesson than I had heard before.

It is important to keep watch.

It matters that we try to see what is going on.

Like the Wise Men, if we do not like the look of what we see or hear, we should choose, as wisely as we can.

What would I have done if Herod had told me to come back with the information?

What will I do if I meet someone in this gun-obsessed country whose channeling of passion seems way the wrong way?

I also wonder how many times someone wise and compassionate may have averted some dreadful event that never happened? There were never any headlines, because life just bumped a little bit and then went on? And the wise person never even knows that they averted a dreadful incident, and their story is not told everywhere. Why should it be told?

Dreadfulness will always get a hearing.

Today I remember that we never heard more of the magi, they just went off into their own lives along a road away from the bad stuff. We do well to remember that we do not hear so much about plain ordinary common sense and goodness.

I believe there is an awful lot of it about. Thank goodness.

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