Thursday, October 16, 2014

Believing in the divine, or experiencing the divine?

Do you believe in God? Why, what a funny question.

The Pagan leader Starhawk wrote that "we do not believe in the Goddess — we connect with her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through other human beings, through ourselves."

More recently, Pascal Boyer explained: "It takes us Westerners some effort to realize that this notion of 'believing in something' is peculiar. Imagine a Martian telling you how interesting it is that you 'believe' in mountains and rivers and cars and telephones. You would think the alien has got it wrong. We don't 'believe in' these things, we just notice and accept that they are around. Many people in the world would say the same about witches and ghosts."

So, too, Michael Harner: "Shamans don't believe in spirits. Shamans talk with them, interact with them. They no more 'believe' there are spirits than they 'believe' they have a house to live in, or have a family. This is a very important issue because shamanism is not a system of faith....Shamans talk with plants and animals, with all of nature. This is not just a metaphor. They do it in an altered state of consciousness."

This may become what is called "religious experience" as distinct from "religious belief." Carl Jung said: "I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God."

And then, the joke, as retold by John Herman Randall, Jr.:

"Do you really believe in [baptism by] total immersion?"
"Believe in it? Why, I've actually seen it!"


Starhawk, The Spiral Dance (1979)

Pascal Boyer. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001. p 9.

The anthropologist Michael Harner on Quoted in Barbara J. King's Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion. New York: Doubleday, 2007. p. 138.

Carl Jung, quoted in Norman Vincent Peale's Treasury of Courage and Confidence, Indiana: Warner Press, 1970, 1974. p 76.

John Herman Randall, Jr. The Meaning of Religion for Man. Harper Torchbook, 1968 (originally Macmillan 1946). p 24.

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