17.40 Beleive in Beleiving


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17/40 From the desk of Rabbi Brian




Believing in Believing


I meet a lot of people who identify themselves as religious. (And, I meet a lot of other folk too.) Most of the self-identified ‘religious’ folk, don’t actually believe in God in the classical sense of what one might assume it means to “believe in God.” Nonetheless, most of them believe in “believing in God.”
In other words: their desire to believe in God is greater than their actual belief.

I picked up this notion from a book by John Shelby Spong called Liberating the Gospels: Understanding the Bible with Jewish Eyes. (I highly recommend this book if you want to expand your understanding of the New Testament.) The point I’m elaborating on here is ancillary to the thrust of the book. Nonetheless, this is the point upon which I want to focus.  Here are Spong’s words from p. 299:

Most religious folk no longer believe in God in any real or genuine way, but they are still convinced that they believe in believing in God.


Isn’t that true!?

To make this notion a little less abstract, I’ve included a little diagram:

Spong’s point is that people are more comfortable with the idea of believing in God than they are with actually believing in God. That’s revolutionary. Ponder that for a bit. What he’s saying is that lots of people want to believe in God, and that’s nice. But that doesn’t mean there is a God, or that these people actually believe in this God.

We often confuse wanting something to be true with “it” actually being true.   


Just because we want to believe something doesn’t mean it’s true.


Now as opposed to what I frequently do — take something unrelated to religion and write about it with a spiritual-religious bent — I’m going to take this theological notion and bring it in a direction, unrelated to theology. And, here is the trust of this article — there is a distinction between wanting something to be a certain way and it actually being that way.


Do any of the following thoughts resonate in some way with your experience?

  • I want to believe that a dear friend of mine isn’t an alcoholic, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
  •  I want to believe certain things didn’t happened in my life, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t.
  • I want to believe that tomorrow all my problems will have vanished, but, alas, that’s not going to happen either.

From time to time, often, or frequently, we so desperately want something to be true that we often delude ourselves into belief.  (Rapture 2011, anyone?) 


And this makes sense. Who would want to realize the opposite? It’s uncomfortable to realize, “I was just believing that because I wanted to — not because it’s true.”


Taking a real, empirical look at how things really are can be upsetting!


Spiritual-religious advice: Think about all the things you take for granted that you assume to be true, simply because you want them to be true.

With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian

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