Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Responses to a 2006 Religion Survey

Greg at The Parish picked up on a post from Scott, who is answering questions from a recent book by Robert Putnam. Since they both offered/are offering responses to those questions, I thought I'd take a stab at them, too.

1) Are you absolutely sure, somewhat sure, not quite sure, not at all sure, or are you sure you do not believe in God? I echo both Greg and Scott by first asking, "What do you mean by God?" In terms of an omni-everything Sky Grandfather, no, I don't. Terms such as Father are helpful as metaphors (and Jesus certainly found it helpful as well), but not in a literal sense. I believe in a process God ever working out God's unchanging love in a changing world as revealed through Christ, ever-present and influencing rather than intervening, and existing in a sense other than as a Supercreature who pops in and out of the world as he sees fit. That's how I begin to answer that question. I imagine that a lot of these are going to need such clarification.

2) . . . in life after death? I believe that life does continue after death, yes. In what sense, I don't know.

3) . . . in heaven? In the sense that an age will come where the reign of God is fully realized, yes. In the sense of pearly gates, golden streets, and Michael W. Smith constantly played through loudspeakers, not so much.

4) . . . in hell? In the sense of alienation from God that somehow results from our own decision, yes. In the sense that all non-Christians burn forever, no.

5) Do you believe the world is soon coming to an end, or not? The question probably means something along the lines of earth ceasing to exist through some grand catastrophe. In that sense, considering that our planet is increasingly one huge humanitarian crisis, I wouldn't be surprised. However, in the sense that this age will soon end to be replaced by a new age...I dunno. But the latter is how I think about the end of the world in a theological sense.

6) Have you ever personally experienced the presence of God, or not? Yes.

7) How often do you personally feel God's love in your life? I like Scott's answer: "Whenever I attend to it."

8) How often do you personally feel God's judgment in your life? This is a strange question, if only because I don't think Christians talk nearly as much about "feeling God's judgment" in their lives. But Scott's answer again is a good one: "whenever I attend to it." I'll add "whenever somebody calls me out on something and I have no response other than to agree." That is to be differentiated from misperceptions or when somebody is taking out their pathology on me.

9) How important is your religion to your sense of who you are? My faith is very important to who I am. My religion is important in the sense that it provides tools and practices to nurture my faith, and thus my sense of self.

10) How important is religion in your daily life? In the sense that it provides tools and practices that I use nearly daily, very.

11) How important is religion to you in making decisions regarding your career, family, or health? I use these tools and practices nearly daily to sort out thoughts and decisions that arise in my life.

12) How important is religion to you in making decisions on political issues? My faith in and striving to follow Jesus weighs very heavily in how I think about politics. The alternative ethic that he preached is something that I wrestle with as an American citizen, as I believe Christians should do.

13) Would you call yourself a strong believer in your religion or not a very strong believer? Religion is a human construct attempting to make sense of things larger than itself. That's why I keep repeating the "tools and practices" thing. I strive to believe in the God to which my religion points, and recognize that I, being the little speck that I am, can only know so much through religion or otherwise. Believing "in religion" itself is a recipe for dogmatism, fundamentalism, and oppression.

14) Do you consider yourself very spiritual, moderately spiritual, slightly spiritual, or not spiritual at all? And how could we not make it through a survey like this without using this hip, gooey word? In the sense that I utilize spiritual practices or disciplines or in the sense that I try to attend to spiritual truths, I suppose I'm very spiritual.

15) How often do you read holy scriptures? Almost daily.

16) How often do you say grace or give blessings to God before meals? This used to be a regular thing for me, but I don't currently make a regular point of it.

17) How often do you pray outside of religious services? Almost daily.

18) We will all be called before God to answer for our sins. (agree/disagree) I think that God is constantly calling us to account for sin, not just in some future moment.

19) Morality is a personal matter and society should not force everyone to follow one standard. (agree/disagree) Morality is a personal matter, but it is not only a personal matter. If it were, then we wouldn't need to be concerned with events in Rwanda or Darfur. I'm on the fence about the second clause, however, because it depends on the specific "standard" that one is trying to set.

20) Which comes closer to your views: There are absolutely clear guidelines of what is good and evil; OR there can never be absolutely clear guidelines of what is good and evil. Lately, the first has been much more appealing to me. However, we also frequently screw up the labels, which in a sense makes the second also true. God's guidelines and human perception are two different things.

21) Which comes closest to describing your feelings about holy scripture: Scripture is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word; OR Scripture is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word; OR Scripture is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men? A mix of 2 and 3.

22) Which comes closer to your views: Right and wrong should be based on God's laws OR right and wrong should be based on the views of society? Considering how culturally-based the OT law is, I think it's a constant process of discernment as to how God wishes for us to live in a new time.

23) Which comes closest to your views: The path to salvation comes through our actions or deeds OR the path to salvation lies in our beliefs or faith? Salvation from what? I'm sure that the questioner and many responders assume hell. There are a myriad of other things that humans need to be saved from, not all at once: oppression, greed, ignorance, poverty, mental illness, aimlessness and sin, etc. Our own faith or actions addresses some of these, the faith and actions of others addresses some as well. Apart from that, faith and actions are linked, as per what most of the Bible says.

24) Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings: Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process; OR Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process; OR God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so? The first, I guess.