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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 389)...

    I have not attended any type of organized religious gathering since I was 11 years old. However, I do not feel that I have lost my faith. I just feel alone in my beliefs. Do you think that congregations are important for a spiritual experience to be complete? Do you feel that it is important to be able to share your experience with others who understand what you believe? Who share your beliefs?

    ...and the response:

    The term "spiritual experience" covers too wide a human territory for a yes or no answer to your question about congregations. Solitude produces some spiritual experiences, congregating produces others. I have no religious beliefs to share with others. As an animist, I say that the world is a sacred place and that humans have as much business living in a sacred place as eagles or deer or whales. There’s nothing in that statement that is a belief. A belief is an assertion about the reality or unreality of something. I know for a fact that I live in Houston, Texas, but I don’t know for a fact that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969. I believe they did, but there are people who believe they didn’t, that it was a trick. I can point to much evidence in support of the reality of the moon landing, others can dispute that evidence. There are people who believe that the waters at Lourdes, France, have miraculous healing power and can point to much evidence, which others dismiss. There are people who believe that the earth is regularly visited by aliens from outer space and can point to much evidence, which others dismiss. There is no evidence whatever that the earth is a sacred place, and there never will be. This isn’t a thing that can be demonstrated by any means (unlike things like moon landings, miraculous healings, and alien visitations). It’s not a statement of belief, it’s a statement that reveals my estimate of something, like saying that blue is my favorite color. There’s no way to prove that blue is the best color, any more than there will ever be a way to prove that the world is a sacred place. To say that the world is a sacred place is not to make a statement about some demonstrable/disputable reality (moon-walk, miracles, aliens) but rather to make a statement about my values. Do I care whether others share my values? People will work hard to make others share their beliefs. They’ll get very exercised if someone challenges one of them. They want everyone to acknowledge the same reality. But they don’t expect everyone in the world to have the same favorite color. I’m glad when someone agrees with my estimate of the world, but I have no investment in making people agree with it. And if someone disagrees with it, this is a matter of complete indifference to me.


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