Pending

Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
edited March 7 in Purgatory
I'll figure out a better title later. Meanwhile, I think I'd better admit to why I'm here and purgatory seems the right place to do it.

In simple terms:
1. I'm a writer; admittedly unpublished but I take it seriously and I am (allegedly) quite good at it. And no, that's not based on my mum's opinion.
2. I'm an atheist. Nothing wrong with that. I'm a happy atheist and not one of those annoying atheists who feels the need to pick a fight with anyone who has faith, regardless of what that faith is. I'm proud of the fact that the only online forum where I felt seriously unwelcome was a group for atheists: seems I wasn't atheist enough.
3. As a writer I need to depict as honestly as I can people who are not like me. That's not too bad in third person (he said, she said, Jim said, Julie said, etcetera) where I can be male, female, old, young, and even a mouse (short sentences, no attention span, obsession with food) but gets a lot trickier in first person where the interior reality of a person is wholly exposed.

I have a character named Nevil Warbrook: you can Google him actually because every online iteration of Nevil Warbrook is me. He's more of an alter ego, as he and I have a great deal in common, but one thing we don't have in common is belief. Nevil is Anglican, or as we call it C of E, which is to say, how might I put it, his faith is church-centred rather than God or Jesus centred. He is secretary of the P.C.C. at St James' in Avebury but is more concerned with the historic church interior than with spreading The Word to the Heathens who visit Avebury's ancient stones and though he prays as much as he thinks he ought he'd fall over if anyone, or anything, ever answered back.

But I do feel there is some aspect of Nevil that eludes me simply because I do not know what it is to have faith in a personal God, or any god. When I'm alone I am alone with my thoughts in a way I suspect a Christian never is and the need to honestly depict that crucial difference brings me here.

Soooo, guys, what's it like to believe in this God person/spirit/entity?

NB: I hope from the above that it's clear I'm not out to challenge or undermine anyone's beliefs and while I understand that your faith requires you to spread The Word where you believe it has fallen on deaf or uncomprehending ears I hope you will at least form an orderly queue while doing so.
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Comments

  • mr cheesymr cheesy Shipmate
    Hello.

    Not really a Purgatory topic, but welcome anyway.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    mr cheesy wrote: »
    Hello.

    Not really a Purgatory topic, but welcome anyway.

    Thank you for the welcome. I couldn't see a topic it really belonged in.
  • LydaLyda Shipmate
    Welcome.

    (May I humbly note before the subject of "homework" comes up, that this seems like a pretty interesting topic?)
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Lyda wrote: »
    Welcome.

    (May I humbly note before the subject of "homework" comes up, that this seems like a pretty interesting topic?)

    I hope it is. The absolute minimum any writer hopes to achieve is 'interestingness'!
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    My faith hangs by a faint thread, I certainly wouldn’t want to spread ‘the word’ to any ears, deaf or otherwise.

    I avoid the subject IRL. If pushed I would say ‘I try to follow Jesus.’
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Boogie wrote: »
    My faith hangs by a faint thread, I certainly wouldn’t want to spread ‘the word’ to any ears, deaf or otherwise.

    I avoid the subject IRL. If pushed I would say ‘I try to follow Jesus.’

    My experience suggests that those keenest to spread The Word often do so to validate a version of belief that is both shallow and literalist and they rarely have any interest in any interpretation of belief other than their own.

    Perhaps your understanding that belief of any kind is largely a matter of 'trying' means that your faith is deeper and stronger than you think it is.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    At least for me, a fundamental part of my faith is the need to say, "Thank you." I am aware of having received bounty out of all proportion to my merit. While that inspires many responses in me, the one most relevant to my faith is gratitude aimed at the secret source.
    I also find the richness of Christian scripture, theology, and tradition inexhaustible. It is not a matter of believing something, but of having a rich store of vocabulary, stories, and history that allows me to order and express my experience of the world far better than I could do without it.
    There is a lot in my faith experience that is pre-linguistic. For that, I must echo Wittgenstein: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent."
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    At least for me, a fundamental part of my faith is the need to say, "Thank you." I am aware of having received bounty out of all proportion to my merit. While that inspires many responses in me, the one most relevant to my faith is gratitude aimed at the secret source.
    I also find the richness of Christian scripture, theology, and tradition inexhaustible. It is not a matter of believing something, but of having a rich store of vocabulary, stories, and history that allows me to order and express my experience of the world far better than I could do without it.
    There is a lot in my faith experience that is pre-linguistic. For that, I must echo Wittgenstein: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent."

    Thank you. That was very useful. It implies something I hadn't considered. An atheist (this one anyway) essentially experiences life as a series of events without apparent purpose - the 'shit happens' approach. You suggest that a Christian, or perhaps anyone who believes in a personal G(g)od has a different experience. For them, understanding or seeking to understand the purpose of what is happening is fundamental. They might interpret life's events as a series of tests building to some sort of examination, or as punishment for some unacknowledged fault or omission, or, if their life is good, as a reward for something done. But that questing or need to understand the purpose of events is something I have not yet thought of. My fictional character, Nevil, isn't given to introspection but perhaps he ought to be.

    Incidentally, although I call myself an atheist I dislike the word as it's defined by what it isn't rather than what it is. I would struggle to find words for what I believe in.
  • Welcome, Colin!

    I wouldn't say we believers are never alone with our thoughts. Often-- perhaps just as often as nonbelievers-- we feel very much alone. We seek, we doubt, we wonder, we cry-- often alone. We even have Psalms that talk about that.

    Perhaps what separates us is the short bursts of transcendent moments-- the few times when we're not "alone with our thoughts". The times when we are certain of God's promises. Speaking only for myself, even after 40 some years, it's still a rare experience-- fleeting, and precious. But something about it is so intoxicating (yeah, that's probably the right word) that I cannot stop myself yearning for it, seeking it, wanting more of it. In those moments I am not my usual anxious, dithering, obsessively self-aware self. For a brief moment I am settled, secure, confident, fearless. And yet, while that experience is rare, the "me" I find in those rare moments of transcendence feels somehow more authentic than my usual anxious self.

    Is that the sort of thing you're looking for?
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Welcome, Colin!

    I wouldn't say we believers are never alone with our thoughts. Often-- perhaps just as often as nonbelievers-- we feel very much alone. We seek, we doubt, we wonder, we cry-- often alone. We even have Psalms that talk about that.

    Perhaps what separates us is the short bursts of transcendent moments-- the few times when we're not "alone with our thoughts". The times when we are certain of God's promises. Speaking only for myself, even after 40 some years, it's still a rare experience-- fleeting, and precious. But something about it is so intoxicating (yeah, that's probably the right word) that I cannot stop myself yearning for it, seeking it, wanting more of it. In those moments I am not my usual anxious, dithering, obsessively self-aware self. For a brief moment I am settled, secure, confident, fearless. And yet, while that experience is rare, the "me" I find in those rare moments of transcendence feels somehow more authentic than my usual anxious self.

    Is that the sort of thing you're looking for?

    Very much so.

    Your reply relates to what Boogie wrote on this thread: faith is something you try to live or achieve rather than something which is always there. It also suggests, to me anyway, that my own experiences of life are not that different in terms of what I feel, except that rather than 'God's promise' my feelings of the transcendent are inspired by aesthetics, whether in the beauty of a stormy or starlit sky, by a tree, or even by a man-made object such as a work of art or architecture. At such moments I am aware of being part of something far bigger than myself, albeit in my case that something is rather indifferent to my existence.
  • Interesting stuff, Colin. I used to be a Christian, but no longer find that its narratives fit with my sense of the transcendent. Also practised Zen a lot, where notions of the I/Thou, or me in contradistinction to the godhead, tend to collapse. However, honi soit, etc.
  • Hi and welcome.
    Nevil is Anglican, or as we call it C of E, which is to say, how might I put it, his faith is church-centred rather than God or Jesus centred. He is secretary of the P.C.C. at St James'
    in Avebury but is more concerned with the historic church interior than with spreading The Word to the Heathens who visit Avebury's ancient stones and though he prays as much as he thinks he ought he'd fall over if anyone, or anything, ever answered back.

    Well, I can see that your character might make sense, and I've been like aspects of that character at points in the past, but I would back off that 'which is to say'. As you'll find out if you hang around here (or indeed visit some churches), Anglicans can be everything from Catholic to almost Pentecostal and everything in between, including the character you sketch.

    The playwright Alan Bennett could fit your character - concerned with church buildings - and in his case the 'back story' is one of a childhood faith, thankfully left behind. That's not a particularly interesting story in my view, unless you can do something Humanistic with someone's concern about a place which has been spiritually vital to generations of people while (like your character, Bennett, and you!) not sharing their convictions.

    My own experience was one of having had a vital faith which, for a variety of reasons, disappeared suddenly, in my case in my mid-30s. That's something quite common. What I was left with (writing with your character in mind) was a sense of duty my congregation, a worry about how I was going to raise my small children, much frustration over the awfulness of belonging to a church and all the inter-personal hard work and heart-ache that can represent, and a keen need to find another way of explaining the world to myself - in particular for me, where now truth, morality etc came from.

    Unless you want to write a literary-philosophical work (I wouldn't be up to this!) that line of attack is unlikely to appeal. But you probably need to think about why Nevil came to faith at all if he ever did, and why he keeps working in an institution which can be so energy-sapping - even for people (like me, now and to my surprise) who find in God and Jesus a supernatural source of Grace on which they depend to keep them going. It might involve someone - parents, elders - to whom he feels duty-bound even though they are long-gone. That too would not be unusual. How he feels about *not* finding God is perhaps interesting for you - you perhaps don't mind one way or the other, but he seems to me to feel differently.

    Well, that's enough for a start.
    cheers
    Mark





  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    For [a Christian], understanding or seeking to understand the purpose of what is happening is fundamental. They might interpret life's events as a series of tests building to some sort of examination, or as punishment for some unacknowledged fault or omission, or, if their life is good, as a reward for something done.
    While I know that there are people of faith who view things this way, I am not one of them. I don't find the notion of life as a test or proving ground to have any power with me at all. I don't find the bounty I have been shown to be any sort of reward for anything that comes from me at all. I am not even particularly comfortable with the notion that it is targeted at me. I have benefitted from God's unfathomable bounty, but that love and bounty is more impersonal than your characterization would suggest (at least to my mind.) I am not moved by the notion that life has a purpose -- an idea that strikes me as a category mistake, if you are familiar with that notion. My life may take on a purpose by things that I embrace, but life in general just is. My gratitude is more aesthetic than moral, I suppose. But there is a moral component that arises out of recognizing value (even aesthetic value) in being alive, and for me Christ shows how to embody that virtue. I hope this is less misleading than my first post.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Interesting stuff, Colin. I used to be a Christian, but no longer find that its narratives fit with my sense of the transcendent. Also practised Zen a lot, where notions of the I/Thou, or me in contradistinction to the godhead, tend to collapse. However, honi soit, etc.

    I used to be an agnostic before deciding in my mid-thirties that atheism was a better fit with how I really felt (agnosticism still feels the best intellectual choice) but in the last few years, partly in response to some of the more pigheadedly reductive forms of atheism, I've developed an interest in Numenism, albeit Numenism makes no rational sense at all.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Lyda wrote: »
    Welcome.

    (May I humbly note before the subject of "homework" comes up, that this seems like a pretty interesting topic?)

    Ditto! If the H/As can find a way to approach the "no homework" rule that somehow permits this, it would be great, IMHO.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Hi and welcome.
    Nevil is Anglican, or as we call it C of E, which is to say, how might I put it, his faith is church-centred rather than God or Jesus centred. He is secretary of the P.C.C. at St James'
    in Avebury but is more concerned with the historic church interior than with spreading The Word to the Heathens who visit Avebury's ancient stones and though he prays as much as he thinks he ought he'd fall over if anyone, or anything, ever answered back.

    Well, I can see that your character might make sense, and I've been like aspects of that character at points in the past, but I would back off that 'which is to say'. As you'll find out if you hang around here (or indeed visit some churches), Anglicans can be everything from Catholic to almost Pentecostal and everything in between, including the character you sketch.

    The playwright Alan Bennett could fit your character - concerned with church buildings - and in his case the 'back story' is one of a childhood faith, thankfully left behind. That's not a particularly interesting story in my view, unless you can do something Humanistic with someone's concern about a place which has been spiritually vital to generations of people while (like your character, Bennett, and you!) not sharing their convictions.

    My own experience was one of having had a vital faith which, for a variety of reasons, disappeared suddenly, in my case in my mid-30s. That's something quite common. What I was left with (writing with your character in mind) was a sense of duty my congregation, a worry about how I was going to raise my small children, much frustration over the awfulness of belonging to a church and all the inter-personal hard work and heart-ache that can represent, and a keen need to find another way of explaining the world to myself - in particular for me, where now truth, morality etc came from.

    Unless you want to write a literary-philosophical work (I wouldn't be up to this!) that line of attack is unlikely to appeal. But you probably need to think about why Nevil came to faith at all if he ever did, and why he keeps working in an institution which can be so energy-sapping - even for people (like me, now and to my surprise) who find in God and Jesus a supernatural source of Grace on which they depend to keep them going. It might involve someone - parents, elders - to whom he feels duty-bound even though they are long-gone. That too would not be unusual. How he feels about *not* finding God is perhaps interesting for you - you perhaps don't mind one way or the other, but he seems to me to feel differently.

    Well, that's enough for a start.
    cheers
    Mark





    Thanks Mark.

    Nevil's faith is complicated. He didn't come to faith but was raised in it and his relationship with faith, or with the Christian Church is largely based on a combination of habit and denial of his true nature.

    I'll have to explain. The world in which Nevil lives isn't our world, though it is similar in many way. In his world 'magic' is real and after persecution of its practitioners and diminution of its influence in the world from the 1500s right up until the mid 1900s it is slowly making a comeback.

    Nevil's role is to be a significant component of that comeback and in large part his Christian activities are a form of denial of his true nature.
  • mr cheesymr cheesy Shipmate
    I don't see it as a homework thread to explain something that is personal and deeply rooted - but it feels to me more like a Heaven thread than a Purgatory one.

    For me, in my best moments, believing in "the faith" is a bit like standing on the top of a mountain you've struggled to climb. In that moment it is like something clicks and things seem to make sense in a way that they don't anywhere else.

    And, I find that I don't usually get to that to that point without deep introspection. I somehow need to battle through all the other crap, all of my unbelief, all the other noises and get to the point where I think to myself "yeah, you know what, this really does make sense and is worth believing in"

    I suppose that the changes I have experienced as I get older is that "the thing" I believe in has morphed and changed, but that urge to experience that moment of clarity hasn't.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    For [a Christian], understanding or seeking to understand the purpose of what is happening is fundamental. They might interpret life's events as a series of tests building to some sort of examination, or as punishment for some unacknowledged fault or omission, or, if their life is good, as a reward for something done.
    While I know that there are people of faith who view things this way, I am not one of them. I don't find the notion of life as a test or proving ground to have any power with me at all. I don't find the bounty I have been shown to be any sort of reward for anything that comes from me at all. I am not even particularly comfortable with the notion that it is targeted at me. I have benefitted from God's unfathomable bounty, but that love and bounty is more impersonal than your characterization would suggest (at least to my mind.) I am not moved by the notion that life has a purpose -- an idea that strikes me as a category mistake, if you are familiar with that notion. My life may take on a purpose by things that I embrace, but life in general just is. My gratitude is more aesthetic than moral, I suppose. But there is a moral component that arises out of recognizing value (even aesthetic value) in being alive, and for me Christ shows how to embody that virtue. I hope this is less misleading than my first post.

    Yes, I understand the concept of category mistake. Williams used the term when discussing Christian faith and evolution/Creationsim. It also seems to be akin to Stephen Jay Gould's concept of non-overlapping magisteria relating to science and faith.

    I suspect that my character does sometimes feel that he is being tested because I do heap a lot of misfortune on him! But equally I do give him rare opportunities to take joy in the act of being alive.

    I don't want to give any idea that I am trying to distil Christian faith and fill Nevil with it. My aim is simply to create a character that Christians will recognise as Christian.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Lyda wrote: »
    Welcome.

    (May I humbly note before the subject of "homework" comes up, that this seems like a pretty interesting topic?)

    Ditto! If the H/As can find a way to approach the "no homework" rule that somehow permits this, it would be great, IMHO.

    Homework? Am I in breech of forum etiquette?
  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    edited March 7
    I think you are right. I remember talking to a woman once - in a writers’ workshop as it happens - about out-of-body experiences, which I didn’t think I had ever encountered. Of course I had. Everyone has out-of-body experiences. I concluded that she and I categorised differently.

    Or it’s like those thin places. Or those images that may be St This or Our Lady of That now, but are also wholly Other.

    How we interpret and react to our brushes with the transcendent varies not only between individuals, but within the same person over time. We make sense of the story as we can - but is each new twist of the plot a revelation of something beyond us, or another door in our own psyche?
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    In my hostly role, I have enquired in the host board about which board this sort of thread should go in, and if it is the kind of thread we have here. There is a 'no homework' rule about not using the forums to pick people's brains for your homework, but I'm not sure if we've ever had someone wanting to pick our brains for their novel. I am waiting for advice on this.

    In my shipmate role, I think discussing what it is that might make the mindset or thought processes of someone who believes in and loves God different from someone who doesn't could be quite interesting. Though I'm not sure if that is quite what you are asking, Colin. You say Nevil's faith is based on habit and denial of his true nature, so to me that would suggest what you are wanting is the perspective of someone similar, rather than, say, the perspective of someone who has questioned their faith, questioned God, and come to faith through honest questioning and soul searching. Because the thought processes of those two types of people would be very different, I think.
  • mr cheesymr cheesy Shipmate
    edited March 7
    I don't think any of us can speak to another person's experience of belief in the deity, particularly if it is an imaginary character anyway.

    It strikes me that there are tangents to this topic which could be interesting and Purgatorial, but if we are going to stick to the spirit of the OP then we can only speak from personal experience.

    If that happens to be of assistance to an author in thinking himself into a character, so be it.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Firenze wrote: »
    I think you are right. I remember talking to a woman once - in a writers’ workshop as it happens - about out-of-body experiences, which I didn’t think I had ever encountered. Of course I had. Everyone has out-of-body experiences. I concluded that she and I categorised differently.

    Or it’s like those thin places. Or those images that may be St This or Our Lady of That now, but are also wholly Other.

    How we interpret and react to our brushes with the transcendent varies not only between individuals, but within the same person over time. We make sense of the story as we can - but is each new twist of the plot a revelation of something beyond us, or another door in our own psyche?

    I have a strong suspicion that 'burning bushes' visions of Mary, ghosts, fairy kidnappings, visions of hell, angelic visitations, and UFO sightings are all manifestations of the same thing (that 'thing' being in my atheistic view most probably a psychological state or reaction of some kind) which is consciously interpreted/made sense of according to prevailing cultural references.
  • Firenze wrote: »
    I think you are right. I remember talking to a woman once - in a writers’ workshop as it happens - about out-of-body experiences, which I didn’t think I had ever encountered. Of course I had. Everyone has out-of-body experiences. I concluded that she and I categorised differently.

    Or it’s like those thin places. Or those images that may be St This or Our Lady of That now, but are also wholly Other.

    How we interpret and react to our brushes with the transcendent varies not only between individuals, but within the same person over time. We make sense of the story as we can - but is each new twist of the plot a revelation of something beyond us, or another door in our own psyche?

    Very good question. I think some Buddhists would collapse that distinction. The world, and my psyche, where is the boundary? In my mind, I suppose, hello, I hear bish Berkeley calling.
  • mr cheesymr cheesy Shipmate
    Firenze wrote: »
    I think you are right. I remember talking to a woman once - in a writers’ workshop as it happens - about out-of-body experiences, which I didn’t think I had ever encountered. Of course I had. Everyone has out-of-body experiences. I concluded that she and I categorised differently.

    Or it’s like those thin places. Or those images that may be St This or Our Lady of That now, but are also wholly Other.

    How we interpret and react to our brushes with the transcendent varies not only between individuals, but within the same person over time. We make sense of the story as we can - but is each new twist of the plot a revelation of something beyond us, or another door in our own psyche?

    I have a strong suspicion that 'burning bushes' visions of Mary, ghosts, fairy kidnappings, visions of hell, angelic visitations, and UFO sightings are all manifestations of the same thing (that 'thing' being in my atheistic view most probably a psychological state or reaction of some kind) which is consciously interpreted/made sense of according to prevailing cultural references.

    Ok this sounds to me more like a purgatory topic.

    I suppose for me at least it might be helpful to stick to discussing one of these ideas at a time.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    fineline wrote: »
    In my hostly role, I have enquired in the host board about which board this sort of thread should go in, and if it is the kind of thread we have here. There is a 'no homework' rule about not using the forums to pick people's brains for your homework, but I'm not sure if we've ever had someone wanting to pick our brains for their novel. I am waiting for advice on this.

    In my shipmate role, I think discussing what it is that might make the mindset or thought processes of someone who believes in and loves God different from someone who doesn't could be quite interesting. Though I'm not sure if that is quite what you are asking, Colin. You say Nevil's faith is based on habit and denial of his true nature, so to me that would suggest what you are wanting is the perspective of someone similar, rather than, say, the perspective of someone who has questioned their faith, questioned God, and come to faith through honest questioning and soul searching. Because the thought processes of those two types of people would be very different, I think.

    I am not certain of what I want. When doing research of this kind I rarely am. But in general "discussing what it is that might make the mindset or thought processes of someone who believes in and loves God different from someone who doesn't " is what I hoped to achieve by posting.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    mr cheesy wrote: »

    Ok this sounds to me more like a purgatory topic.

    I suppose for me at least it might be helpful to stick to discussing one of these ideas at a time.

    agreed. That was really just an aside.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Thank you for all your responses. I'll be offline until tomorrow but hope to catch up with you then.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    It's interesting that you ask this.

    I am also a writer and, somewhat obviously, not every character I write is a Christian. Some have faith in another deity/pantheon to some degree or other along an axis of fervent-nominal, and some simply don't. And I can't honestly think of a time where I've ever wondered about such an existential question as "I don't know what it would be like not to believe in God": mainly because (as I suspect with very many Christians) there are times in my life , perhaps even the majority of the time, when I don't feel a connection with God at all.

    I don't think I've ever considered the question from the other side. Perhaps this is why there are so many unconvincing Christians/Muslims/Jews/etc in fiction - that atheists have more of a problem in imagining a person with faith, than someone with faith has imagining someone without.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Does he go to church in Avebury because it's got famous stones he feels drawn to, because he and his family come from there, or because he happens to live there because it's convenient and he works in somewhere like Swindon or Devizes?
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    If you want to know what I think faith is apart then something between obedience over a long period of time in a single direction and a peregrinatio, wandering from home because of the call of unknown but overwhelming love.

    At one level it is about doing the small things, smiling at passerby, washing the dishes, putting the fiver in a collecting tin, saying the Lord's prayer or crossing oneself as a perfunctory gesture to the divine on entering a church, visiting the old lady with dementia who used to live next door, planting spring bulbs in the park; the small acts of devotion, charity and hope. On another level, it is about opening yourself up to something beyond and trusting that that will be good, the transcendent encounter and stepping into the great unknown. It is not an either/or but a both/and. It lives if it lives at all in the connection between the two.
  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    burning bushes' visions of Mary, ghosts, fairy kidnappings, visions of hell, angelic visitations, and UFO sightings are all manifestations of the same thing (that 'thing' being in my atheistic view most probably a psychological state or reaction of some kind) which is consciously interpreted/made sense of according to prevailing cultural references.

    Up to a point Lord Copper. I tend to think of it as transpersonal (but not supernatural). Possibly it’s what Jungians would term the collective unconscious. If you write you’ll ken that point at which you have Absolutely. No. Idea. what comes next. And then it comes to you. And not only that, but it fits with stuff you didn’t even realise was part of the picture. (I don’t btw think this is limited to writing, but applies across all the arts and sciences).

    Great art possibly works like this, reflecting the dazzle that was in the mind of the artist which, happily, they had the skill to transmit.

    But as I observed, some places seem to have the same effect. ‘Psychological reaction’ doesn’t quite cut it - reaction to what?
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Your character sounds a lot like me. I was raised Lutheran. I went to Seminary and was ordained a pastor, but after 15 years I resigned the ministry. I continue in the Lutheran Church as a lay person. I am now on the Synod Council. For me, the challenge is in living the questions. There are times I have strong faith. There are times I wrestle with the demons. I have learned the enemy of faith is not doubt, but certitude. The faith I was taught a a child, which was very white and black at the time, now has a lot of grey, My morals as a child were white and black, now I am relativistic. Once I took the Bible more literally, now I can see it through the lens of the historical critical method. My son used to say I am so liberal I make Karl Marx look like a Tory. I would not go that far, but I have certainly changed.

    Christianity has given me meaning. I have ordered my whole life around it. Alfred Adler used to say we all have our private logic that helps us make sense of the Chaos around us. Christianity is part of my world view.

  • Raptor EyeRaptor Eye Shipmate
    You ask what it is like to believe in God, but what it is like for me will not be what it is like for anyone else. It is personal. Some believe that everything happened literally as it says in the Bible, whatever the genre of the particular book within it that they have chosen, others don't. Some believe that the miracles of Jesus, including the virgin birth, happened that way. Others don't. Some see Church as the embodiment of the faith, others don't. Some see the sacraments as vital, others don't. The Christian theological thinking of the last 2000 years fills libraries, each individual bringing forward their own take on it.

    Some feel connection with God more than others, some don't feel connection at all and yet they still believe. Here is the crux of it. We believe that God exists, although we can't see God and only ever receive glimpses of who God is, if that, because God is beyond our comprehension.

    Some people have had profound moments of connection with God since dot, including dreams or visions. Non-believers commonly assume that it is all in the mind, and it is right to have healthy scepticism, but our own individual experiences are real, regardless.

    What we have in common as Christians is a belief that the teaching and example of Jesus is worth following.

    Although it's right to say that we are to share our faith, we are not all called to be evangelists as such. Sharing our faith means sharing God's love in word and action.

    I hope this helps.
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    From the OP your character sounds more like a church-goer than a person with faith. In other words he sounds, though you would know best, like someone who is around the church almost entirely for cultural reasons. That doesn't mean there is no faith present, but that he has not realised for himself just what faith in God he really has. He maybe doesn't see the difference between church-going and being a person of faith (and of course there is a whole lot of overlap) and it would be fascinating to be around if/when/as he does. What would he do? How would he react if he had a numinous encounter? If his faith challenged his way of life?

    Meanwhile, I have rarely met a Christian who regards life as a series of tests and is able to long maintain such a destructive faith (because then so much of a life is failure). I now expect other shippies will tell me they know many such! We all have such different experiences of faith and of others in the faith community.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    He sounds like a man carried by, on the cart of ritual, history, architecture; everything about the Church except its putative raison d'être and all the true religion it should be doing in that Horse's name.

  • I have a strong suspicion that 'burning bushes' visions of Mary, ghosts, fairy kidnappings, visions of hell, angelic visitations, and UFO sightings are all manifestations of the same thing (that 'thing' being in my atheistic view most probably a psychological state or reaction of some kind) which is consciously interpreted/made sense of according to prevailing cultural references.

    Well, there is the infamous "God spot"--the neurological locale that is stimulated during transcendent experiences that occur in a variety of religious expressions. And, similarly, there are two ways to interpret that-- an atheist would indeed see that as evidence that those transcendent experiences are nothing more than stray neurons firing. A believer would take that as evidence that we are "created for" transcendence.

    Potato, potato.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited March 7
    Engaging in empty form that creates the illusion of substance. Meaning.
  • I don't think all atheists would see things in terms of neurons firing. Some religions lack gods, but still have a transcendent element.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited March 8
    I became a Christian later in life as a result of an experience during a deep personal crisis. Whether my experience was divine or chemically induced due to my then-recent introduction of anti-depressant medication, I don't empirically know or care. I tend to think both. I'm Catholic by upbringing and culture, so the commitment to congregational life is minimal. I go to a church in the city once a month, just before meeting a mate at a pub for a four-hour binge session. The pub does toasted sandwiches and pickled eggs, although I have never been drunk enough to try the eggs a second time.

    My deep personal crisis including my religious experience and newfound belief had a deep impact on my life in many ways, and in others almost none. I have a profound sense of rescue, and a need to pay that forward. I sought to determine what God wanted for me, and eventually landed on work with people with a disability, following a failed attempt at ministry. I'm 10 years into my current job, and will probably stay there until retirement. But I find myself thinking about small-scale stuff I might be able to set up near where I live, so maybe the call is stirring again. God as careers counsellor.

    The only time I have experienced a personal God I experienced a personal Devil as well. I spent a year with a devil on one shoulder telling me to go gamble at the casino, and an angel on the other telling me all the reasons I shouldn't. Of course, these were manifestations of my own internal struggle. In terms of my day to day life I tend to stick with the Jesus prayer, an ancient Orthodox discipline: Lord Jesus Christ only Son of God have mercy on me a sinner. Sometimes I mix it up with a Taize chant. Its a meitative tool, but also a reminder of God's presence, and an antidote to hubris. In prayer, it is often easy for me to slip into a state where I can feel God's presence physically, and have no other thought but for God's presence. There is a feeling of pressure between my eyebrows like someone is gently pressing their thumb there, but from the inside. If I die of a brain tumor, I am going to have words with St Peter.

    I have been gifted with absolute certainty that there is a power for good in the world, and it is called love. God gave me that certainty when I needed it most in my life. I did not ask for it. The gift enables me to function in the world. I don't need God on my shoulder.

  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    It's interesting that you ask this.

    I am also a writer and, somewhat obviously, not every character I write is a Christian. Some have faith in another deity/pantheon to some degree or other along an axis of fervent-nominal, and some simply don't. And I can't honestly think of a time where I've ever wondered about such an existential question as "I don't know what it would be like not to believe in God": mainly because (as I suspect with very many Christians) there are times in my life , perhaps even the majority of the time, when I don't feel a connection with God at all.

    I don't think I've ever considered the question from the other side. Perhaps this is why there are so many unconvincing Christians/Muslims/Jews/etc in fiction - that atheists have more of a problem in imagining a person with faith, than someone with faith has imagining someone without.

    Hi Doc.
    I've depicted Christians several times before without feeling the need for a deep understanding of what it's like to believe in God, or a god. The difference this time is I'm using a first person 'journal'/epistolary style so the text appears to come direct from the character. I'd have a similar problem achieving 'authenticity' (or an authenticity I can trust in) if the character was female, or French, or black since all of those result in a fundamentally different cultural view of the world.

    I'm not sure about your last point.After I joined the Ship I read the blog article on secularists wanting a turn on Radio 4's Thought For The Day and didn't recognise the type of atheist the author was describing. In fact, I've often found a misconception among Christians regarding what atheists actually believe in.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    Does he go to church in Avebury because it's got famous stones he feels drawn to, because he and his family come from there, or because he happens to live there because it's convenient and he works in somewhere like Swindon or Devizes?

    He lives there. Simple as that. I haven't explored why he settled there, though most likely (knowing his character) it was his ex-wife's wish to live there. He's an editor, minor literary scholar, and hack writer and mostly writes from home when he isn't away running writing courses etcetera. He is not at all drawn to the stones and has a mild distaste for what we call 'new-age' belief, albeit in his world magic is more demonstrably real than in our world.
  • You can see that just above in this thread, where cliffdweller seems to say that in relation to the God spot, atheists will see transcendent experiences as stray neurons firing. Eh? I expect that some atheists might say that, although "stray" is quite odd, but there are plenty of atheists in religions which accept transcendence, but not gods. Classic example, advaita, some versions.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    You ask what it is like to believe in God, but what it is like for me will not be what it is like for anyone else. It is personal. Some believe that everything happened literally as it says in the Bible, whatever the genre of the particular book within it that they have chosen, others don't. Some believe that the miracles of Jesus, including the virgin birth, happened that way. Others don't. Some see Church as the embodiment of the faith, others don't. Some see the sacraments as vital, others don't. The Christian theological thinking of the last 2000 years fills libraries, each individual bringing forward their own take on it.

    Some feel connection with God more than others, some don't feel connection at all and yet they still believe. Here is the crux of it. We believe that God exists, although we can't see God and only ever receive glimpses of who God is, if that, because God is beyond our comprehension.

    Some people have had profound moments of connection with God since dot, including dreams or visions. Non-believers commonly assume that it is all in the mind, and it is right to have healthy scepticism, but our own individual experiences are real, regardless.

    What we have in common as Christians is a belief that the teaching and example of Jesus is worth following.

    Although it's right to say that we are to share our faith, we are not all called to be evangelists as such. Sharing our faith means sharing God's love in word and action.

    I hope this helps.

    That does. thank you. I never intended to imply that I thought there was only one way to be a Christian as clearly there is not. The same applies to atheists, and to all other beliefs, so far as I am aware.

    With the character I am creating I simply want a Christian reader to recognise them as a variety of Christian, rather than seeing them as an atheists' imagining of what a Christian is. That wish applies, or should apply, whenever a writer writes from the viewpoint of someone who does not share their gender, politics, culture, worldview, or whatever. You want the depiction to ring true with people who share elements of the character's identity.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Cathscats wrote: »
    From the OP your character sounds more like a church-goer than a person with faith. In other words he sounds, though you would know best, like someone who is around the church almost entirely for cultural reasons. That doesn't mean there is no faith present, but that he has not realised for himself just what faith in God he really has. He maybe doesn't see the difference between church-going and being a person of faith (and of course there is a whole lot of overlap) and it would be fascinating to be around if/when/as he does. What would he do? How would he react if he had a numinous encounter? If his faith challenged his way of life?

    Meanwhile, I have rarely met a Christian who regards life as a series of tests and is able to long maintain such a destructive faith (because then so much of a life is failure). I now expect other shippies will tell me they know many such! We all have such different experiences of faith and of others in the faith community.

    Hi Cath.

    Your first paragraph is spot on.

    In fact, Nevil Warbrook's character arc consists of a series of encounters with the numinous to most of which he reacts with a kind of shrinking nausea because they challenge what he believes to be true about himself and the world about him. The numinous in this instance involves spectral horses, ghosts, and other supernatural phenomena. Those may not be what you call 'numinous' but they are within the world this character inhabits.

    This is from my website and describes the function of 'Nevil' in the narrative:

    In February 1863 Sir Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor presented his publishers, Sir Sidney Beresford and John Lucas, with the manuscript of Acts of the Servant. Half a century ahead of its time, it was subversive, unsparing in its depiction of poverty and oppression, erotic, and full of magick. Appalled, MacGregor’s publishers condemned the work before agreeing to reconsider, pending substantial revisions.

    One hundred and fifty years later the manuscript that scandalised Sir Sidney Beresford and John Lucas is lost. All that survives is the original first draft for Acts of the Servant held in the MacGregor archive at King James University, Edenborough, and the revised text published by Beresford and Lucas two years later in 1865.

    In February 2016 Nevil Warbrook is a literary scholar, minor poet, and champion of Sir Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor. Hendryk van Zelden is a conjuror turned psychic, famous for transporting Stonehenge to Eireland, and back again. Their paths meet when Van Zelden makes the the startling claim that MacGregor was a practising sorcerer and the original lost text of Acts of the Servant contained many secrets.

    Determined to prove Van Zelden wrong, Warbrook turns to MacGregor’s long-neglected first draft and studiously restores Acts of the Servant to its intended form, determined to show it is merely a work of fiction and not a handbook for magick.

    What Warbrook discovers is stranger than anything he or Van Zelden could ever have imagined.


    Nevil's Christian practise acts as a bulwark which he uses to protect himself from a Truth that is wider than anything his limited faith can imagine until he eventually accepts that life is not what he supposed it to be whereby 'magic*' returns to the world of man.

    *I should add that in my fictional world Christianity, and all other faiths, are aspects of magic and not in opposition to it.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Well, there is the infamous "God spot"--the neurological locale that is stimulated during transcendent experiences that occur in a variety of religious expressions. And, similarly, there are two ways to interpret that-- an atheist would indeed see that as evidence that those transcendent experiences are nothing more than stray neurons firing. A believer would take that as evidence that we are "created for" transcendence.

    Potato, potato.

    Well, I wouldn't call it stray neurons firing. My sense of reality is wholly a mental construct and necessarily so or I couldn't function within it. In that sense reality is nothing more than stray neurons firing since my reality is shaped by my perception. The difference lies in our understanding of the nature of that which inspires the transcendent experience, not the experience itself.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    I don't think all atheists would see things in terms of neurons firing. Some religions lack gods, but still have a transcendent element.

    As an atheist, I can tell you that a beautiful sunset or a starry night are also transcendent experiences.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    I became a Christian later in life as a result of an experience during a deep personal crisis. Whether my experience was divine or chemically induced due to my then-recent introduction of anti-depressant medication, I don't empirically know or care. I tend to think both. I'm Catholic by upbringing and culture, so the commitment to congregational life is minimal. I go to a church in the city once a month, just before meeting a mate at a pub for a four-hour binge session. The pub does toasted sandwiches and pickled eggs, although I have never been drunk enough to try the eggs a second time.

    My deep personal crisis including my religious experience and newfound belief had a deep impact on my life in many ways, and in others almost none. I have a profound sense of rescue, and a need to pay that forward. I sought to determine what God wanted for me, and eventually landed on work with people with a disability, following a failed attempt at ministry. I'm 10 years into my current job, and will probably stay there until retirement. But I find myself thinking about small-scale stuff I might be able to set up near where I live, so maybe the call is stirring again. God as careers counsellor.

    The only time I have experienced a personal God I experienced a personal Devil as well. I spent a year with a devil on one shoulder telling me to go gamble at the casino, and an angel on the other telling me all the reasons I shouldn't. Of course, these were manifestations of my own internal struggle. In terms of my day to day life I tend to stick with the Jesus prayer, an ancient Orthodox discipline: Lord Jesus Christ only Son of God have mercy on me a sinner. Sometimes I mix it up with a Taize chant. Its a meitative tool, but also a reminder of God's presence, and an antidote to hubris. In prayer, it is often easy for me to slip into a state where I can feel God's presence physically, and have no other thought but for God's presence. There is a feeling of pressure between my eyebrows like someone is gently pressing their thumb there, but from the inside. If I die of a brain tumor, I am going to have words with St Peter.

    I have been gifted with absolute certainty that there is a power for good in the world, and it is called love. God gave me that certainty when I needed it most in my life. I did not ask for it. The gift enables me to function in the world. I don't need God on my shoulder.

    Thank you. That was beautiful. It's not relevant to my character....
    Though now I think of it, that sense of a finger pressing against the forehead, that might be useful. Thank you again.
  • I don't think all atheists would see things in terms of neurons firing. Some religions lack gods, but still have a transcendent element.

    As an atheist, I can tell you that a beautiful sunset or a starry night are also transcendent experiences.

    Fine, but some religions talk about non-dualism, which can involve transcendent experiences, but no gods. Obvious examples, Buddhism, advaita. Non-dualism often means going beyond the separate self, or its collapse into the "one-pointed" singularity. Or emptiness from another point of view.
  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate

    But I do feel there is some aspect of Nevil that eludes me simply because I do not know what it is to have faith in a personal God, or any god. When I'm alone I am alone with my thoughts in a way I suspect a Christian never is and the need to honestly depict that crucial difference brings me here.

    Soooo, guys, what's it like to believe in this God person/spirit/entity?

    Hi Colin, and welcome. What in intriguing post.

    I suspect for countless Christians their experience of being a Christian and affirming belief in God is so close to your own 'alone with my thoughts in a way etc', that you'd be hard pressed to squeeze a fag paper between them.

    For some believers it'll be all rainbows and miracles and speaking in tongues and saving souls because God proves himself to be concretely real every day. But for numerous others, it'll be a constant dialogue between doubt, more doubt and the disappointment of unfulfilled reassurance.

    Partly explains why so many people get fed up with church!
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