It is early morning as I write this, and I have just completed praying the Episcopalian Office. As always, it’s left me feeling full, centered, and comforted. I pray the Office every morning and night, and it’s become one a pillar that brings me deep pleasure.
This is ironic, as spiritual disciplines like going to church and praying the daily office are coinciding with a crisis of faith in my life. I don’t know if I can ever believe again – not the way I used to. Jesus spoke of new wine bursting old wine skins. The new faith and skepticism I have is a new wine – terrifying, fresh, and intoxicating – and I’m confronting the reality that I must change to accommodate it, or else I, the wine skin, will burst. Once a paradigm shift takes place, there is no going back, lest I suffer violence to myself.
On the path of this paradigm shift, I’ve found various authors to comfort me. One is Carrie Poppy of Oh No, Ross and Carrie, Biblical scholar Peter Enns, and Science Mike.
In his excellent book Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost Faith and Found it Again Through Science, Science Mike offers a series of axioms which allows deeply skeptical Christians like myself to keep finding comfort in practices like The Daily Office. These Axioms help me continue to inhabit this uncomfortable interstitial place between science and an ancient religion.
Science Mike’s Axioms will probably dismay most traditional Christians, and they are certainly heretical. But honestly, I don’t care – they help people like me find some balance.
I share his axioms with you now, in case you are a fellow wanderer struggling to find any reason to stay within a tradition that you love that seems opposed to magisterium of science. His entire list of axioms and commentary on the axioms can be found here.
Faith is AT LEAST a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and find meaning in the face of mortality. EVEN IF this is all faith is, spiritual practice can be beneficial to cognition, emotional states, and culture.
God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.
Prayer is AT LEAST a form of meditation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress, and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.
Sin is AT LEAST volitional action or inaction that violates one’s own understanding of what is moral. Sin comes from the divergent impulses between our lower and higher brain functions and our evolution-driven tendency to do things that serve ourselves and our tribe. EVEN IF this is all sin is, it is destructive and threatens human flourishing.
The afterlife is AT LEAST the persistence of our physical matter in the ongoing life cycle on Earth, the memes we pass on to others with our lives, and the model of our unique neurological signature in the brains of those who knew us. EVEN IF this is all the afterlife is, the consequences of our actions persist beyond our death and our ethical considerations must consider a timeline beyond our death.
Salvation is AT LEAST the means by which humanity overcomes sin to produce human flourishing. EVEN IF this is all salvation is, spiritual and religious actions and beliefs that promote salvation are good for humankind.
Jesus is AT LEAST a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.
The Holy Spirit is AT LEAST the psychological and neurological components of God that allow God to be experienced as a personal force or agent. EVEN IF this is all the Holy Spirit is, God is more relatable and neurologically actionable when experienced this way.
The Church is AT LEAST the global community of people who choose to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. EVEN IF this is all the church is, the Church is still the largest body of spiritual scholarship, community, and faith practice in the world.
The Bible is AT LEAST a collection of books and writings assembled by the Church that chronicle a people group’s experiences with, and understanding of, God over thousands of years. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of the Bible, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.
2 thoughts on “Axioms of Faith”
Hi Stephen. This is wonderful, thanks. It’s funny because, in far briefer form, since of these “axioms” are more or less what I wrote as commentary on Chris Shelton’s YouTube page while listening to your excellent conversation with him. As one does, I figured that the lack of response there meant that people thought what I was saying was nonsense. (Of course, having slapped the comment together, maybe it didn’t sound very compelling.) Anyway, I love how Science Mike says that these things are AT LEAST that. Exactly. And they are worthy of praise. And our not knowing what more there is after “at least” is the great mystery.
I honestly don’t see how any of these axioms are heretical.