Religion, The Heroic Life


Photo by Vicki Ashton

Recently I defined what polytheism means. But my beliefs are in flux: on top of polytheism I consider the Heroic Faith my religion, and it’s still unformed.

When people ask me what I’m a priest of, it’s hard to answer. How do you explain a faith that doesn’t exist yet? Here’s my best attempt:

I don’t have a strong sense of faith. I seldom pray. What inspires me is heroism and sacrifice, which are how humanity endures. I believe every single person has the spark of heroism. It’s the ability to stand up when no one else will.

I want to know how that spark is kindled, and how we keep that flame burning bright.

That’s why I’m on this journey.

This is the very edge of my ability to explain my beliefs. The conversation seldom gets this far—most people either don’t talk about religion, or want to tell me their own views. And me? I listen with care. Mine is the journeyman, not the master; I have no sermon to deliver. I am here to learn.

But sometimes they truly want to know what I believe. And that helps me figure it out.

Spotlight, The Heroic Life

Is it the Heroic Faith?

Project Conversion just ran an essay I wrote on the Heroic Faith. I share some of the personal aspects of why I came to believe in heroism in the first place—and why I think so many people don’t. You can read it here:

The Heroic Faith: Can Adventure Be a Religion?

Notably, this is the first time I’ve referred to my philosophy as the Heroic Faith and not the Heroic Life. I’ve been testing out this term lately, and it’s gotten a few questions. You may know I have more than a few reservations about the entire idea of “faith.”

But give it a read and tell me—does it feel more natural? Is “faith” a better fit?

Personal Development, Religion, Spotlight

Words from Andrew Bowen

Belief, as I’ve come to view it, is a projection which obscures faith.

—Andrew Bowen

I value tradition. A lot of people like to mix and match their spirituality—a little bit of this thing, a little bit of that thing. I understand why that’s alluring, especially if you aren’t sure what you believe.  But I’ve experienced the reward that comes with committing to one tradition and studying it deeply: the depths of understanding you never discover when casually checking out different paths. I considered that a much deeper payoff.

So at first I was resistant to the work of Andrew Bowen.

His tagline reads, “One man, twelve faiths.” He’s the designer and test subject of Project Conversion: a year in which he completely immersed himself in a different faith every month.

When I began to read Andrew’s work I was touched by the fact that he really did immerse himself: he didn’t tour or sample. Nothing was written with an outsider’s perspective. Each month, usually with a mentor, he dove in and truly committed himself, and experienced the rich insights that his new chosen faith would offer.

I think this was possible because he began with a purpose. “I realized… with the help of teachings by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, that the only way to end religious strife was to explore the world of faith from the inside out.”

His was not aimless wandering, it was dedication to peace.

The twelve months are finished now. What I’ve discovered in speaking with Andrew is that the intense year of faith was only the beginning. It turned into a spiritual practice in its own right, and has changed his views on faith and religion forever. It brought him from a vehement anti-theism to a new level of empathy. More important, it gave him a new purpose in life. He has a tool for peace that no one else has.

Interfaith work, effective as it can be, starts with a meeting between outsiders. They work together despite their differences. Project Conversion produced a man who has dropped all assumptions about religion, eschewed all beliefs. He remains immersed in his connection with the divine, yet gives it no form.

This view of no-assumptions and total empathy makes him, I believe, a remarkable individual.

More and more I’ve suspected that creeds harm our ability to speak about the transcendent. Andrew’s practice has allowed him to go past that.

He told me:

Belief feels like a specific view of what we might have faith in, while faith in and of itself simply leaves open the possibility of a thing.

I can have faith in the divine’s existence, but no specific beliefs regarding its details.

Therefore, I simply live and participate in life—in the moment—instead of miring myself in the details.

You can read more here.

Through May 3, 2012 I’m running a contest to give away a seat at the World Domination Summit. Enter now.

Atheism, Religion

A Priest Without Faith

I don’t understand faith.

Faith is not important in my religion. We don’t have much use for it and, as far as I know, it wasn’t even a concept in Celtic polytheism until Christanity showed up and started converting Celts.

Even so it seems to be a Really Big Deal to a lot of people, so there should be something there. There must be something beautiful and/or useful about faith that I just wasn’t getting.

We Can’t Tell You

I’ve always understood faith as relating to belief. If you asked me to define faith I guess, in my ignorance, I would say it’s believing in something without evidence. However every time I invoke this definition people get upset. People who had faith told me it has nothing to do with that. It’s something totally different.

Unfortunately, when I ask people to explain what it is, they have a hard time doing so.

Sometimes people even tell me it can’t be defined. I don’t believe that for a second. The most complex abstract concepts in the world can usually be defined in a few sentences. Even if they can’t, a list of examples will do the trick. Even if faith has to do with the ineffable, it doesn’t mean faith itself is ineffable.

So it’s been very frustrating to me. If you have a straightforward definition of faith I’d love to hear it. I’ll even accept a roundabout one.

Anyway, I decided to just suck it up and read the Wikipedia entry on faith. Among about 10,000 other theories, it has this to say:

Some religious epistemologists hold that belief in God is more analogous to belief in a person than belief in a scientific hypothesis. Human relations demand trust and commitment. If belief in God is more like belief in other persons, then the trust that is appropriate to persons will be appropriate to God.

That’s… incredible. If you aren’t floored, take a second to re-read it. Humor me. If you still aren’t floored, okay, you have more ranks in faith-talk than I do. But still.


Trust is the basis for any healthy relationship. In this theory, “faith” doesn’t mean you believe the gods exist, it means that when relating to the gods, you trust in them.

Personally, I don’t believe the gods exist. I’m not convinced they don’t, either. I see no external evidence for the gods so I maintain a neutral opinion on whether they are objectively real.

But, because their guidance has been helpful to me—whether it is divine communion or my own psyche—I continue to make offerings, pray, and talk to them.

I always thought “faith” would mean I have to believe they exist. Which I think is silly because there’s no evidence for it. But this version of faith says I don’t have to believe at all—as long as I treat “them” with respect and trust when I interact with them.

Which is exactly what I do.

I suspect this version of faith would be unacceptable my humanistic pagan friend. He’s convinced the gods don’t exist and worshipping them is just a useful psychological exercise. I don’t see any better evidence for that than the idea that they exist. I treat my relationship with them as real, and separate from my epistemological doubts.

So, I guess I might have a backwards-ass version of faith, if you use “faith” in a way that no one ever uses it. Pretty neat I guess.

I don’t have any profound questions to ask you at the end of this post, but I sure would love to hear your thoughts on faith. Also, tweeting this post makes me happy. Please tweet this post.