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Sustaining beliefs are important for all of us, including farmers

Last week two people, a pastor in a farming community and a commentator for Fox News, asked me if I would address how farmers and most everyone establishes our most basic life-governing beliefs. They asked two questions: 1) "Does God exist?" and,...

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist

Last week two people, a pastor in a farming community and a commentator for Fox News, asked me if I would address how farmers and most everyone establishes our most basic life-governing beliefs. They asked two questions: 1) "Does God exist?" and, 2) "Are we alone in the universe?" The latter, they said, is even more fundamental than the first question and they made a good case for why.

It surprised and pleased me that a Midwestern pastor and a national news commentator raised these questions. My short answers to their queries were awkward and difficult to articulate when I responded to them initially. I hope my responses are more lucid now.

After our conversations I remembered the 1981 book, Stages of Faith, by James Fowler that a discussion group in which I participated from 1980 to 1983 debated. I wrote about stages of faith in an October 2017 article.

Our discussion group consisted of two pastors, two attorneys, a house builder and me. We met monthly at 6:00 a.m. for a couple hours until we had to go about other daily activities.

One of the things I learned from the book and the discussion group is that our beliefs and spiritual practices may change as we age and as life events alter our thinking. We mostly agreed that if our beliefs don't change as we mature and experience uncertainty, we may stagnate and we can become bored with religion as irrelevant to our lives; we may become less able to survive challenges.

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We need challenges to the basic beliefs that guide our lives. So I decided to try to answer the minister and the Fox newsperson.

To repeat, the fundamental questions they said everyone should ask are: "Does God exist?" and "Are we alone?"

Yikes, these are really difficult to answer. There are answers, I think, but I have remind myself and all readers of this column of the caveat: "We have to keep our minds open because our current beliefs could be wrong."

The French philosopher/mathematician, Blaise Pascal, posed what has been called "the great gamble" in the 16th century: "If we believe in God, and live a virtuous life and it turns out that God exists after we die, we may gain eternal life." An alternative approach is possible: "If we don't believe that God exists and lead a non-virtuous life, only to discover that God is present after we die, we may have lost eternal life."

While I oversimplified Pascal's proposition, it's advantageous as well as logical to believe that God exists and to carry out our lives in ways that are virtuous. There are other considerations, because life and any afterlife are more than gambles.

One person whom I asked for feedback about this articles said, "Your draft article is beyond what readers think about." After due consideration, I disagreed.

I think readers are interested in these complex philosophical matters. Farmers witness God daily in crops that are growing and livestock that give birth.

Is the ultimate question for all us: "Am I alone in a final sense, even though there are people around us whom we love and who love us?" I'm not asking if there are other celestial inhabitants on planets yet to be discovered or if existing within supportive communities can help us.

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Of course, living with people who care about one another is beneficial. What I'm asking is if we can connect with an ultimate Higher Force we call God through prayer, meditation or some other way.

If God exists and caused the universe to exist, is this Higher Force present today? Science says all forms of life compete to exist and we struggle to survive in an evolving world and eventually die. If there is an afterlife, is this something we discover only after we depart from life?

As for connections with the Higher Force, I feel God's influence in the form of nudges. I couldn't go on myself without God's presence and I say this not just because I have to feel warm and fuzzy.

I know God is present in my life and isn't a philosophical construct. Yet I also believe in the advances in knowledge gained through science. These are not opposing views, but rather supportive approaches in our thinking that lead us closer to truth.

We need affirmed knowledge that has stood the tests of scrutiny by objective reviewers in order to be published in scientific journals. Even scientific conclusions can be wrong though; farmers and everyone need even broader ways of looking at life, its purposes and outcomes.

This has become a more esoteric column than I thought it would be, but I hope it is beneficial. Let me know what you think and please share any modifications to what I have come up with thus far.

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