What I Believe
Occasionally I get asked the question, “Leo, what do you believe?” If these people had read Counselor magazine the past few months, they’d know what I believe. In February of this year, I wrote concerning God’s grace:
What if grace isn’t something that descends upon us but has been given to us at birth? God’s grace becomes akin to our reasoning powers, our ability to think and make choices, and our ability to take responsibility for our lives and what’s happening in our world.
We utilize God’s grace when we see clearly the many disabilities that affect mankind and we use our brains to figure out ways to prevent sickness. God’s grace is working through doctors and scientists.
We see God’s grace in the work of recovering alcoholics throughout the world who make the choice to stop drinking and then stay sober. They begin to clear the wreckage of their past and embrace a spirituality that’s both positive and creative.
We see God’s grace at work in countries that are slowly working their way out of poverty and developing economic employment for their citizens. God’s grace is never favoritism, rather it’s knowing and massaging a gift that has been given to every human being.
This understanding of grace makes more sense to me (2017a, p. 19).
Now it needs to be said clearly that what we believe is always evolving. What we believe today we may not believe tomorrow. Most of us, as we grow older, find that our understanding of God and how God relates to us in the world changes—rarely do we stay with the same beliefs we had as children.
I also made a plea for religious agnosticism in the April issue of Counselor. To say that we do not know absolutely concerning our understanding of God seems most reasonable, especially when we observe the myriad of beliefs concerning God:
I’ve been coming to the conclusion for many years that when we speak about God, His will for us or what He wants, we are invariably agnostic—“gnostic” means to know; “agnostic” means to not really know. Now, it’s important for me to stress that this is my opinion and probably the opinion of many other people who wouldn’t claim the title “atheist,” but they are consciously aware that when it comes to issues concerning God they don’t “know.” They have ideas, opinions, beliefs, insights, but they wouldn’t want to swear on the Bible that they actually know. Indeed, because I’m not a fundamentalist, I hold the view that what’s written in the Bible is a collection of ideas and opinions written by people at different times in history. It’s important to note that Jesus didn’t write a gospel; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote a biography of his life. And I’m agnostic about whether they actually quoted him correctly or wrote exactly about the events that took place (2017b, p. 18).
I continued this challenging article with the following:
I resist the idea that people know, actually know, what God wants from us or His will for us other than in the most general way: God wants us to be loving and kind.
People have ideas about God, fine. People have opinions about how to live the spiritual life, fine. People have insights into the life of Jesus or other holy men and women, fine. But when they say that they “know,” I want to run for the hills. I particularly want to run for the hills when they say that they “know” what God wants for and from me (2017b, p. 19).
The truth, for me, is that I’ve moved away from religious dogmas or teachings to more spiritual values. And the spiritual philosophy I’ve adopted to date are based upon the teachings of a man called Pelagius. This was the basis of my book The Happy Heretic (2012), in which I introduced Pelagius to readers in the following way:
Let’s take a moment to look at what is known about Pelagius. He was born around 354 AD in Wales, Britain. He was educated in both Greek and Latin, a monk but not a cleric; he was never an ordained priest. In his early years, he was admired by no less a person than Augustine of Hippo, who called him “a saintly man.” When he moved to Rome, he became concerned about the moral laxity in the city, believing it was partly the result of Augustine’s teachings concerning divine grace. Pelagius was concerned about the emphasis that Augustine placed upon God’s grace–the idea that since the Fall of Adam, every good thought or action was dependent upon God. We could do nothing on our own. There was no teaching that affirmed the need for our response. There was little teaching concerning human responsibility; that we need to be accountable for our behavior. He was particularly disturbed by a famous quotation from Augustine, “Give me what you command and command what you will.”
Pelagius believed that this saying discounted free will, turning man into a mere automation. He soon became a critic of Augustine, disagreeing with him concerning original sin and the working of God’s grace in perfecting salvation. Pelagius argued that if human beings could discipline themselves in the way exemplified by Jesus, then they could remain perfect. He believed that grace needed to be connected with human choice. Pelagius’s personal discipline made him extremely puritanical, teaching a strict regimen to his disciples in order to ensure moral purity (2012, p. 7–8).
Simply put, I believe that God created us to create. Prayer should be a celebration of this divine gift. Again, I wrote in detail about this in Counselor magazine last year:
For many years I’ve wrestled with the question: Does prayer work? As we’ve seen in this article, I’m uncomfortable with the traditional approach to prayer. Indeed, I think it makes no sense. However, I believe there’s another understanding of prayer that makes more sense.
If the Kingdom of God (metaphorically speaking) is within, so is the window of prayer. When I pray, and I’m certainly not suggesting that God doesn’t hear my prayers, but the essential ingredient is that I hear my prayers and focus on the action needed to make things happen. For example, if I’m praying for a good job, then I need to search out the necessary qualifications required . . . and fill in the application form! (2016, p. 19).
So in the future when a person asks me, “Leo, what do you believe?” I’ll give them a copy of this article. Of course, when this article is published, I may have changed my thinking again!
Booth, L. (2012). The happy heretic: Seven spiritual insights for healing religious codependency. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
Booth, L. (2017a). God’s grace: What is it? Counselor, 18(1), 18–9.
Booth, L. (2017b). What is religious agnosticism? Counselor, 18(2), 18–9.
Booth, L. (2016). Prayer: What is it? Counselor, 17(6), 18–9.