Quotations about   faith

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“Faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

There is a deeper meaning in this text than we at first see. Of “these three,” two concern ourselves; the third concerns others. When faith and hope fail, as they do sometimes, we must try charity, which is love in action. We must speculate no more on our duty, but simply do it. When we have done it, however blindly, perhaps Heaven will show us the reason why.

Dinah Craik
Dinah Craik (1826-1887) English novelist and poet [b. Dinah Maria Mulock]
Christian’s Mistake, ch. 2 (1865)
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A reference to the Bible, 1 Cor. 13:13, the "Three Theological Virtues."
Added on 6-May-22 | Last updated 6-May-22
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I do so dearly believe that no half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
Letter to Edith Bratt (1913)
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Bratt was Tolkien's fiancee, who was apprehensive about the personal and social ramifications of converting to Catholicism. Tolkien's mother's conversion had been similarly difficult.
Added on 17-Mar-22 | Last updated 17-Mar-22
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If I had been on the hills of Bethlehem in the year one, I do not think I should have heard angels singing because I do not hear them now, & there is no reason to suppose that they have stopped.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, Notebook 11f, entry 5 (2003) [ed. Robert D. Denham]
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One of the things he deplored about the loss of religion, it meant that people elevated politics into a religious faith and that was dangerous.

P. D. James (1920-2014) British mystery writer [Phyllis Dorothy James White]
“Mortal Consequences,” A Taste for Death (1986)
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BECKET: Beauty is one of the few things which don’t shake one’s faith in God.

[Le beauté est une des rares choses qui ne font pas douter de Dieu.]

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) French dramatist
Becket, Act 1 (1959) [tr. Hill (1960)]
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The official English translation approved by Anouilh. (Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Beauty is one of the very few things that don't shake one's faith in God.
[tr. Raphael and Raphael (2004)]

Beauty is one of the rare things that do not lead to doubt of God.
[Frequently found translation, but source unknown]

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I felt fairly sure that the Almighty, whatever name tag He had on at the moment, could handle a few questions from people sincerely looking for answers. Hell, He might even like it.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Changes, ch. 14 (2010)
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Faith is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see;
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American poet
Poems: Second Series, #30 (1891)
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A faith is dead when no one can think of a heresy.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
“Vectors: 56 Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays,” Michigan Quarterly Review, # 40 (Spring 1999)
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I know that the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the realities they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are still taking shape. Neither I nor anyone else knows how these stories will turn out, since at this point they involve more blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.

Barbara Brown Taylor (b. 1951) American minister, academic, author
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Part 1 (2006)
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Added on 22-Oct-21 | Last updated 22-Oct-21
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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) English poet
Sonnets from the Portuguese, #43 (1850)
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One can only blaspheme if one believes.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) Anglo-American poet [Wystan Hugh Auden]
“Concerning the Unpredictable,” Forewords and Afterwords (1973)
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FAUSTUS: Blasphemy and prayer are one. Both assert the existence of a superior power. The first, however, with conviction.

David Mamet (b. 1947) American writer, playwright, director
Faustus (2004)
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Added on 7-Jul-21 | Last updated 7-Jul-21
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There is a rumour going around that I have found god. I think is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
“I create gods all the time — now I think one might exist,” Daily Mail (21 Jun 2008)
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From time immemorial the wise and practical have denounced every heroic spirit. Yet it has not been they who have influenced our lives. The idealists and visionaries, foolish enough to throw caution to the winds and express their ardour and faith in some supreme deed, have advanced mankind and have enriched the world.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) Lithuanian-American anarchist, activist
Living My Life, Part 2, ch. 39 (1931)
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Added on 21-Jun-21 | Last updated 9-Aug-21
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The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant. At the end of the war a worker told Klemperer that “understanding is useless, you have to have faith. I believe in the Führer.”

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)
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This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) English intellectual, polemicist, socio-political critic
“David Mamet’s Right-Wing Conversion,” New York Times (17 Jun 2011)
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Reviewing David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge.
Added on 12-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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From the simple observation that mental illness is marked by odd behavior flows a host of problems. For nothing seems clearer than that we are responsible for our behavior; from there, it seems only a small step to the conclusion that a disease characterized by strange behavior must be a disease under our control. And so we appeal to willpower in the devout belief that we can think our way to mental health. We advise the victim of depression to look on the bright side; we tell the person in the midst of a sky-high manic episode to take a deep breath and calm down. When it comes to mental illness, we are all Christian Scientists.

Edward Dolnick (b. 1952) American writer
Madness on the Couch, ch. 18 (1998)
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You must have three essentials for the investigation of Chan [Zen]. The first is that you must have the foundation of great faith. The second is that you must have a zealous determination. The third is that you must have the feeling of great doubt. If you omit one of these it is like breaking off the leg of a tripod, which ends up becoming a useless vessel.

高峰云、叅禪須具三要 一有大信根
二有大憤志 三有大疑情 苟闕其一
如折足之鼎 終成廢器。

Hyujeong (1520-1604) Korean Seon (Sŏn, Zen) Master [Sosan Taesa, Seosan Daesa, Dae Seonsa]
Mirror of Zen [Samga Gwigam; Samga Kwigom; Seonga Gwigam], ch. 14 [tr. Jorgensen (2012)]
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Alternate translations:

For the study of Seon, there are three requirements: (1) having the great root of faith; (2) having great determination, and (3) having great doubt. If you lack one of these, it is like a broken like on a tripod sacrificial vessel. In the end you will discard it.
[tr. Miller (2017)]

There are three essentials to Sŏn meditation. First of all, you must be rooted in Great Faith and Great Confidence. Secondly, one must have Great Anger -- a strong, inwardly-directed, ardent determination to practice. Thirdly, one must have Great Doubt. If one of these is missing, it is like a tripod vessel with one leg cut off -- in the end, it will be of no use.
[Source]

It is well known that Ganhwaseon practitioners must have three things of essential importance: The first is a Foundation of Great Faith (大信根) for the practice which is possible; the second is Great Zealous Determination (大憤志) of practice to attain enlightenment; the third is a Great Feeling of Doubt (大疑情) on the Hwadu. If one of these is lacking, then it is like a tripod pot with a broken foot and is useless.
[Source]

Added on 22-Mar-21 | Last updated 22-Mar-21
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The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.

Sam Harris (b. 1967) American author, philosopher, neuroscientist
The End of Faith (2004)
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Bigotry and science can have no communication with each other, for science begins where bigotry and absolute certainty end. The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof. Let us never forget that tyranny most often springs from a fanatical faith in the absoluteness of one’s beliefs.

Ashley Montagu (1905-1999) British-American anthropologist and humanist [b. Israel Ehrenberg, a/k/a Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu]
Science and Creationism, Introduction (1984)

The second sentence is frequently (mis)quoted:
  • "Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof."
  • "Religion gives us certainty without proof; science gives us proof without certainty."
Added on 22-Feb-21 | Last updated 22-Feb-21
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Once a faith is shattered, it takes a long time to grow again — for its soil is experience — and to become effective again.

Daniel Bell (1919-2011) American sociologist, writer, editor, academic
The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, ch. 6 “The Public Household” (1976)
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Religious believers of the world, you are free to continue to debate the simple, narrow question that divides you from atheists, but you have no right, in so doing, to treat the Humanists of the world with contempt. You owe them a deep debt of gratitude, for not only have they shed much light on a naturally dark world but they have very probably helped civilize your own specific religion.

Steve Allen (1922-2000) American composer, entertainer, and wit.
Vulgarians at the Gate (2001)
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Errors and mistakes, however gross, in matters of opinion, if they are sincere, are to be pitied, but not punished nor laughed at. The blindness of the understanding is as much to be pitied as the blindness of the eye, and there is neither jest nor guilt in a man’s losing his way in either case. Charity bids us set him right if we can, by arguments and persuasions; but charity, at the same time, forbids, either to punish or ridicule his misfortune.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (21 Sep 1747)
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On religious tolerance.
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Every man’s reason is, and must be, his guide; and I may as well expect that every man should be of my size and complexion, as that he should reason just as I do. Every man seeks for truth; but God only knows who has found it. It is, therefore, as unjust to persecute as it is absurd to ridicule people for those several opinions which they cannot help entertaining upon the conviction of their reason.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (21 Sep 1747)
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Speaking of religious beliefs.
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In religions which have lost their creative spark, the gods eventually become no more than poetic motifs or ornaments for decorating human solitude and walls.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
Zorba the Greek, ch. 12 (1946)
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The position which believers and unbelievers occupy with regard to their various forms of faith is very much the same all over the world. The difficulties which trouble us, have troubled the hearts and minds of men as far back as we can trace the beginnings of religious life. The great problems touching the relation of the Finite to the Infinite, of the human mind as the recipient, and of the Divine Spirit as the source of truth, are old problems indeed; and while watching their appearance in different countries, and their treatment under varying circumstances, we shall be able, I believe, to profit ourselves, both by the errors which others committed before us, and by the truth which they discovered. We shall know the rocks that threaten every religion in this changing and shifting world of ours, and having watched many a storm of religious controversy and many a shipwreck in distant seas, we shall face with greater calmness and prudence the troubled waters at home.

Max Müller (1823-1900) German-British philologist, Orientalist, religious studies founder
Chips from a German Workshop, Vol. 1, Preface (1866)
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He must be a man of little faith, who would fear to subject his own religion to the same critical tests to which the historian subjects all other religions. We need not surely crave a tender or merciful treatment for that faith which we hold to be the only true one. We should rather challenge it for the severest tests and trials, as the sailor would for the good ship to which he trusts his own life, and the lives of those who are dear to him. In the Science of Religion, we can decline no comparisons, nor claim any immunities for Christianity, as little as the missionary can, when wrestling with the subtle Brahmin, or the fanatical Mussulman, or the plain speaking Zulu.

Max Müller (1823-1900) German-British philologist, Orientalist, religious studies founder
Chips from a German Workshop, vol. 1, Preface (1866)
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It is better to go skiing and think of God, than to go to church and think of sport.

Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian
(Attributed)
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If you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?

Graham Greene (1904-1991) English novelist [Henry Graham Greene]
The Comedians [Dr. Magiot] (1966)
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I think vital Religion has always suffer’d, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue. And the Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, but that we did GOOD to our Fellow Creatures.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to his parents, Josiah and Abiah Franklin (13 Apr 1738)
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Franklin cites Matt. 26 in the letter, but it should be Matt. 25:31-46.
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Faith, in the Gospels, does not mean believing something: it is an inherent quality in the mind. It is a kind of courage; an attitude which favours adventure and is not afraid to run risks. Its opposite is not intellectual scepticism, but worry, cowardice, or despair. It can remove mountains — not literal mountains, but the obstacles which sloth and cowardice have put in our path.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
Assessments and Anticipations, ch. 7 “Faith” (1929)
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Protestant theology has restricted the meaning of Faith too much — explaining it as subjective assurance or trust. It has sometimes been assumed that this attitude of throwing oneself into the arms of Divine grace may dispense us from the duty of forming rational convictions, and of directing our lives in accordance with them. Faith and fact come to be divorced. Either they are supposed to be directed to different objects, or we are told that the same proposition may be true for faith and false for science — in which case we are on a quicksand, and are driven to play fast and loose with veracity.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
Assessments and Anticipations, ch. 7 “Faith” (1929)
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Dearer is love than life, and fame than gold;
But dearer than them both, your faith once plighted hold.

Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) English poet
The Faerie Queene, Book 5, Canto 11, st. 63 (1589-96)
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The most dangerous heresy of our time, it bears repeating, is the belief that belief in itself is a good thing, regardless of its content; for faith that is attached to an unworthy or inadequate object makes people less than they are, not more.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Strictly Personal” column (8 Apr 1955)
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Reprinted in Leaving the Surface (1968).
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It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English prelate, Catholic Cardinal, theologian
“The Usurpations of Reason,” Sermon, Oxford, England (11 Dec 1831)
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I probably differ from most people, who believe in Belief, and are only sorry they cannot swallow even more than they do. My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St. Paul.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Think not the faith by which the just shall live
Is a dead creed, a map correct of heaven,
Far less a feeling fond and fugitive,
A thoughtless gift, withdrawn as soon as given.
It is an affirmation and an act
That bids eternal truth be present fact.

Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849) English poet, biographer, essayist, teacher
“The Just Shall Live By Faith”
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Faith is, on the practical side, just the resolution to stand or fall by the noblest hypothesis; and, on the intellectual side, it is a progressive initiation, by experiment which ends in experience, into the unity of the good, the true, and the beautiful, founded on the inner assurance that these three attributes of the divine nature have one source and conduct to one goal.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Roman Catholic Modernism” (1909), Outspoken Essays: First Series (1911)
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When the heavy-handed dogmatist requires a categorical assent to the literal truth of the miraculous, in exactly the same sense in which physical facts are true, a tension between faith and reason cannot be avoided.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Bishop Gore and the Church of England” (1908), Outspoken Essays: First Series (1911)
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The humanist has four leading characteristics — curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“George and Gide” Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
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As to a hereafter, we have not the slightest evidence that there is any — no evidence that appeals to logic and reason. I have never seen what to me seemed an atom of proof that there is a future life. And yet — I am strongly inclined to expect one.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Quoted in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography, Vol. 4, ch. 264 (1922)
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In meditation we should not look for a “method” or “system,” but cultivate an “attitude,” and “outlook”: faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, and joy.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Contemplative Prayer (1973)
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I must intreat your patience — your gentle hearing. I am not going to question your opinions. I am not going to meddle with your belief. I am not going to dictate to you mine. All that I say is, examine; enquire. Look into the nature of things. Search out the ground of your opinions, the for and the against. Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for the faith that is in you.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 3 “Of the more Important Divisions and Essential Parts of Knowledge” (1829)
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I’m working at trying to be a good Christian, and that’s serious business. It’s like trying to be a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Buddhist, a good Shintoist, a good Zoroastrian, a good friend, a good lover, a good mother, a good buddy — it’s serious business. It’s not something where you think, Oh, I’ve got it done. I did it all day, hotdiggety. The truth is, all day long you try to do it, try to be it, and then in the evening if you’re honest and have a little courage you look at yourself and say, Hmm. I only blew it eighty-six times. Not bad.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
Remark to Jost Winteler (8 Jul 1901), in Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 1 (1987) [tr. Beck]
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Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life!

George Meredith (1828-1909) English novelist and poet
Modern Love, Sonnet 50 (1862)
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I also think living in the country gives you faith. All you have to do is get up and look at the mountains and look at the other animals to realize that your problems are mostly made up or exacerbated by humans. But human life isn’t necessarily life. There’s so much more out there.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Interview in OutSmart (Jan 1998)
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Depend upon it, as long as the church is living so much like the world, we cannot expect our children to be brought into the fold.

Dwight Lyman "D. L." Moody (1837-1899) American evangelist and publisher
God’s Good News, “Where Art Thou?” [Gen. 3:9] (1897)
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It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
“Concerning Stories Never Written” (Oct 1952)
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Man is so built that he cannot imagine his own death. This leads to endless invention of religions. While this conviction by no means proves immortality to be a fact, questions generated by it are overwhelmingly important. The nature of life, how ego hooks into the body, the problem of ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe — these are paramount questions, Ben; they can never be trivial. Science hasn’t solved them — and who am I to sneer at religions for trying, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can’t rule him out because he owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, Part 4, ch. 33 [Jubal] (1961)
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In the "uncut" original version (1960): "Self-aware man is so built that he cannot believe in his own extinction ... and this automatically leads to endless invention of religions. While this involuntary conviction of immortality by no means proves immortality to be a fact, the questions generated by this conviction are overwhelmingly important ... whether we can answer them or not, or prove what answers we suspect. The nature of life, how the ego hooks into the physical body, the problem of the ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe -- these are paramount questions Ben; they can never be trivial. Science can't, or hasn't, coped with any of them -- and who am I to sneer at religions for trying to answer them, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can't rule Him out because He owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion that I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!"
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The capacity of a human mind to believe devoutly in what seems to me to be the highly improbable — from table tapping to the superiority of their own children — has never been plumbed. Faith strikes me as intellectual laziness, but I don’t argue with it — especially as I am rarely in a position to prove that it is mistaken.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, ch. 18 (1960 ed., publ. 1991)
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An elided version is found in the 1961 published edition, in ch. 13.
Added on 14-Jul-17 | Last updated 14-Jul-17
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Though I’ve never understood how God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion by faith — it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, ch. 13 [Jubal] (1961)
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In the "original uncut" edition (1960, published 1991), this is given as: "I've never been able to understand 'faith' myself, nor to see how a just God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion out of an infinitude of false ones -- by faith alone. It strikes me as a sloppy way to run an organization, whether a universe or a smaller one."
Added on 7-Jul-17 | Last updated 12-Jul-17
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Do not fancy, as too many do, that thou canst praise God by singing hymns to Him in church once a week, and disobeying Him all the week long. … Dost thou fancy as the heathen do, that God needs to be flattered with fine words? or that thou wilt be heard for thy much speaking, and thy vain repetitions? He asks of thee works as well as words; and more, He asks of thee works first and words after.

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
The Good News of God, Sermon 4 “The Song of the Three Children (Daniel 3:16-18)” (1881)
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Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ch. 16 [Ford] (1979)
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The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism — that’s the most dangerous type. And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don’t. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That’s a dangerous type of atheism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Rediscovering Lost Values,” sermon, Second Baptist Church, Detroit (28 Feb 1954)
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Added on 3-Mar-17 | Last updated 20-Jan-19
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