Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A conversation about religion and faith

Something interesting is starting to happen, I think.  Check out Nurya Love Parish's blog, Plainsong Farm, for the beginnings of a discussion about what faith actually means to people who value it.  Nurya is another former atheist/SBNR who's become a Christian; she knows both the way of faith and the way of no faith - and it's perhaps it's much easier for people like us to talk about the difference. Her post has been widely read and "Liked" and Tweeted, it seems - mostly, I'd bet, by parents who want to talk about why they are - or are not? - raising their kids in a religious tradition (or not). 

It will be very interesting to see what comes of it.  What's really great about this is that it's going to start out, I think, on a reportage basis; Nurya is simply going to talk about what her faith means and has meant to her in her life - how it helps and has helped her, in other words.  It will be a great benefit, I think, that no theological "positions" will need to be explained or defended; a straightforward discussion of personal experience is the plan, as far as I can tell.

The A.A. way, IOW.   If the church can listen to this conversation, it has a chance, I think, to recover its "primary purpose" and to really help people again.  It's really, really helpful, I think, to consider faith from this really basic point of view; it's helping me, too.  Some of the discussions have been around what people are seeing as the differences between "spiritual" and "religious"; one of these sidebars has been about "abrahamic religions" and their "exclusive demands of faith" - which I've taken to mean the Creeds.  Another discussion involved A.A. and its concept of "God as we understand Him" - put in opposition to Creedal faith.  This has helped me, once again, to think through more of what I've been trying to say here and elsewhere for the past couple of years, on the subject of how Christianity can and does help people.

In my view, the Creeds - as we've all said before - are simply definitions; they describe the boundaries of the faith – and I think they are unavoidable in Christianity because our faith is based on a story, and so by definition on interpretation of that story. Also in my view:  I find them actually really helpful now; people before me have already been down all the dead-end paths of interpretation and have found that they aren’t nourishing and/or don’t make sense. I imagine if people find we’ve missed something important, it will make its way into the discussion – but so far I haven’t seen that happen.

In addition, and crucially:  I’m happy with the Creeds because clearly they have nourished and provided strength and inspiration for many brilliant minds, hearts, and souls: St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, George Herbert, John Donne, William Wilberforce, Evelyn Underhill, Susan B. Anthony (although actually she was a Quaker, without a formal Creed), Martin Luther King, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to name a few. That’s excellent company, really!

I can assume that Christianity is quite roomy enough for me, in that case – and besides, as we say in A.A.: my way didn’t actually work very well. (To speak to another point: as I mentioned here before, A.A. is based on a religious movement started by a rather bonkers Lutheran pastor – and it openly acknowledges its debt to religion. “God as we understand Him” is merely a concession – a way to help the near-insane, completely self-absorbed, and often belligerently anti-religion alcoholic find an entree into a life based on prayer and service to others! Ironic, really – but then that’s the beauty of it.)

In any case:  at this point I’m quite happy to take direction from the people I mentioned above; as again we say in A.A.: I want what they have. As it happens, there’s plenty of room to explore in this structure – the Creeds are just outlines, sort of like the 12 Steps – and besides, intellectual beliefs aren’t really at the heart of “faith.” None of the Christian virtues – Faith, Hope, Love – is primarily about the intellect. They all involve all three of mind and heart and soul; the greatest of these, we’re told – and who would doubt it? – is Love. (BTW, this, to me, is what makes Christianity at base a deeply mystical religion! Sometimes you wouldn’t know it, but there it is.)

At the end, Christianity, for me, is these days mainly about falling in love – because as everybody knows, when you’re in love, you can and do love the entire world. And that’s exactly how it works, I think. Hearing the story week after week, year after year, helps us fall in love and stay that way as we continue to consider and see more deeply into that story and its protagonist – and what it all says about the human condition – and to value it above all other things. How else could fallible people be expected to love our neighbors as ourselves – and even our enemies?

No comments: