Thursday, April 1, 2010

What has faith got to do with it?

I’ve now submitted my synthesis paper in my class on religion and power. My previous paper in this class was a summary of one of Dawkins’ chapters from The God Delusion, and you can read that in its entirety here on this blog. Sadly, you say, I will not publish my synthesis paper here. Let me explain why.

I am simply not at peace with distributing the synthesis paper as it is right now. It is not so much the style issues I am worried about, nor do I worry about my academic analysis of the positions I am synthesising; it is not the quality of the paper I am concerned with. But frankly, I am not sure if I am being totally honest; I am not sure if I am fair, because I searched for what I wanted to find, I dug, and I found it. I need to feel more solid ground beneath my feet before you can all read it.

Nevertheless, I’ll give you the short version of my thoughts, without all the quotes and different authors and positions and that jazz. It is like the paper without the academic evidence. And only dealing with the Christian case. And more personal. In short, a more sincere heartsong. So, what has faith got to do with it?

But wait! What has faith got to do with what? Well, with religion and power of course. More precisely, what is faith, and how does your answer to that question affect your view on the relationship between the church and political institutions? For instance, a Christian may think it is a good thing for the church to invest much time and money in politics and lobbyism. Another Christian may think that is the worst thing the church could do. What is the difference between the faith of the first one and the second one?

In my personal Christian terminology, the body of all believers is referred to as “the body of Christ,” so in my mind, the church and the body of Christ is equivalent. Therefore, I’ll start off by substituting the word “church” in the hypothetical sentences above:

For instance, a Christian may think it is a good thing for the body of Christ to invest much time and money in politics and lobbyism. Another Christian may think that is the worst thing the body of Christ could do. What is the difference between the faith of the first one and the second one?

I mean, are these two Christians really part of the same body? They may have a somewhat similar vision of the future world, but they are headed in two profoundly different directions to get there. It seems to me as though there are two bodies of Christ, then. (So I’d love to ask, which of these bodies looks the most like Jesus? But I won’t really emphasise that question, it’s slightly off the point.)

This black and white analysis is of course not accurate at all. And neither is my next assumption, namely that faith is either factual doctrines, or hope and confidence. Of course, to most believers, faith is both hope, confidence and doctrines. But for the sake of the argument, bear with me.

Faith is many times depicted as knowing something for certain without really knowing it. For instance, young earth creationists argue that we should teach creationism in schools because that is what Genisis seems to suggest (at least by the literal interpretation these guys pledge to). They are pretty certain this literal interpretation is about what happened back then, so they rule out guided evolution and Big Bang as scientific non-sense. You see, to them, faith is to take the Bible seriously – and by seriously, they mean literally. Faith has become this exercise to believe in something they really have no reason to believe, the Bible aside. The same can be said for moral truths; “If you take the Bible seriously, you understand that homosexuality is sin,” and “If you take the Bible seriously, you understand that abortion is murder” etc. In this version of faith, to take the bible seriously has become to believe in certain historical and moral doctrines.

My guess is that most young Christians today that vote against homosexual marriages do so because it is part of their moral doctrine, not because they are homophobic.

The other version of faith is described as hope and confidence. In this version of faith, doctrines are less important, and having faith is really more about living in the hope and confidence that God will provide. This is the kind of faith we find when people are “taking a step in faith” and do something even when they cannot predict the outcome; sometimes they even have little to fall back on. Such faith can make a believer change his career plans, humble himself to ask for forgiveness in difficult situations, pray for random people on the street or open his house to strangers; this faith is confident that God forgives the past, and is living in hope for a world were God reigns and the lion sleeps with the lamb.

To me, it seems like the two faces of faith have little in common. Can they really be the same thing? Some even argue they are completely distinct. I can only examine myself, and find that I probably have a little of both. But, and this is the main point of the entire blog post, I strive to emphasise hope and confidence, because that is where the beauty in faith is found. What is beautiful about being certain the world was created 6000 years ago? Nothing! What is beautiful about being certain homosexuality is sin? Nothing, nothing, nothing is beautiful about being certain of other people’s sin! Nothing!

Being aware of your own sins, on the other hand, is quite useful. You need to acknowledge your sin if you want to be cleansed and beautified. That is what repentance is all about! But the process of beautification is first and foremost a fight with your own demons. As Jesus so wisely put it, “first take the plank out of your own eye.” This is why I believe there are so many moral guidelines in the Bible; not because being certain of the truth to them is a point in itself, but because we in the process of beautification sometimes need to be remained of what we are up against. And so can we struggle with were we find ourselves.

This focus on hope and confidence - life - of faith, also has another particular merit to it worth of mention: It allows for a much more honest discussion of the Bible, without shaking the foundation of faith. For instance, if someone has difficulties reconciling the creation story of the Bible with their scientific worldview, this can now be discussed without putting their entire faith at stake. If someone struggles with the passages condemning homosexuality, now at least it doesn’t shake their foundation of faith.

Finally, I argue this approach makes one less inclined to fight politically, for two reasons: The first being precisely that moral and historical truths are more ambiguous and open to discussion. To clarify: You may of course still argue this and that politically, but you are more hesitant to attribute these opinions to Jesus and his body of believers. The second reason is this: if faith is to give up life to be fully beautiful in hope and confidence that God provides, then you have all these planks to fight before you would even think of the sawdusts of those other people. You still have a moral and factual platform, sure; but exactly what that looks like is not a question you care too much to answer. “Rather,” you say, “ask what is the most beautiful thing to do right now.”

Read more:
Warrior of Agape: Why Dawkins is so hostile

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