Friday, October 19, 2012

How We Humans Easily Misuse Faith

Op Ed art. For Herald Leader, "Kentucky Voices"

Optional titles: version 10, Oct 19

Is God on Our Side

Righteousness or Champ Grace?;

or "On the psychology of faith";

Or - "

How we use faith to put ourselves on God’s side.

   One of the great challenges for any faith today is finding a way to stay in creative dialogue with the world so that each can be enriched by the other. Religion should be the engine of civil discourse. But where are the practitioners of openness in our polarized society? Why are these voices absent? Are they just in hiding, shy, fearful, paralyzed or too righteous in their own belief systems?

    One cause for this absence may be religious persuasion. We are trained in our churches to believe that our faith has God’s favor. We have the "true faith," the right way, while others do not. We feel secure in faith led either/or, back and white thinking. Never do we judge others so easily, cheerfully and comfortably as when we do it from religious convicting. Is this to make God into a tribal god, favoring only "out side" and being jealous of other "gods."

    Christians have long been taught that they are the successors to the Jewish covenant of God’s chosen. They are now the chosen ones. The Hebrew bible is called that "Old Testament," Christian scriptures are called the "New Testament." Jews were labeled and despised long ago as "Christ killers." Many have taught and believed they lost God’s favor and are doomed.

    Religious conviction seems to train the mind in "either-or", "we versus them", right or wrong, black or white thinking. Polarized thinking, "my way or the highway." become the eyeglasses through which one views the world. A trickle down blindness effect occurs. We become addicted to quickly judging in order to stay comfortable with our world views. Talk radio and cable news often seems drunk with polarizing.

    Actually, Jesus of Nazareth gave us one remedy in a few words: "Why do you notice the splinter in your neighbor’s eye when you do not see the plank in your own?" In other words, only when we are aware of ourselves can we avoid this most common human flaw. .

    The crux of the situation seems to be this. If faith is a gift, should we judge others by our individual gift of faith? To judge another’s faith as not favored is to use an undeserved gift as a hammer against another.

    Religious faith can become a self-righteousness fueled by a cheap grace.
From early Christian times, one finds the sad history of terrible abuse of those who did not agree to the "right teaching," or orthodoxy of those in power. Orthodoxy quickly became an idolatry of the "only way" to this mystery we call God.

     Currently, religious tribalism appears everywhere in many forms. For example, radical Muslims are simply doing to each other what historically some Christians have done to each other for many centuries. It is a terrible betrayal of faith, but it is not new. Christians taught Muslims well in the Middle Ages by conducting nine Crusaders aimed to take back the Holy Land from Muslim rule.

    Any church that becomes a have for "us verus them" thinking is not only misreading the bible, but teaching a false, fearful and harmful faith. Such faith, wrongly conceived, helps us find enemies everywhere and poisons civil dialogue. Some media feed on this polarizing. It is their meat and potatoes. Some church pulpits are used for political polarizing. But civil discourse and the very existence of real democracy both here and abroad may depend upon ordinary people waking up to these differences in the way faith and language are used.

    Individuals and groups can stop polarizing by learning to listen. Here is a new but challenging way to begin that dialogue. Instead of starting the conversation with your point of view, start by saying something you appreciate about the other’s viewpoint. " I like your ideas or position on ....." but then admit you do not always agree with everyone who supports your views. "But I do not agree with all those who support this view as I take this position and have these reasons".... This is a significant challenge if one is accustomed to their position and the "only God given one". But this kind of start offers real promise of authentic dialogue. .

    If we are all Gods children and faith is a gift, not something deserved or earned, then we should honor each other’s different paths. Each spiritual journey is unique. And beautiful. For the common good and to prevent polarizing, we should seek to understand the diversity of our Wisdom traditions. Our very first view of "the holy" comes not in concepts but in wonder and awe in the presence of mystery.

Comment and feedback invited.  


Post a Comment

<< Home