Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Faith

In Anthony deMello's book Contact With God he talks about reading an article written by two lay psychologists that looked at the priests and monks they had treated.  They reported that,
"out of the dozens of priests and brothers who came to them for help in their personal problems, only two ever even so much as mentioned the name of God in all their interviews, and only one of these, a lay brother, mentioned [God] as an important factor in his life and his cure.  To all the rest it seemed as though God had no part in their lives."
I know that this would be true of Protestant clergy as well, and believe that it probably would be true of the majority of Christian laity as well -- at least from the liberal and progressive branches and traditions.  (I don't know if it also would be true of Buddhists and Hindus and Jains, but I would surmise that it would.)  We live our lives -- even those who claim to be "religious" or "spiritual" -- except for those times that we've set aside as "religious" or "spiritual" time -- an hour on Sunday, perhaps, and maybe a brief period several days a week for our private practice -- as if we were strict secularists.

Functional atheists is the term that's often used for this phenomenon.  (I was going to write, "condition.")  We function in the world as though we do not believe there is anything beyond ourselves, even when we profess that we do. 

Take a moment to think about what you believe to be true about the way the world works?  About your place in it?  About our relationship to one another and to the cosmos?  About the meaning of life?  About death?  About the "Sacred Something?"

Now ask yourself -- and be courageously honest here -- do you live your life as if you truly believed these things?  Could others tell that these are your beliefs by the way you live your life?  (Mohandas Gandhi frequently said that his life was his message, and Dom Helder Camara is remembered as saying that your life is the only Gospel others will read.)  Are your words and deeds in accord with these beliefs?  If, as the saying goes, these beliefs were suddenly declared against the law, would there be enough evidence against you for a conviction?

This, I was once taught, is the difference between belief and faith.  The distinction was lifted up for me during a seminary course, an introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures.  My professor said that so much is made in the Hebrew Scriptures of people's faith because everyone had belief.  Everyone believed in God (at least some god or goddess or other); everyone believed in prayer; everyone believed in miracles; everyone believed in such things.  So belief was not the issue.

Faith was living as if you believed and that's why it was so special, because not everyone had faith -- then as now.  A person of faith was, and still is, a relatively rare thing.

It is, perhaps, especially difficult today because so much of the language -- the images, the metaphors, the poetry -- of faith has been co-opted and perverted.  It is so easy to be misunderstood.  Even to speak of "God" is to invited confusion, yet not to might in the long run be even worse.  Not to might be the path to the situation the psychologists discovered among the priests and monks -- religious people unable to talk about religion, spiritual people divorced from their own spiritual lives in the world.

We'll continue looking at this -- and explore what might be done about it -- on Friday.

In Gassho,

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