Belief, Ctd

While I was putting together the “Faith” post of this series I was thinking a bit more about the last post regarding “belief” and I think there’s a bit more to say on the issue. First is my observation (please correct me if I’m wrong here) that the “center of gravity” for the American religious perspective is found in possessing the correct beliefs about God. Granted, there is a vast range of perspectives, but the majority of religious participants are of the “true believer” variety. American Christianity seems to be a quest for immortality or “eternal life in heaven after we die.” We agree to a set of particular beliefs and at that given moment we are forgiven and heaven bound. If those beliefs are questioned or threatened in any way, it creates severe panic in the mind of a true believer. The phrase, “maybe I’m wrong,” doesn’t last long in the mind of a true believer because if it lingers, a crisis will ensue.

Right belief fuels the evangelical impulse. We need more people in churches because when more people join the club, our system of right belief feels more validated, allowing any possible slivers of doubt to be ignored. “How can so many be so wrong?”

Right belief fuels tribalism. It’s what makes the unending arguments over all doctrinal varieties go round and round. “We won’t go to that church because they believe ______.” It pits one group against the other, fostering the comfort of belonging to a tribe while also ushering in the inevitable violence between the different tribes of “true believers.” After all, if right belief is the north star, there can only be one right belief system.

The religious life that is rooted in right belief is ultimately rooted in fear. We become afraid of what God thinks about us. We fear that our loved ones don’t believe the right doctrine. This fear hangs on the idea of God as a stern judge who has been offended by our existence. A God who needs some kind of appeasement. And we’ve now replaced ritual sacrifices of the ancient world with the modern notion that if we think the right thoughts about God, he will spare us from some form of eternal punishment (which again, oddly begins when we die.)

While I agree very much with Wilber’s assessment of belief, I also learning to have compassion for those who camp out at this stage of religious life. The human experience brings with it many uncertainties that threaten our sense of stability. We thirst for constants, safety, reliability in the midst of an ever changing world. We can all relate to that desire regardless of our religious perspective. So instead of attempting to take a wrecking ball to “right belief” (as if that were even possible) I’m convicted that we must do our best to embrace the need for others to remain faithful in this way. It is not about being combatant with “true believers” but about being compassionate. Being compassionate and empathetic to those who you may disagree with is essential. After all, they just might be right. 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Belief, Ctd

  1. excellent discussion going on-and i appreciate the separation of right belief in right facts from actual communion with God, which has more tenuousness built into it than perhaps those who wish to lean on a pride in themselves of “getting it right” would be comfy with.

    Yet there is a place for belief, in the sense that it is the basic concepts or precepts we hang onto, and act upon, often without explicit awareness or profession (most of our belief in science plays out in how we trust applied physics in almost anything we do-as a fellow often-traveler, i trust you appreciate “the miracle of flight” as not a miracle but very specific aerodynamics, the miracle being the genius of the application of physics). Likewise we make meetings with others based on beliefs in time, trusting another person to be there, etc.

    i know these are probably a bit silly at first when compared with religious belief, in any shape, but the hope that communion with God is actually common, and woven into mundane and “focused” moments (such as worship or prayer or fasting) only as a larger weave of life (helping to tear down the “sacred/secular” divide of activities and art), that hope carries a belief that is more embodied-belief in an active person (Jesus), and living the belief out in actions of Jesus-likeness, and locating whatever convictions of “true belief” there, not in being a person who may or may not be compassionate, but who has all of their ducks in a row about Jean Calvin or open theism or something. Not that those aren’t worth talking about, just not where the real locus of belief is.

    thanks for the thoughts on the book!

  2. Dustin,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not saying that there is no place for belief. Belief is necessary yet it is only valuable if it makes way for more authentic manifestations of religious life (i.e. faith, experience).

    It is all well and good that a son would believe he has a father and that his father has done x,y, and z for him. But if that belief does not ultimately point the son to actually have an experience or a relationship with his father, that initial belief is more or less pointless.

    To take your example, I can profess my belief that a plane can fly and that there is little chance for something to go wrong when the plane leaves the ground. But professing that belief is useless unless I actually step on the plane and fly away.

    My point is that the vast majority of Christians today are busy fighting over whether the plane flies or not or how fast it goes and how far it travels or which plane is safer. But very few are actually getting on the plane and experiencing flight. We’ve become drunk with the debate, myself included, and are happily waiting at the gate all the while we ignore the invitation to actually take off. We are too busy convincing everyone we know that the plane we like is the most reliable way up.

    The beauty of deciding to actually step on the plane and fly away is that you then leave that whole debate in the dust.

  3. Zach. Good to find another Emergent Integral Christian.

    I think Ken would agree with your sentiment. I am reading his ‘Integral Spirituality’ and basically what you are describing is the need for let’s say a church to be a place that encourages healthy and vibrant faith at whatever part or color of the spiral they are at. So a loving mythic Christian is a better Christian than an angry postmodern one.

    The desire for order is also something half of the colors (using spiral dynamics, those usually positioned on the left side) long for.

    Any way, glad to find your blog.

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