Defining Faith v Religion - Part 2
Chains are interesting. As a metaphor, they can communicate many things. The strength of interconnectedness. The protection of that which is valuable. More often than not, they seem to have the negative connotation of bondage. Chains restrain and keep us from going where we want to go or at the very least leaving where we presently reside.
In Part 1 of Defining Faith v Religion, we looked at how religion is obsessed with defending what little it knows, where faith, in contrast, holds its current convictions with open hands while embracing the constant exploration of the unknown. As I shared last time, the former is likely motivated by an understandable but dangerous human lust for certainty. When definitive answers are demanded in the present, the desire to continuously grow in knowledge vanishes before the sacred duty to defend 'absolute truth'. This leads us to the next pair of divergent characteristics of faith and religion, surfacing deeper motivations than that which were revealed in Part 1.
religion and control
Why does religion demand definitive claims to knowing ultimate truth? So it can likewise demand unconditional obedience. In the worst of religious environments, 'believers' are not even allowed to question 'the truth' without real consequences. However, there are some that will tolerate the occasional opinion or 'interesting' conversation. But when that opinion crosses over the intellectual line into actual behavior, this is when religion shows its true colors. Such disobedience is met with discipline and ultimately expulsion from the 'fellowship'. This religious totalitarianism or fundamentalism can, in terms of its engagement with those outside of their community, run along a spectrum. This can range from claiming total dominion and requiring complete adherence to their religious code as civil law such as with the Taliban in Afghanistan to requiring submission to a shorter list of their moral standards along with an unspoken affirmation to their inherently superior position in society such as Evangelicalism in the U.S.. Whether it is hard or soft tyranny, either way it is clear 'who is in charge'.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN DOGMA AND CONTROL
In our previous look at the defining characteristics of religion, I had mentioned that I suspected some kind of fear lay behind the clinging to dogma. Here is where religion's intellectual claims to eternal, universal truth, along with its demand to behaviorally conform in keeping with their truth, share a common anxiety--that is, the loss of a determinable existence. In other words, it is the fear of a loss of control that drives religion's apparently unquenchable thirst for position and power. This is ultimately enshrined and consolidated in religious institutions, or in some cases in the public State should said religion be officially recognized as the assumed foundation for whatever country's government. These institutions help to further the myth of certainty and control. One can understand then how dangerous those people are who dare question the established orthodoxy and order.
Faith and FREEDOM
So there are two responses to the unknown: fear or faith. When confronted with uncertainty or doubts about that which we presently think is true, or when confounded with entirely new questions, faith responds with honesty and curiosity. But what does faith do when it perceives it is operating in an environment beyond it's control? Faith counters with trust that manifests itself in a love of liberty. Faith, therefore, is not concerned with maintaining control; it is passionate about learning to find pleasure beyond the purview of our own understanding and circumstances.
Some of you might be questioning this: "Can there be such a faith community? Wouldn't that throw into constant question the very beliefs and behaviors upon which our commonality has brought us together?" My honest answer to this would be, yes! But the only alternative is to maintain churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples that are filled with people hallowed out of the unpredictable realism that makes humanity beautiful. All that remains are skilled players on a stage of religious pomp and circumstance. If that is what you wan't, than be my guest and continue to defend this. But at least be honest and drop the word 'faith' from any of your labeling, because in actuality you are operating as a purely religious congregation.
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"
While this might seem like a diversion from the topic at hand, I wanted to close with an analogy. Those of you who know me well know that I am not an America worshiper. That aside, there is something beautiful in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence which seems especially appropriate given its reference to the Divine.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Beyond the assumed sexism of "all men", there is historically and presently plenty of hypocritical distance between our actions as a nation and these stated truths upon which we are supposed to be founded. To that end, the document continues to be aspirational. Still, for those of us who call this country home, or for those of you in other countries that have similar values, don't we assume that it is possible to maintain some sort of identifiable unity and common good while allowing for great diversity as seen in each individual's "pursuit of Happiness"? I would argue that anything that constitutes a 'faith' will allow for the same.
the future of faith and religion in America
While I can't speak for other parts of the globe, it has been widely reported that here in the U.S. there is a massive exodus, especially among younger generations, from affiliated religions. I'm personally one of them after concluding that American Evangelicalism is far more religion than it is faith. Some religious prophets of doom have bemoaned this trend as proof that America is rejecting its Judaeo-Christian faith, which was, in their estimation, the source of our great 'blessing'. I think it is one of the best indicators of a better future, one that I hope will include a faith that is full of fearlessly curious questions and trust-fueled free choices.