When I write essays about religion, in particular those critical of the negative effects of revisionist religion, I am often reprimanded by Christians who seem unable to distinguish the healthy from the unhealthy.
For instance, in responses to my recent essay, “Is a Neurotic Form of Christianity Destroying America?”, it became apparent to me that some responders weren’t making the distinction between authentic Christian teachings and a neurotic modern version.
Nothing new here. This seems to be the history of Christianity, as well as most of the other religions on the planet: Divisions, sects, wars, groups breaking off to form new churches, families broken apart by irreconcilable differences, new prophets with new interpretations.
Yet as powerful as these conflicts are, they evolve from religion and not faith, which are often confused and hardly well-enough understood to be reconciled.
The idea for this essay came to me while watching Lesly Hazleton’s TED presentation, The Doubt Essential to Faith. I was struck by how closely her views on faith lined up with those of the late Anthony DeMello, SJ., who wrote in his book, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality:
“It’s like looking at one of the wonders of the world. That is faith! An openness to the truth, no matter what the consequences, no matter where it leads you. That’s faith. Not belief, but faith. Your beliefs give you a lot of security, but faith is insecurity. You don’t know. You’re ready to follow and you’re open, wide open. You’re ready to listen. And mind you this doesn’t mean being gullible. It doesn’t mean swallowing things whole. It means questioning but questioning from an attitude of openness, not from an attitude of stubbornness. It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known.”
With the loss of the known goes the loss of the illusion of certainty. Because at some level we know certainty is an illusion, we can become close-minded so as to be more secure. Close-minded certainty is not faith. It is belief and belief ends all questions, therefore it ends intellectual and emotional progress.
This is a topic I’ve written about many times: how the religious dogmatism, authoritarianism and fundamentalism that spring from close-minded certainty stop progress when they infiltrate government and affect everyone’s lives.
Progress means change. Change means instability and unfamiliarity. And they mean fear. Fear is the sane, human response. Religion can be a safe haven when we become fearful. But it cannot stop the progress that brings the fear, no matter how dogmatic it becomes. An old Arab proverb says it best, “The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”
So the confusion between faith and religious belief continues to fog up our national vision of a brighter, more egalitarian society. Why? Because when religious beliefs are reflected in government’s laws, they can serve to separate and discriminate the supposed good believers, from the bad non-believers.
But when we realize the essence of faith is doubt, the certainty of religious beliefs, which all the separation and discrimination is based on, can quietly fade away.
Have your religious convictions. Hold them with the degree of intensity that you need to bring some level of assurance to your life. But recognize that your faith is in your beliefs. And if you hold them tightly enough, you can create the illusion of certainty.
But if and when doubt creeps in, you’ll have an opportunity to experience how it is essential to faith. And hopefully this kind of doubt will help you see that separation and discrimination based on religious beliefs have no moral home.
Robert De Filippis