Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Religion needs a mind

I have found my Christian manifesto: Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld's In Praise of Doubt. As those of you who take the time to read this blog know, doubt has been a recurring theme in my life for the past few months. Ironically, this theme comes after I brazenly proclaimed in a meeting with my beloved boss Brother Larry Whitney, that I have no doubts when it comes to my faith. That, my friends, is what we call a blatant misrepresentation of the truth (read: lie). At the time I was making poor linguistic choices. What I wanted to say, was that I had no doubt that being a Christian, loving God and others, and dedicating my life to those principles, was what I should be doing. Beyond that, a statement that can be made "standing on one foot," all else is subject to wide interpretation and endless questioning.

I frequently enter into discussions over the merits (or lack thereof) of blind faith with my Christian brethren. As Berger and Zijderveld state in their panegyric work on doubt: many of the world's religious institutions put importance on blind faith. Of course, why wouldn't they? What better way to secure the longevity and well-being of an institution than to declare it infallible? What better way to legitimate that infallibility than to quote the many Bible verses on faith, specifically "faith of a little child"?

Yes, Christianity is based on some level of faith. God, by sheer definition, is beyond our knowing. How could we ever truly understand a being necessarily beyond any mental capabilities that we could have? How could we empirically study something that created us? Yet, faith in the existence of God must contain doubt-doubt as to what God's relationship with his creations is; doubt as to how to live our lives once we have established that we believe in a God. Blind faith is only applicable to that one belief, it no longer applies to our daily decisions. We can't ever know what God is telling us to do, so we must test, retest, pray, and ponder on all of our decisions. This is where institutions step in, acting as handy how-to guides to all of life's conundrums. This is where faith becomes dangerous.

Applying infallibility to the divine is one thing, applying it to a human or groups of humans is pure folly. Humans are not perfect, therefore, groups of humans are not perfect, no matter how enlightened they are or claim to be. Unfortunately for us, human fallibility applies to the Bible as well. Not necessarily in the text itself, which is an entirely different issue, but in our interpretation of it. Our humanity invariably sinks in.

Our lives as Christians, the way we relate to God, Jesus, and his teachings, these things require a mind. One of the main reasons I am a United Methodist is because of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. For John Wesley, this quadrilateral applied to the interpretation of the Bible. Reason, experience, and the established tradition of the Church were used as supplementary tools for deciphering the meaning behind scripture, which was the most important basis for the search for truth. I am fond of applying the Wesley Quadrilateral to many of my every day decisions. Personally, I rank the pillars of the Quadrilateral from most important to least important in the following order: the scripture, reason, experience, and the tradition of the church.

The incorporation of reason and experience are key, in my opinion, to the practice of faith as well as the interpretation of scripture. God gave us a mind, I'm sure he expects us to use it. The application of reason to scripture, religion, and the divine is not a threat to any of the above unless they are patently unjust or false.

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