One thing I’ve noticed about many who reject Faith without thoroughly exploring the subject to begin with (“It just doesn’t make sense to me.”) – is that they envision faith as being focused on The Creation and The Afterlife – on narratives of The Beginning and of The End. They see these narratives – which most or all faiths have – as factually and fatally flawed, if not downright foolish; and so not worthy of serious consideration. Therefore, in their eyes, the faith as a whole must be flawed.
Now, there are many people who have adopted the label “Atheist” because they see the evil and pain in this world and cannot believe that a loving God would allow such things. (And perhaps even blame faith as responsible for much of the world’s pain – which, sadly, is true). Therefore, they say, there is no God. But, that’s an entirely different topic that I have referred-to in some of my past posts here on this site.)
When talking about the Creation or the End Times, the problem – at least in my view – is that focusing on a factual interpretation of a Faith’s narratives of The Beginning and The End completely misses the point. (Biblical interpretation Literalists, please take note.)
There are no simple answers in this world. There is; simply, Love.
We share with all Christians the understanding that all need the healing touch of God. But, differences in how we understand our faith affects how we perceive the world, and how we interact with others.
I particularly remember one couple I knew years ago, who were among my most trusted and supportive friends at the time. Great people.
One day they were speaking of their second home in the mountains, where they planned to retire. It was completely “off the grid” – no connections to utilities of any sort, not even a mailing address. They never let anyone know exactly where it was.
They were also fairly conservative in their faith, and this sounded a lot like a refuge from the Apocalypse. But, they were such reasonable, balanced people! I knew that couldn’t be the case. So, I teased the wife, saying “Then I suppose the gas masks, concertina wire and machine gun nests are all just for show”?
Looking a little shocked, she said (dead serious), “How’d you know?”
This is beautiful and fascinating video was created by Ron Miller, a former art director for NASA: he digitally superimposed scale images of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune over the same landscape, showing us how big the other planets would appear if they were as far away as the earth’s moon is from us. (By the way, if the sun were shown from this distance, we’d be completely enveloped within it – a little too close for comfort. …And, if Jupiter really were as far away as the moon, we’d be experiencing tides several HUNDRED times greater than we do now – among many other unpleasant effects!)
Now, this obviously cannot happen – this video is an intellectual and artistic exercise, not reality, and Jupiter isn’t effected one bit by our seeing it in this new way. But, it enhances our understanding of the truth of our existence and of our relationship to Jupiter and the rest of the Solar System in many different ways.
And so to does looking at the Holy Scriptures from different points of view enhance our understanding of The Faith: we see new things, and have a fuller and more comprehensive appreciation of our relationships with each other and with God.
Belief is not dependent upon conformance to the Law. Belief is the process needed to make God’s command to Love a reality in our lives.
Believe what? That there are angels? That Jesus died on the Cross for our sins? That all the miracles in the Bible actually happened? That the tribulation is coming? That abortion is a mortal sin? That marriage must be a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman? That only men shall be ordained into the ministry? That God somehow anoints the beliefs or agendas of one person or group over those of another? That our particular understanding of our faith excludes all other understandings, especially those we don’t understand?
We all are constantly confronted with the choice of what to believe, and how. Do we believe literally all that the Bible says? And, what does “Literal” mean? Literalism presents us with many challenges and contradictions that are impossible to resolve; so, do we instead believe the scriptures through viewing them as metaphor and allegory? Do we ignore the passages that we see as outmoded, focusing on those that seem more relevant? Or, should we go even farther, perhaps picking and choosing what seems nice from the smorgasbord of other beliefs, traditions, and wisdom that we encounter everywhere in today’s world?
I love what the Author of Hebrews has to say about all of this in this morning’s reading. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” So, it seems plain that there has never been a single voice deciding what is or is not to be believed as part of our faith. The Author of Hebrews is acknowledging that the prophets don’t all agree with each other, often speaking in ways that seem contradictory, or at least are hard to reconcile with other sacred writings, especially when taken literally. And this is in fact deliberate; since the goal of the prophets was to disrupt conventional wisdom and accepted practice, the very purpose of their words was to challenge our understanding.
Every author of the 66 books in the Protestant Bible see and portray God’s word in different ways, and then there are the 73 books in the Catholic Bible, and the 81 books in the Ethiopian Bible. So, not only is there disagreement between various scriptures within our Protestant Bible, but disagreement between various branches of Christianity as to what scriptures are part of the Bible at all – not to mention the tens of thousands of variations found within the most ancient scriptural texts we have at our disposal. There is no single “right” Bible, and never has been. So, how can there be a single “right” reading of scripture? Therefore, there is no single universal scriptural standard by which we can judge what is “right” to believe, or not.
But that’s OK, because belief is not about believing the right thing! We will not be condemned to hell for believing the wrong thing. Belief is not a certainty that there is a perfect, eternal and unchanging truth upon which all knowledge and all reality depend. (In fact, that belief is a teaching of ancient Greek philosophy, not Judaism.)
I agree with the author of this post: Literalism does diminish our faith, reducing its beauty and depth, making it less resilient in the face of adversity, and requiring one to ignore or gloss over anything that is contradictory – turning the faith into a pale and poor parody of itself.
The use of the great movie “Galaxy Quest” to illustrate this point is brilliant.
I loved Galaxy Quest as soon as I saw it. As a fan of Star Trek in all of its incarnations (OK, maybe not Star Trek 5 so much), I recognize almost all of the players in the movie: the geeked-out fans, the trapped actors longing to move beyond their stereotypes, land the viewers of the movie who like science fiction because maybe, just maybe there really is something more out there than just what we know. But I’ve noticed that there is a moral to the tale of Galaxy Quest that lies underneath the trappings of its science fiction.
If you remember the story (and more pertinently if you don’t), the story is this: Galaxy Quest was a 1970’s TV show which is seen by an extraterrestrial race (the Thermians) who have no concept of fiction. As such, when they come under attack from General Sarris they see the…