Are we brave enough for faith . . .
Martha note: This is round four of Faith Unboxed, an ongoing, unconventional conversation about God. Please participate by sharing your own ideas and experiences (either here or on the website), rather than by denigrating the ideas and experiences of others.
Civility and respect rock!
Underneath the fume and fuss of religious controversy, is it possible that living one’s faith is challengingly simple? That it embodies an openness of heart and mind that humans, on their own, just cannot pull off?
Let me start my case for this with a story.
Back in the mid-1980′s I made most of my living as a freelance radio journalist, driving blue highways in a pick-up with a camper, trolling for sound and story. One early summer day while passing through the Shenandoah Valley, I spotted a bonneted woman shelling peas at a picnic table. On impulse, I pulled over and asked if I could help her with the peas and have a chat.
We sat together for a long time. That lovely woman–all the while making those pea pods fly–talked openly and generously about her life as an Old Order Mennonite. Gradually I came to understand that she didn’t live the way she did–cooking on a wood stove and driving a buggy–because of any fear she’d go to hell if she cooked on a gas stove and drove a car. Rather, it was because she took great joy in keeping close company with God and believed that having a lot of inessential stuff around diluted that closeness.
What really filled me with wonder, however, was that she didn’t seem nearly as judgmental of my lifestyle as I’d been about hers. I was as much God’s creature to her as her Old Order neighbor. Her faith, her relationship with God, was her bridge of openness to others; her lack of need to pass judgment, even on strangers in pick-ups.
I was not then a declared person of faith–or even inching toward such a declaration. But I did sense even then that this woman had something going for her that I did not. In hindsight, I suspect that something was her faith–her working partnership with God, the great Whatever.
Early in The End of Faith, New Atheist Sam Harris makes a glancing reference to our “common humanity.” Later on in his chapter on “Ethics, Moral Identity and Self-interest,” Mr. Harris writes, “For ethics to matter to us, the happiness and suffering of others must matter to us. It does matter to us, but why?” I finished the book, without finding an answer to either Mr. Harris’ question, or his take on the nature and origin of our “common humanity.” Could it be that Mr. Harris simply wished to avoid acknowledging the presence of mystery in human existence?
Ever heedless, I’ll happily rush in where Mr. Harris fails to tread and submit that once we strip our relationship with God of all trappings and get down to what’s left, we are indeed left hand-in-hand with whatever Mystery links us together; whatever makes me give a tinker’s dam about what happens to you, the Iraqis, or my frequently annoying work colleagues. God, in other words, is our common humanity (notice I do not say “the source of”, but simply “is” our common humanity.) When I deny my connection with you, I deny God.
I’d argue further that I can live in partnership with God –have a strong faith–without swaddling the great Whatever in religion. I don’t even have to acknowledge God to form a partnership with It. I simply have to be open to whatever God is; which in everyday practice, means being open to you.
Your (civil and respectful) response?