It’s inspiring to be around people who express their faith quietly rather than bombastically, gratefully rather than militantly. But what makes confidence like this possible?
This question has inspired many different answers. Here is a particularly problematic one: quietly confident faith comes from growing up in a faith community so nurturing that the nurtured never remember a time when they did not feel surrounded by love, important to God, and a cherished part of its spiritual environment.
Without doubt, there is a sweet glow to this answer. But there is a worrisome side to it as well.
In communities like these, there tends to be a shared conviction, not always stated, that the purest faith is an unquestioning faith. The truly faithful, its members are led to believe, are those who gratefully accept at face value all they have been taught in it, and who show compassion toward those who have not have been raised rightly in the right faith.
Unfortunately, the compassion is often a mask behind which there is little more than condescension.
This approach to faith reduces it to something that has to be received intact from others and guarded carefully against change. It is not something that one must come to on one’s own, by asking questions, entertaining doubts, and respecting that there is more to Sacred Reality than any religious tradition can possibly bring to full expression.
Faith that is only other peoples’ faith, itself taken on faith, cannot separate what is central and transformational in a religious tradition from what is peripheral and spiritually destructive to it. And because it cannot, its vitality depends almost wholly upon its practitioners’ losing themselves not in the Divine but in the faith communities that cling to it.
It can be a good thing to be held comfortingly and lovingly in the embrace of a caring community of humble and thankful people. But not if its members are unwilling to consider the possibility that spiritual growth often goes better outside than inside it. And that it is always better to experience the truth of faith for oneself.
“Better” here does not mean “easier.” It is anything but easy to discover for oneself what is true and what may not be true about a faith tradition, especially one’s own. And why we cannot avoid the journey and have genuine faith at all.