It is a sad fact that religious leaders do not deal well with people who can’t believe what they are told to believe. There are several reasons for the difficulty.
One reason is that many religious leaders do not understand the core beliefs of their tradition well enough to explain them convincingly to anyone else. And if the full truth be told, some religious leaders do not fully believe them themselves.
Another reason is that even more are reluctant to admit that the core beliefs of their tradition have been debated at great length throughout their history. Instead, they put forward these beliefs as timeless truths held by the faithful at all times and everywhere.
And as if this were not enough, they demand unquestioning acceptance of their institutions’ teachings — every last one of them — and then demean those who give even the appearance of wanting to think for themselves.
A third reason that religious leaders have trouble with conscience-driven faith-seekers is that they too often confuse faith with right belief (“orthodoxy”). Having confidence about the truth of certain beliefs is surely part of what it means to have and to hold a meaningful faith. But faith itself is reducible neither to a belief-system nor to the confidence we may feel about it.
But what, then, is faith? Perhaps most importantly, it is a yearning and an experiencing from the heart more than it is a matter of an assenting with the mind. It is a deep sense of an unseen order whose goodness always regulates its power. It is an abiding trust that those who seek diligently what is of all-surpassing worth will be found by what they are most looking for.
Many who are seeking a credible faith today are having to acknowledge that at its end, there may not be a place for them in the religious institutions they know best. There are simply too many religious teachings out there that they can never believe.
And never should. Should anyone any longer believe, for example, that God loves some people and hates others? That any person’s eternal destiny is dependent upon making the right choice in finite time of a religious leader to follow? That human words about the divine can ever fully represent Divinity itself?
Questions like these are expressions of faith, not of unbelief.