At their most mature, faith communities share their deepest convictions about the Sacred, the world, and human destiny with humility and a sense of gratitude. At their worst, they impose their convictions with arrogance and a sense of superiority.
To date, I have met more of the latter than I have the former. And the experience invariably makes me wonder whether faith-seekers would be better off working out their core beliefs on their own.
The game of our-truths-are-better-than-your-truths is one that thoughtful people eventually quit playing, even though religious institutions don’t. The resulting chasm between lonely inquirers and arm-in-arm believers threatens to swallow up the idea of truth itself.
On one side of the chasm are despairing seekers for whom only “my” truth has come to count as truth. On the other side are ideology promoters for whom only unquestionable dogma does.
Is there a way around this chasm? A starting point might be a reminder that truth at the expense of community can save us only partially, and community at the expense of truth may not save us at all.
One time during my seminary teaching years, I brought to chapel with me a guest lecturer who has just finished working over a traditional confession of faith in my theology class. On our way out of the classroom, one of my students said to him, it’s really hard to deal with everything being so up for grabs.
As it happened that morning, the worship service’s Confession of Faith was the very one my friend had just demolished. And yet, there he was, belting it out with greater gusto than anyone around us. Several students and I confronted him about it afterward at coffee hour.
His reply to us went this way: Ever since I became a citizen, one of my greatest joys has been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. For me, affirming a creed is something like that: a thoughtful but not blind declaration of loyalty.
Standing up for a religious belief is not always about putting forward an objective truth. Sometimes, it can be about letting members of a group know that we’re in the struggle for authentic faith together.
Standing up for what one believes can take real courage. Berating others for no longer standing with us may not be. Unless beliefs themselves are expressions of loyalty as well as of truth.