Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Role of Belief in Christian Faith

The conservatives I know make belief in orthodox tenets of faith an essential component of genuine commitment to Christ. Yet I've noticed in my life and other people's lives that beliefs fluctuate. You can't actually control what you believe. If I asked you to choose to believe in Santa Claus, you couldn't do it. You could pretend, but you couldn't conjure it up.

Yet is belief a required component of Christian faith in the 21st century? Should commitment to practice and living out the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth trump confession of specific, revelatory beliefs (with specific definitions)? Could confession of faith have to do with "life lived" - a practical confession, rather than a mental assent?

The focus on "belief" as a measure/yardstick of faith is the stumbling block for me. I don't see how we can require belief, cause belief, inspire belief or even "create a context of belonging so that belief grows within that context." (That's a paraphrase of what I read in a blog today.)

When I talk about being Christian, I am hoping that we have similar goals that cluster around the life and teachiings of Jesus of Nazareth. How someone explains the resurrection (symbolic, linguistic, literal, bodily, not-bodily but still real, mythological...) is a discussion that I don't see as relevant to living as Jesus did. It may be interesting. It may have an impact on how one relates to God. But is it a necessary passage through which one must go in order to "be in the club" called Christianity?

Do we limit, then, who can identify with the objectives of Jesus, with "kingdom living" or "the reign of God" when we make a set of beliefs with specific definitions a criteria for orthodox faith?

In other words, what do conservatives want to do with those who can't bring themselves to believe in the revelatory aspects of historic Christianity yet still find themselves attached and drawn to Jesus and the portrait of life he paints and the mission he calls us to?

I see a few options and wonder which of these any of you (who are more traditional in belief) might suggest:

1. A person who doesn't actually believe (as in, I just don't find belief in myself) *chooses* as an act of will to confess belief without the corresponding experience of believing in order to remain in the family of Christians.

2. A person who doesn't believe chooses not to admit that fact and participates in Christian community without violating/challenging the beliefs of the "believing ones" and without revealing that at core, she doesn't believe.

3. A person admits to not believing and therefore stops associating with Christians or Christianity and acknowledges that while she admires the teachings of Christ, she has disqualified herself from being a Christian and ought to move on to other things.

The fourth option is the one I'm exercising (which I'm getting the feeling is unacceptable to conservatives):

4. A person admits that she is limited in knowledge, can't conjure faith for whatever reasons (philosphical, theological, practical, scientific, historic, personal, emotional) and in "unbelief" continues to stay engaged in Christianity as an act of faith, in commitment to the values and mission of Christian living as expressed in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

I've learned that I can't commit my life to beliefs because beliefs change. Information changes, modifies and impacts belief. To be committed to a set of beliefs means to filter all information through that grid and to resist the impact of new information. Iow, for me, it means to live in fear. I can commit my life to values and I can use my life for action. It's in this way that I see myself as wholly Christian.



atimetorend said...
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atimetorend said...

Julie, I've meant to comment on here for some time, have had a link to it from my blog for a while. Just would like to thank you for this post hiding in your archives. It really helped me feel reasonable and not alone when I couldn't force myself to believe certain things, feeling I couldn't fit in at my church any longer, feeling those around me had no framework for dealing with me anymore.

I've worked on option #4, but just don't know... as you said, it doesn't seem to sit well with conservatives...

Glad you grappled with the issues the way you did and wrote so many of them down.