Can we be people of faith AND reasonable people?
In dilemmas, distinctions are always helpful. Here it’s a matter of making the distinction between belief and faith.
Harvard theologian Harvey Cox postulates that the future of faith (in his book of that title) lies in recovering from a history of belief. “From an energetic movement of faith (Christianity) coagulated into a phalanx of required beliefs, thereby laying the foundation for every succeeding Christian fundamentalism for centuries,” writes Cox. He divides Christian history into two “Ages” or epochs:
The Age of Faith “began with Jesus and his immediate disciples when a buoyant faith propelled the movement (Jesus) initiated. During this first period of both explosive growth and brutal persecution, their sharing in the living Spirit of Christ united Christians with each other, and “faith” meant hope and assurance in the dawning of a new era of freedom, healing, and compassion that Jesus had demonstrated. To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun.”
“The second period in Christian history can be called the ‘Age of Belief.’ Its seeds appeared within a few short decades of the birth of Christianity when church leaders began formulating orientation programs for new recruits who had not known Jesus or his disciples personally. Emphasis on belief began to grow when these primitive instruction kits thickened into catechisms, replacing faith in Jesus with tenets about him.”
The possibility of this historical moment is that of a new, third period in Christianity that Cox calls the Age of the Spirit. “We cannot and should not try to reinstall the first Age of Faith. We live in a different world. But Christianity today bears within it both the cherished gems and the worthless debris it has accumulated during the intervening years of the Age of Belief, which is now expiring. Can we perceive the jewels and get rid of the junk,” asks Cox.
Australian author David Tacey is on about that project – perceiving the jewels and getting rid of the junk. Again, it’s a matter of making a distinction between belief and faith. In his book Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief he writes, “If religion is seen as ‘belief in impossible events,’ it hardly has much of a future in an age of science. Faith, however is a different matter.” For Tacey, faith is what religion points to; a window not a wall. Metaphor and myth lead us to deeper places as long as we don’t get stuck on the surface of the stories of faith.
Let’s be brave, friends, and encourage one another to have faith (to trust, to hope, to imagine new worlds, to go deep). These are incredibly uncertain times. Whatever our future holds, as individuals and as a country and as a planet, we keep our hearts and minds centered in divine truth:
love can conquer fear,
compassion can triumph over power,
and ordinary people can, will, and do survive.
Keep the faith…