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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thinking about Faith

The United Church of Canada called its most recent expression of our shared beliefs a “Song of Faith”. The title suggests that we are engaging more than just our intellect. In his book “The Heart of Christianity”, Marcus Borg discussed what Christians have traditionally had in mind when they used the word faith.


Assensus: To “assent” to something is to nod your head, to agree that something is true. It is fairly easy to assent to simple, “concrete” facts, but much harder when it comes to more complex or abstract ideas. This understanding of truth sets up a real problem for religious people. There is so much in Christianity that we cannot prove: God created the world. God cares about each of us. There is purpose and meaning in life for each of us. Jesus came to teach us about God. We may find meaning in these statements, even though we can't prove them to be true.

Marcus Borg teaches religious studies courses at an undergraduate school in Oregon. Many of his students think that believing is what you do when you aren't sure or don't know. There are some things you can know, and other things you aren't sure about, so you have to say you believe them.

This sets up knowing and believing as opposites. It also leaves no room for doubt. If along with this notion of faith a person also has the idea that faith is a requirement in order to qualify to be “saved” or loved by God, then you either have to believe, or you are doomed. Doubt then becomes a dangerous sin. This is a shame, because doubt, or an openness to questions, is a healthy part of a spiritual life.

Many people end up rejecting the kind of faith that means that they cannot ask intelligent questions, or express doubt. Borg offers ways to think about faith that are about being in relationship with God rather than in agreeing with the “correct” ideas about God.

Fiducia: Latin for “Trust”. This is about placing trust in God. The opposite of this kind of trust is anxiety, or worry. Trust is something that grows over time, and has to be exercised. There is always risk in trusting.

Fidelitas: Fidelity. Often at weddings I remind the couple that they are promising before God and their family and friends that they will love and honour their partner from this day forward, whether or not they feel like it. This is a conscious, lived commitment- a daily, hourly decision about who we are as a person. This kind of faith is only real if we live it out.

Faith as Visio: Borg suggests there are 3 basic ways to look at reality.

1. Life is short, cruel, painful, and then you die. Everything and everyone in the universe is out to get you. Paranoia is the only sane response. This view leads to selfishness, defensiveness, and closedness. This view of life is self-fulfilling prophecy. If you only look for bad, you will surely find it.

2. The universe is indifferent. It is energy and chemical reactions. Nothing really matters, and nothing really has purpose. Your life means something to you, but that's about it.

3. Life is a gift from a generous God. We live in response to the gifts God gives. There is purpose and meaning in life, and God knows what it is, even when we have trouble seeing it.

This third way of seeing life is faith as Visio- living with a vision for life. Believing that God is the source of life, and that living and dying, we are always with God.