Friday, June 10, 2011

What Are We To Believe?

There is no shortage of those willing to tell you what you must believe. So, I venture to add my voice. Hopefully, what I tell you will change nothing of importance in your belief system. Perhaps, though, it could reduce the number and urgency of requirements.

When I say that my opinion (recommendation) will change nothing in your belief system I’m saying that you already, hopefully, believe all that you need to. You may, indeed, believe too much, and it is there that the potential for damage to your faith system lies. Let us consider a scenario.

You have told your friends that your acceptance of them is based solely upon their belief in, and acceptance of you. You understand that acceptance and belief in a person is a complex matter involving changes of behavior that reflect that belief and acceptance. But, simply put, that is all you require of those you call your friend.

Soon, however, some who claim to be in the inner circle of your friends, begin to devise additional qualifications that they insist are necessary in order for one to be your friend. For example, those wishing to be your friend must accept the opinions of you espoused by others who call themselves your friend.

They insist further that those wishing to be your friend must believe everything you are reputed to believe. For example you once quoted Mickey Mouse to make a particular point in a conversation. Your old friends now insist that, because you quoted Mickey Mouse, you must believe that he was a real person and therefore all who wish to be your friend must also believe that Mickey Mouse was a real person.

Over time your friends have produced a large volume of lore associated with who you are and what you have done, and what you believe. They now insist that all who wish to be your friend must not just believe in, and accept you; they must believe in, and accept all that has been written about you.

At last you have a large and growing community of friends. A few who know you personally, believe in you, and accept you just because of who you are. Sadly the majority of those who call themselves your friend don’t really know you but they believe the things you are reputed to believe, and they believe the things said about you, because they desperately want to be considered your friend.

Occasionally some non-friend of yours points out that Mickey Mouse was a fictional character. “Oh no,” your old friends shout. “Our friend quoted Mickey Mouse; he is a real historical figure. If you don’t believe in Mickey Mouse you can’t believe in our friend.” Now all your friends must make a choice to accept the assertion that Mickey Mouse was a real person because you quoted him, or deny their friendship with you and accept the obvious fact that Mickey Mouse never lived. Quite a number cease to be your friend because honesty requires them to admit that Mickey Mouse is a fictional person.

Over time many of the assertions your old friends have made about you come under fire from non-friends and again your family of friends is torn as to whether they can be your friend if they don’t accept all that has been written and said about you. Still more of your friends turn away, some with great sorrow and reluctance, but they did not seek to become a friend of “all that is written and said about someone.” They were seeking to be that someone’s friend.

What awful turmoil among friends. How it must disturb you. You only asked that your friends believe in, and accept you. Now some who call you friend have built barriers that hold at bay – or drive away – many who wish to be your friend, telling them their belief in you is inadequate if it doesn’t extend to all the things said about you and all the things you are reputed to have believed.

This scenario suggested itself to me as I read an editorial in Christianity Today, “No Adam and Eve, No Gospel.” The discussion centers around the suggestion that mankind may have arisen, through an evolutionary process, from multiple sources. In other words, Adam and Eve, might not have been real persons. The argument is not new, nor is the fundamentalist reaction to it, i.e. that Jesus accepted the historical reality of Adam and Eve and to suggest that they might never have existed as individuals is tantamount to calling Jesus a lair. It would leave the Gospel in shambles.

The Christianity Today editors take a less hysterical approach, concluding:

At this juncture, we counsel patience. We don't need another fundamentalist reaction against science. We need instead a positive interdisciplinary engagement that recognizes the good will of all involved and that creative thinking takes time. In the long run, it may be the humility of our scholars as much as their technical expertise that will bring us to deeper knowledge of the truth.

That is wise advice. Galileo and Copernicus could have been spared a lot of pain had the church, in earlier years, followed that course. And many martyrs, burned as heretics, could have lived to see their grandchildren graduate from college . . . or something.

Meanwhile, friends of my Friend, just know that all our Friend requires of you is that you accept Him and believe Him to be who He says He is, God’s Messiah, your savior and friend.

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