thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: March 2012

Deconstructing without Denial

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I spent lunch time today reflecting with a friend about my journey of (no) faith over the last year or so, and how during “atheism for Lent” I managed to fail, in the sense that I found where God was, even if I couldn’t see where he is (I still can’t).

One of the things that came up in our conversation was that it was a good job I was part of a Christian community, so I had a frame of reference for my faith. I don’t think that made any odds, though. Reflecting on the situation, I think that the reason I was able to rediscover a faith in God was because I refused to deny my past experiences.

It’s easy when we’re deconstructing to deny our own histories. We like to do this – it means we can forget all of the bad stuff, or all of the stuff that we’re now ashamed of believing. But the problem is that if we start from ‘nothing’, then we are bound to end up not relating to God.

Peter Rollins talks about how we need to strip away our faith to a more ‘pure’ form, one not diluted or distorted by ‘idols’ of God. Whilst that’s true, I want to weigh that up with something I once heard Tony Campolo say: we are the sum total of our experiences and nothing more. If we take away those experiences, we are nothing,

If we choose to be nothing, then we will not see our past selves through an honest lens. We will see a past self where God was not, even though perhaps God was. In this sense, I could choose to see my missing God, my seeing where God was as simply my lack of understanding of a more rational world. However, I know that those experiences have shaped me in such a way that I am unable to imagine a world without God, and that has to mean something.

Of course, it isn’t concrete proof. But in the past I have felt the presence of the divine, I have heard a voice – a still, small voice (and sometimes a loud one). I could dismiss myself as mad, or I could accept these experiences and build on them. Yes, I can’t find God. Yes, I can’t hear God. But I know that I did.

This means that my deconstruction and reconstruction takes on a new and better meaning. Instead of simply doing away with everything I am forced to only do away with that which hinders my life, that which holds me back and that which distorts my relationship with God in such a way that I begin to lose sight of who God is.

We’ll never get away from our distorted views (or ‘idols’ if you prefer) but we can go too far. It’s that which is necessary to avoid in the reconstructing. Not making an idol of the deconstructed view of reality.

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All Faiths and None

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I’ve been thinking a bit this week about the nature of different faiths (and none). Traditional thinking would have us believe in a trichotomy between our faith (say, Christianity), the faith of another (say, Islam) and the lack of faith of yet another (Atheism). I’m not convinced that the approach is as simple as we would hope for it to be.

It’s very easy for us to dismiss those of an atheistic tendency. Yet atheism is their faith, and science their God. Put simply, I cannot reconcile the theist and the atheist. The theist believes in a system of belief which provides a context for our relationship with the divine. The atheist believes in a system of belief which provides the context for disregarding any such relationship.

Other faiths is perhaps somewhat more interesting. We find it all too easy to dismiss those of another faith. Let’s take Islam as an example. My God (YHWH), and ‘their God’ (Allah) are perceived to be different Gods with different faith systems that operate in different ways.

There is of course the argument of Abrahamic relation between the two faiths, but that’s not really what I am interested in here. What I find more interesting is our willingness to disregard those of another (remarkably similar) faith as wrong whilst at the same timecondemning those of our own faith for being wrong also.

The most stark of these analogies is perhaps the schism between the ‘Evangelical’ wing of the Christian Church and the Catholic wing of the Christian Church. I cannot comment from a Catholic perspective, however I was brought up by my church to be very skeptical of their beliefs. Why?

Catholics ‘prayed to Mary’ – we know this is in fact prayed with, not prayed to yet we still hold their slightly different perspective on inter-dimensional communication and awareness to be enough to consider them to be another faith (even though we might not admit this extremity).

Yet I, and others, have met Catholics who are filled with the Holy Spirit. My mother once recalled to me a time when she shared a train journey with a Catholic monk who she said was “one of the most spirit filled men” she had ever met.

How can someone who is of another faith share our experience of God? Surely this man, if he is indeed filled with the Holy Spirit, is by even the strictest of criterion (such as the Pentecostal ruling on tongues) a Christian. Yet this is a man who almost certainly prays to mary on a more-than-daily basis, who believes in purgatory, who believes in the infallibility of the Papacy, the immaculate conception, a God who would accept indulgences, a God who considers contraception a sin, and so on and so forth.

Is this really significantly less divorced from my beliefs than those of say, a Muslim, or a Sikh? Certainly not of a Jew, with whom I share such distinct heritage and whom surely God has not chosen to abandon entirely in the wake of the rupture left behind by Jesus? Why must we see those of “other” faiths as any different to those of “our” faith, unless we are genuinely convinced that our denomination is indeed the one true faith – in which case we enter into a very tragic state of affairs indeed.

I wonder what the consequences are…

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