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…