Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Faith So Weak

Archer: Ma'am, I do not know how you can stand there and let our Lord -- your faith -- be insulted by this drunken degenerate?!
Sister Thomas Aquinas: Simple, child...
...My faith is not so weak it can be threatened by a differing opinion.
- Archer & Armstrong #3
by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry with Pere Perez

Armstrong is immortal and has lived for thousands of years. Archer was raised in a sheltered, ultra-conservative Christian home that was actually a training camp for a secret cult that is trying to take over the world. Or something. Currently they have teamed up to stop the cult and are receiving help from Sister Thomas Aquinas. That may not be her real name. But Armstrong has just insulted Christianity and Archer wants someone to smite the immortal. The nun, as you can see, is not shaken at all by Armstrong's dismissive words.

Organized Christianity tends to have trouble reconciling differing worldviews. Like its treatment of popular culture, Christianity either ignores such viewpoints or fully condemns them. It is usually the latter.

Why is this? Why are we incapable of dialogue with the other outside of vitriol-laden shouting matches on cable news? Greg Boyd thinks this is because evangelical churches place so much emphasis on being certain that your beliefs are true instead of developing a faith that engages with doubt. "It's much easier to remain certain of your beliefs when you are not in personal contact with people who believe differently," he writes in his book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty.1

Unfortunately for some Christians, they inevitably cross paths with someone who, most shockingly, holds different beliefs. Engaging these beliefs might cause one to doubt, or even simply ponder, their own beliefs. And Christians are far too scared for self-examination! This fear that our certainty might be shaken by the mere existence of other beliefs causes us to either ignore such alternate beliefs or seek to eliminate both the beliefs and the believers. I think this explains how I found myself sitting in a church service a few years ago where the pastor proclaimed, "Muslims are invading America and it is our duty as Christians to stop them!"

I thought our duty as Christians was to love our neighbor as ourselves, especially neighbors who are different from us. But I guess if our neighbors could maybe, possibly, by a large stretch of the xenophobic imagination, threaten our deeply held, yet apparently very superficial beliefs, then our neighbors must be removed from our lives, our town, and our country.

A solid way to strengthen something is to challenge it. But it is very hard to challenge and strengthen your faith if you diligently avoid anything and anyone that differs from your beliefs. In his book The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction, Peter Rollins agrees that when we meet others with differing worldviews and "founding stories, they strike us as perverse, monstrous, and threatening."2 Calling another person's beliefs "perverse" or "monstrous" sounds harsh, but is this not what we do when we openly declare our attempts to drive them out of our country? Further, what benefit do we receive from such action other than maintaining our simplistic, sheltered, and idyllic, yet ultimately misguided and false, world where we are always and completely correct without challenge? However, if we engage the other and their beliefs we may find that while, yes, our own beliefs may shake a bit, our understanding of the other, ourselves, and our own beliefs might be enriched. Rollins suggests that "when we sensitize ourselves to the other's discourse, listening for points of dispute, the other's discourse can rupture our own presuppositions and cause us to reflect upon the things we would otherwise take for granted."3

"Indeed," Boyd also writes, "having the courage to embrace the pain of doubt and to face unpleasant facts, as well as to embrace challenging questions and to live with ambiguity, is the hallmark of a mature and responsible human being."4 Otherwise one's faith may be so weak that, not only is it threatened by a different opinion, it responds in extreme and grossly non-Christian-like behaviors. Just ask Spider Jerusalem.

1 Gregory A. Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), kindle location 212.
2 Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction (New York: Howard Books, 2012), 65.
3 Rollins, 70.
4 Boyd, kindle location 411.

1 comment:

  1. Been thinking a lot about this myself lately. Maybe our faith needs to be tried to be refined. I am not one to believe everything I hear, I need to study to show myself approved. Questions make you dig deeper for truth and in turn, knowledge.