There’s been too much round-about talk on God, religion, faith, and every sensitive tangent that turns people off. I’m not out to ostracize, but there are things to be said, and I’m going to say them.
Whether or not you know of him, Martin Luther had the right idea. Unfortunately, he was married to a Christian belief structure. Is that bad? No. But he endangered the inclusion of many many people by narrowly focusing his discussions of theology and faith. It’s time to break that apart.
One of Luther’s biggest points in “Freedom of a Christian” is the distinction of works from faith. Works don’t make us holy, he says, but faith does. And if faith is truly present, works naturally proceed from it. This is nothing new to most of us. Think of it: if we believe in something, we will act based on that belief. If we believe that giving to the underprivileged is a good and necessary thing, we will do it. Unless, of course, we are prevented from doing so by external things. Ultimately, our faith saves us. Nonetheless, works will tumble out of faith—especially when the circumstances are right.
But non-Christian believe; non-Christian perform works on the basis of their beliefs. Is it always consciously recognized? No. If we believe love to be important, we won’t destroy a loving friendship by betraying trust and stealing or hurting for our own amusement. The nature to believe is ingrained; it is basically and fundamentally human. It is not a uniquely Christian phenomenon. True, Christ was the paragon of what we strive to be in faith and works, but Christians are not the only ones with a belief structure and acts that follow.
My point is, whether or not we harbor well-formulated personal theologies, we operate in the same way. Some of us believe certain things, and others believe differently. These often come into conflict, and sometimes with good cause. But I feel that the subject of belief is ignored in this; isn’t it amazing that we all believe, regardless of what that belief is? I feel that the true unity of the human race is not in reconciling beliefs, but in recognizing that our commonality is believing. No one can say they do not believe in anything. No one is truly apostate. If we can focus on this, then perhaps the complex problems of God language and specifics of religion and tradition can be more smoothly worked out. It makes sense to me, after all, that we start from the ground and work our way up. As far as I can tell, we’ve been starting in the clouds with our many-fashioned God, descending to a mired and confusing human existence. Let’s start with us for a change: we believe. Enough said. Now, knowing that belief is as integral and necessary to us as breathing, can we take a second look at the beliefs out there? Need they be so contrary?
My understanding is that a true appreciation for where we start—a common capacity for belief—will help us put our differences of religion and faith traditions in perspective. We can go back where we need to and ask the “why’s” without fear of insult or rebuke. Why does one belief differ so greatly from another? Take it back a step: we believe. How did the belief arise in God, in Allah, in Yahweh, in Vishnu, and other Deities? You get the idea. It’s a different approach to believing, and a step forward in reconciliation. We’re human—basically, viscerally, and communally. Start there, and the rest will follow.