On Doubt and Faith

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto

them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the

print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. (John 20: 24-25)

It is amazing how seemingly disparate ideas sometimes coalesce into insights, our mind

capturing a phrase or a line, here and there, and constructing something that matters to

us, as individuals. I had this experience yesterday. Continue reading

“Christian” – Religion vs Faith

“Christian” – Religion versus Faith

Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, “Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares?” He said unto them, “An enemy hath done this.” The servants said unto him, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?” But he said, “Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”  (Matthew 13:24-30)

Do you know what the difference is between an ‘academic’ and a ‘scholar’?  If you do, you may understand this thought of mine about Christianity as a ‘religion’ as opposed to Christianity as faith in the living God.  An academic is someone who works in a university, publishes so she or he won’t perish, and pads his or hercurriculum vitae with activities and publications to obtain tenure and promotion.  It is an ‘end justifies the means’ enterprise, and as such, the ‘means’ are often insincere and fatuous.  In contrast to an academic, a scholar studies and thinks for the genuine rewards of the process of studying and thinking.  The academic is a product of a human institution; the scholar is a product of authentic individual sincerity.

Christianity as a religion can sometimes be lot like academe, and the practice of Christianity sadly, for many people, a lot like being an academic. It produces, like other religions in the world, its own institutions, bureaucracies, policies, practices, and conventions.  It builds upon all of the same worldly structures as business corporations or governments. Its chief public proponents assume the mantle of officers of a ‘club’, public-sector managers, or university academics.  Its followers become as consumers, members, citizens, or students.  All are like the ‘academic’, fitting into human-made structures best described as ‘instrumental’ – that is, using ‘A’ to get ‘B’.

Christianity as a faith, however, like the work of an authentic scholar, is not a ‘thing’ of human-made means and ends.  Christianity as a faith is a gift from our Lord God and Saviour, just as salvation through Jesus’ love is a gift fully intended for us.  Like the scholar, we willingly do more because it has become our heart’s desire. Therefore, we joy in reading and contemplating on His Word, thinking, and giving ourselves in continual prayer while try our best to understand God’s will. Unlike the academic, our relationship with God is ultimately outwith the strictures of a human institution.  Our being is in reaching out and responding to His love for each and every one of us – every day of our life.

Christianity as a religion, as a human institution, is much like a field sown with both wheat and tares (weeds).  Both may grow and thrive in the field, but when the day of reaping comes, the tares will be known for what they are, and they shall be separated.

Though the tares grow in the same field, they will be burnt at harvest time.  And the wheat whose inward desires of the heart focused solely on the Lord and His glory shall be preserved.

It’s Only Logical

It’s Only Logical

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  (Matthew 6:24)

One of the many gifts bestowed upon us as humans is a ‘Logic 101’ type of reasoning. It simply states, “if A, then not B”.   It is this human reality that we realize when making choices. The choice we make gives us one thing but at the cost of excluding the other.  This is the principle of ‘opportunity costs’ spoken of by economists.  We cannot be in two places at once, we cannot be asleep and awake simultaneously, and we cannot spend the same dollar in two different stores.  It is simple reality.

Accepting then that so many things in life fall into an “if A, then not B” material reality, what are we to make of the all-too-common practice of claiming to hold two opposing values in our hearts?  In the world of ‘stuff’ and the world of ‘time’, we agree that exclusivity is an inexorable principle, and yet we are all-too-willing to say that, in our hearts – that is in the world of ours soul – “if A, then also B”.  It is as if that, while we know we cannot “have our cake and eat it too” in our physical world, that somehow we should be able to both have and have eaten our cake – that is, be illogical – in our hearts.

The Bible tells us that we cannot serve two masters.  We cannot hold that our Lord God and Saviour is our master whilst simultaneously also serving the material triumvirate of wealth, power, and status.  Logically, this makes sense.  For, if we count faith in God and love of God as enacting our service to God, it precludes us from also believing in serving worldly ends.  Even though we are of this world, and even though we may seek wealth, power, and status in the world, we still must not serve the worldly things that inherently draw us away from our personal relationship with the King of kings.

It is a subtle thing, to live in the world as we do, a world of temptations and evil, and to not succumb to serving mammon.  For we do need to earn our living, seek the power to do good where we can, and keep enough standing among our fellow humans to contribute positively to others.  And indeed, whilst Christ’s gift to us is the opportunity for forgiveness of our sins and eternal life, God has also given us a bountiful world rich with beauty to enjoy.  God’s love for us doesn’t demand self-mortification, and doesn’t condemn us to joyless denial of our physical happiness on earth.  Indeed, it would not be love if He didn’t give us joyfulness.

Therefore, it isn’t a question of denying the world of things and of others, but is only a question of what our heart serves.  What our heart desires in the quiet of the night. We can still live well, healthily, with material joy, and still not serve the world.

But there is more. Indeed, what serving God allows us is that we will feel joy with or without wealth, power, or status.  We do not need to despise and hate the fact of these things, but we do need to despise and hate the service to these things.  And, by the same token, we need to know in our hearts that, no matter how we gain our living, what power we accrue or lose, or what our fellow citizens may think of us, we serve only God.  It’s only logical…

On God, Dogs and Doggy-ness

On God, Dogs, and Doggy-ness

By Regular Contributor Peter

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Did you know that around one-third of Canadian households have a dog as a family member?  Dogs have been described as a ‘designer companion animal’ for humans and have co-habited with human beings since before the time of recorded history.  I personally have affection for dogs in general based on my love of some dogs in particular.  As a baby and toddler, Sally, the neighbour’s water spaniel, stuck close to me when I was outdoors.  First guarding my carriage (apparently my Mother thought it was fine to leave me outdoors attended only by Sally!), and then, as I got older, letting me snuggle with her in the grass.  I have, through the years, been variously blessed with lovable canines, and have my current love snoring beside me as I sit and write now.

Although human relationships with dogs are diverse and dogs differ a great deal as individuals, there is something instructive about the way we can relate to dogs.  I have come to believe that our attitude and treatment of our four-legged canine companions tells us a lot about ourselves.

Certainly the furry little girl sleeping next to me now tells me about myself. She is now ten years old, but when she was a puppy we brought her to dog obedience school.  Any of you who have been to dog obedience realize of course that the individuals ‘trained’ are the people, not the dogs.  Witnessing the members of our class gave me a lot of insight into just what love and selflessness was about.  The instructor for the obedience course was a tough somewhat mean-spirited man, who none-the-less was able to make people make their dogs behave.  Over the weeks, we got to know our human and doggie classmates quite well, and it became apparent to me that there were two very distinctive attitudes people held towards their dogs.  The first – and the one encouraged by our instructor – was that one’s dog was to be forced to be as obedient and pliable to their “owners” will as possible.  A well-trained dog was one that, like a robotic dog, did everything asked of him or her without thought or question.

The second distinct attitude, however, was not this.  Yes, everyone was there wanting their dogs to learn to behave in a civilized, cooperative, fashion, and yes, everyone wanted their dogs to follow their instructions.  But this second group – of which I counted myself – wasn’t wanting to ‘command’ the dog with authoritarian rule, but rather, wanted to develop a good mutual relationship with their dog through love and respect.  I am sure that I and others like me hoped that our dogs would come when they were called, heel when they were asked to heel – and so on – but we asked them to do so not because of threats, coercion, or brainwashing, but because they intrinsically wanted to.  Ours was not a power-relationship based on our own desire to simply extend our will to control them, but was one relying on the influence of love and reason.

It was interesting to note that the results of these two approaches to dog training were indistinguishable. The dogs that were trained to accept the command of their owners as an extension of their owner’s wills acted in the same manner as the dogs that were treated respectfully for themselves and with love.  When I meet a person and their dog on the street, I cannot tell if the dog is well-behaved because he or she has been cowered into behaving, or whether he or she is choosing to be well-behaved because of love.  While love isn’t indulgence and carelessness in the case of a human and a dog, it is the human’s respect for their dog-companion’s ‘doggy-ness’ that matters. It is the recognition that their dog has an independent sentient mind of his or her own, and that, while most dogs are wholly dependent upon their humans for their very survival, this dependence does not mean that the human has the right to suppress their intrinsic doggy-ness – even if they can.

Dogs, unlike children who grow into adults, are silent and vulnerable to the whims of human power.  That so many of them enjoy rich lives and thrive attests to their human companions’ abilities to love with respect and protectiveness of their intrinsic doggy-ness.  Humans have, in a sense, god-like powers in their dog’s life, and it is this relationship that might serve well in our understanding our own relationship with the one and true God.

While people, like dogs, may act in the same pious and awe-struck way when they regard God, those that feel their “god” is a punishing coercive “god” have lost their humanness – just as the dog loses their doggy-ness.  But people who know God personally, the one and only true God, respond to His love, and not only retain their humanness, but can embrace and celebrate their humanness. This is the life that God intended for His creation from the very beginning. A life whereby we can reign on earth knowing the peace and joy and understanding that comes from knowing that the same God who created us in the beginning also loved us enough to shed His precious blood on a cross.

“For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one – Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

 

Remembering Compline

 

 

Remembering Compline

“By day the LORD commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:8)

I studied for my undergraduate degree at St.  Andrews University in Scotland. The University was founded in 1411 and is located in St. Andrews, a beautiful small medieval town, complete with cobblestones, rampart walls, a ruined castle, and the shell of an enormous cathedral built in 1158 and mostly destroyed during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century – the largest church in all of Scotland then and since.  St. Andrews as a town is also chock-full of churches, old and new, as well as the University Chapel.  On a still Sunday it was normal to hear the pealing bells of several churches at once, as if to underscore the main preoccupation of many in the undergraduate population – theology.

St. Andrews Cathedral today – source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrews_Cathedral

Me, I only rarely went to the University Chapel, which despite its heavy stone Scottish gravitus was more about scholarly sparing and theological one-upmanship than anything spiritual.The one church and service I did attend, however, was at St. Leonard’s Chapel – compline, held once a week at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday evenings.  St. Leonard’s is a tiny chapel owned by the university located in the walled dark grounds of St. Leonard’s Girls’ School.

St. Leonard’s Chapel was first built around 1400, and though, like most churches in the UK, it has gone through various architectural alterations, it still retains the ambience of its origins.  It is a modest small grey stone building, seating about sixty people with pews that face one another. The lighting for compline service was by candles, and there was a very small choir that sang, in my recollection, evocative old hymns in Latin.  The service was ecumenical and conducted by different ministers and priests throughout the year.

St. Leonard’s Chapel– source: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/music/perform/singers/slcc/

I never missed a service in my last year of University.  The academic program was such that my entire four-year degree was based on ‘finals’ – eight three hour exams written over ten days at the end of the four years.   I, like most other fourth-year students, needed more than anything to detach myself from the stressful secular world of my academic studies and have the respite offered by prayer and God.  So, at 9:30 every Thursday evening, Alison, my girlfriend, would find me in my quiet corner of the library, and we would go hand-in-hand together to compline at St. Leonard’s Chapel.  It was located on the south side of town.

We would walk a few blocks (past many noisy small pubs) into the quiet walled garden of the girls’ school that led to the chapel.  Compline service is used in a number of Christian denominations, and denotes the completion of the working day.  It is, just like St. Leonard’s Chapel candlelit in the darkness of the walled grounds, a kind of anachronism based upon a long liturgical tradition.

Me, I am not one to confuse religiosity and church liturgy with authentic faith, and yet, it was a poignant moment for me when the following well-known prayer was recited:

Before the ending of the day, Creator of the world, we pray that You, with steadfast love, would keep Your watch around us while we sleep. From evil dreams defend our sight. From fears and terrors of the night; tread underfoot our deadly foe that we no sinful thought may know. O Father, that we ask be done through Jesus Christ, your only [begotten] Son and [Your] holy Spirit, by whose breath our souls are raised to life from death.

These words resonate with me still.  I realize it is a rote-learnt prayer, and yet, exhausted from the day’s work as a student, unable to focus and to think of my own, unique prayer, this wonderful rhyming end-of-my-day prayer beseeching God’s protection and love, meant (and still means) peace to me. And I realize too how important it is for me to pray before passing over to sleep.

To acknowledge the good of the day, to express gratitude for the wonderful gifts of people and things, to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others, to reflect on my own spirit and on God’s grace.  Those things and so much more – indeed, the everything of our existence – merit bedtime prayer.

On Santimony

On Sanctimony

 

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” (John 8:7)

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

There is a man of my acquaintance – a pious, moralizing, self-righteous man – who manages to ‘push my buttons’ each time I inopportunely encounter him.  This man is a staunch church-goer, and he holds his particular brand of Christianity like some glorious shiny mace with which to club others.  His profound sense of moral superiority irks me dreadfully.  His church and his ‘Christianity’ [sic] are about the worldly things, the do’s and the do not’s, the chosen and the damned, rather than about Jesus the Christ’s message of love and salvation.  Worse for me, I am in his opinion one of the ‘don’ts’ and ‘damned’.

I used to sputter and spit immediately following each time we met.  Not to his face – I am, for better or worse, too polite for that – but afterwards.  I would think, too late, of vicious witty rejoinders to his criticisms of me and others.  I would feel belated embarrassment that I failed to speak in defense of the others he would malign.  I would, by extension, feel hatred for his church, a church that in many ways serves to fuel his inhumane and un-Christian beliefs.  I would call him names in my mind, and took his haughty sense of moral superiority to heart.

Over the years, I have come to refer to him as “Mister McGregor” the nasty antagonist to poor Peter Rabbit (Peter being my Christian name) in Beatrix Potter’s famous children’s story.  And, more than anything, this man – Mister McGregor – has come to be my very definition of ‘sanctimonious’.

The problems with sanctimony and the holier-than-thou people who practice it are many.  The most difficult is the logical problem in dealing with sanctimony. It is sort of the same problem we confront if we believe in ‘tolerance’ and then are actually faced with intolerance.

In such a situation, it behooves us to be intolerant of intolerance.  Sanctimony is sort of like that, for it certainly feels like the only real defence against the morally judgmental attitudes of sanctimonious people is for ourselves to morally judge them.

Further, the problem with our dealings with the sanctimonious is its perversion of what we ourselves hold dear.  If Mister McGregor proffered his criticisms as a self-identified Marxist, agnostic, or political party member, I would more easily slough off his destructive words.  But no, Mister McGregor is a self-professed larger-than life Christian.  And when I spit and sputter, I do see evil in his heart, and I do judge him ill.  Mister McGregor has debased the expression of God who I hold dear.

But my better self knows too that words and labels are just that — words and labels.  And indeed, if we believe that there exists evil in this world, evil lies as well in the perversion of words and labels.  I know too that I simply don’t know.  I do not struggle because I realize that it is not for me to believe that I can look inside Mister McGregor’s heart, nor is it for me to judge his soul.  Those are for God and God alone.  I take much comfort in this, for without my faith in God’s final judgment, my anger would only serve to make me sanctimonious just like Mister McGregor.  Without God’s love, I would become precisely what I myself abhor.

And yes, unfortunately, when I see Mister McGregor, I still sputter and spit, but it is short-lived now.  My better self prevails.  I am now encouraged to overcome because my heart and mind have both been renewed by getting know the Lord Jesus as my personal Saviour. So instead of perfect or sanctimonious, as the world and Mister McGregor might expect, I have taken on a new Christ-like approach. I pray, with love, for Mister McGregor.

Spheres of Judgment

Spheres of Judgment

“Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, “The Lord knows them that are His” … And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth — that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (II Timothy 2:19-26)

A very good friend of mine is a retired Church Minister and a practicing Christian.  Over the years I have known her I have observed that she is what I would consider very Christ-like in her dealings with people – or at least people that she knows. She exhibits compassion, kindness, and love, with only a few lapses (for as she says to me, “We’re only human”) in all of her direct dealings with people.  She is no pushover, and indeed has a bit of an ‘edge’, being of an age that really did experience an overtly sexist and racist world, having been born in 1931 in Illinois. But still, she is not judgmental of the people she knows and meets, in recognition, I can only imagine, that judging others is really for God to do, not us.

There is a disconnect, however.  Her equanimity with respect to her concrete relations to people around her disappears when she has to deal with people in the abstract.  My friend is an aficionado of the news and politics with a strong streak of justice coursing through her blood; she sputters vehemence at the mention of the name of half-a-dozen political leaders. As an example: poor Stephen Harper; can he really be that bad?  I know I tend to agree that his government has done bad things – his proroguing the Canadian Parliament is just one example that irks me greatly – but I have no idea about the man himself.  He is, after all, a public figure of whom most of us really will never have a true sense.  So much of our understanding of things in the larger sphere of public life is so manipulated and filtered through the news media that I don’t think we really know much – even if many think that they do.

Still, I feel confident saying that proroguing Parliament is almost certainly a bad thing, and I can say too that Stephen Harper’s role in doing this is a bad thing. But I am uncomfortable suggesting that the man, Stephen Harper, is bad (or simply stupid –always another possibility).  The same goes for almost every other political leader that we can think of.  We are in no position really to say that any are bad – or good – as people.

But most of us, like my friend, do treat people unknown to us in this dialectic universe of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, often in stark contrast to how we treat people personally known to us.  I have friends (including political friends) who believe and sometimes do the most stupid or evil things.  I recognized these failings, and yet, because I know them I still feel compassion for their humanity.

I need not approve of their attitudes or behavior to have compassion and love for them.  Indeed, it is sometimes surprisingly easy to have compassion for them not despite of their failings, but because of their failings.  It is because I know them that I can see their humanity and their inner goodness, and thus I feel compassion and love for them.  And while I will still not really approve of their failings and the harm they may cause, I find myself forgiving them.

Does this sound familiar?  Compassion and love and forgiveness — despite of the sin?  This is why Jesus died. He knew us from the beginning. He knows our hearts, and loves us and forgives us, despite our sinful failings.

And so, what are we to make of my friend’s intense disgust she holds towards Prime Minister Harper as well as a gaggle of other politicians?  Well, I’d suggest she doesn’t know any of them well enough – that’s all.  If she did, I have no doubt she would still condemn their attitudes and actions, but maybe not the men and women themselves? Or so we might hope.  Still, on a broader level, if we are really to become Christ-like as the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom proclaims, perhaps, we as believers should take time to (re)consider how we extend our sphere of forgiveness.

The Fruits of Goodness

The Fruits of Goodness

By Regular Contributor Peter

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-6:5)

The world of people is sometimes a very perverse place.  Have you ever had someone do something really rotten to you, and then have them turn on you as if you had done something rotten to them?  Or, when you struggle with something and succeed, you find that former friends become envious critics?  Have you ever witnessed husbands and wives, brothers and brothers, sisters and sisters, coworkers, or parents and adult children compete with and belittle each other? And what of people who seemingly try to build themselves up in the eyes of others by tearing someone else down? And doesn’t it seem that there is nobody more unlikeable than someone who demonstrates that they don’t like us?  I, like most of you, have witnessed all of these things, and more; such perverse human characteristics are everywhere and yet they make so little sense. The slights, the envy, the competition, and criticisms suffered are often directed to the innocent.  The reality is that merely by existing we are, through no intent or fault of our own, subject to criticism and injustice in the words and actions of others.

And indeed, we may ourselves perpetuate these perverse types of attacks on others, casting ourselves as judges, smugly identifying ourselves as different and better.  We fail to make the connection between our own hurt, and hurting others.  Without a doubt, it is common that hurt becomes anger, one bad turn leads to another. Viciousness begets viciousness.

For me, there are few things that have personally hurt as much as being the victim of a false accusation or unfair criticism.  This hurt is all the worse for me, as I think is true for most of you, and even more so in situations where I have been especially trying to do good.  I recall as a child of about four years old (about the only memory I have of that age) being at a neighbour child’s birthday party.  After lunch, a hired clown appeared.  As part of his routine, he took a photo with his big clown camera.  Only the camera, on taking a photo, jumped wildly apart, seeming broken, bits dangling on coil springs.  It was meant to be funny.  But me? I remember him going around the table, demanding of each individual: “Did YOU break my camera?” When he finally came to me, and accusingly asked this question, I was mortified, indignant, and upset. I screamed, as only a four-year-old can, “NO” and ran home.  The injustice of the accusation left me upset for a very long time (for about a half century it seems!).

And so I was introduced to injustice in the world. Of course, injustice in its many guises has always been a part of the world, and almost certainly will always be a part of our earthly existence.  To ‘grow up’ in the world is to come to some kind of understanding of injustice as it affects us, and as it affects other people.  One might even go so far to say that the one overwhelmingly important factor concerning a person’s character is found in how they choose to embrace justice or the opposite.

Reality is that the world is an unjust place for many, if not all people.  We jokingly say that “No good deed should go unpunished”, “Nice guys finish last”, and that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Or, more seriously, as a friend of mine has often observed: “They always crucify the Christ”.  Not that we are Christ, but we do – all of us – embody some goodness being created in God’s image.

Goodness – the “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” written of in The Bible and quoted above – is no protection from injustice.  And in fact, history shows us that at times these very characteristics invite injustice.  So what are we to do?  Perpetuate the evil, and continue to crucify the Christ “with our passions and desires”? Or, wouldn’t it be more edifying to accept the gift that Jesus the Christ gave us by shedding His precious blood on the cross, and, subsequently, live and walk in the spirit of goodness?

In the latter option, we can change one small part of our world by breaking the link in the chain of human perversion, choosing neither to provoke nor envy others. We can escape injustice when we accept God’s love, and His promise of our salvation.  We can be filled with His peace and joy in our hearts. Most of all, the fruits of goodness would mean that we are doing God’s will; there is no need for more.

Faith in Life – Faith in God

Faith in Life – Faith in God

 And the LORD said unto satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that [there is] none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still, he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movest me against him, to destroy him without cause.”  (Job 2:3)

I recently read the short story (in translation) “Zadig the Babylonian” by Voltaire.  It is a fictional story of the life of a brilliant, humble, and good kindly man, Zadig, whose existence is a series of successes and disappointments.  The ‘disappointments’ are almost universally attributable to others’ jealousies of Zadig.  Part of Zadig’s story reads like the story of Job, whose faith in God was tried to unimaginable extremes, but remained.  However, there is one key difference: Zadig’s ‘faith’ was in life itself, while Job’s faith was in God.

Voltaire’s story has left me questioning what the differences are between ‘faith in life’ and ‘faith in God’?  I know of many people who embrace life – people who, in Freud’s terms, operate through Eros (the instinct to life) rather than through Thanatos (the instinct to death).  I would like to say that these people are a joy to be around and that their ‘positive attitude’ is at once right and moral, but I don’t always feel that way about them.  Similarly, I would like to say that any instinct toward death is morally wrong, and indeed I believe this to be generally true, but I know of people who struggle horribly in this world from whom I do feel love and joy.  It is clear that, ‘faith in life’, while ostensibly good in itself, isn’t enough.  Not only is ‘faith in life’ not sufficient, it is a deceptive substitute for ‘faith in God’.

I feel this to be the case because faith in life – at least in the individuals in which I observe this trait – can be only about this life.  These people hold to a belief that our world is everything, and what is to be embraced is material and present.  Faith in life sometimes also seems a lot like faith in the world that ‘is’, rather than faith in the world that ‘ought’.   It manifests itself in the worldly successful, whose energies are more directed towards each individual advancing their own life than ‘life’ in general.  And even the most altruistic and seemingly upright and good among these people are not necessarily spiritual.

I cannot deny that faith in life is also a component of faith in God and in His gifts of abundance.  A component – yes — but not the same however.  To have faith in God is to believe in the victory of the righteous over evil.  To have faith in God is to believe that, despite our failings – including our sometimes Thanatos – we are loved by God, and forgiven for our sins by embracing Him.  Indeed, the very essence of Jesus’s saving grace is not that we are the very best we can be in the natural world, but rather that, despite the fact we are definitely not our best in the natural world, we can still find the solace in the spiritual peace of God’s grace.  For no matter what, we deceive ourselves it we think that by putting faith wholly in life itself, that we can avoid being worldly failures.  We are destined to fall short of our best intentions, to fail to fulfil our appetites, to fall short of our ambitions whether selfless or not.  To keep faith in worldly life only, despite our failures in life – as did Voltaire’s Zadig – may be to live admirably as a ‘fellow well-met and hail-hearty’, but is also to be delusional.  But to keep faith in God, in His divine presence in all things, and in His saving grace despite worldly failure – as did Job – is to experience real Truth.

For faith in God IS faith in the eternal light, whereas faith in life is at best temporal and worldly.  Moreover, faith in God, such as that held by Job, always prevails over the tortuous evils of natural physicality and leads to spiritual elevation, goodness, and peace.  Faith in life offers no such guarantee.

Job’s story makes sense only if we realize that his faith was in something far more important than life itself.  His faith was in God.  Job sought what was good for his spirit over and above all else, entrusting God’s grace to rectify all the things he suffered in his earthly life.  And as we know from reading about Job in the Bible, his faith was rewarded

The True Believer

The True Believer

 “Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? And in Thy name have cast out devils? And in Thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22–23)

I have recently finished reading Eric Hoffer’s 1951 book: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.  Hoffer (1902-1983) was a self-taught American social philosopher known for not only his many writings, but for his working-class roots.  In particular, he was a longshoreman for many years, even as he had fame for his scholarly work.

My interest in The True Believer stems from the difficulty I have had in understanding my fellow humans acting as ‘groups’.  My own personality is such that I am not, nor have I ever been, a ‘joiner’, with the result that I regard my own life – including and especially my soul – as being ‘autonomous’ or individual.  Individuality has both its rewards and costs in our world.  The big reward is that one has freedom to choose, and can take responsibility for oneself.  The big cost, however, is that one has freedom to choose, and must take responsibility for oneself.

Hoffer’s book – 188 pages of it – conjectures that the reason people follow mass movements, such as Nazism, Fascism, Communism, and Christianity (among others) is that they have found their individual selves somehow lacking, and seek a more powerful and acceptable identity as part of the crowd.  Mass movements offer an individual an escape from isolation and a refuge from barren meaningless ineffectual selves. Hoffer argues that: “Those that see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom”.

Hoffer’s rhetoric is all the more poignant inasmuch as his book appeared only six years after Hitler’s suicide, and at a time when the brutal despot, Josef Stalin, still led the Soviet Union.  Mass movements had wracked the world with war and misery, and the appearance of The True Believer was apropos to the era – as it probably should still be today.

While the book is far more subtle and involved than my brief description here – in particular Hoffer identifies the “true believer” as a fanatic – what the book forced me to think about is just how to reconcile Hoffer’s inclusion of the Christian Church as an example of a mass movement.  To write of the Christian Church as being similar to the evils of Nazism or Stalinism may strike some as irreverent and sacrilegious, but in fact, the medieval inquisitions conducted in the name of Christ, as well as countless other evil deeds done in His name, are as cruel and morally reprehensible.  History has shown us that it is impossible to defend the Christian Church as a universal force of good in our world if by ‘Christian’ we simply mean where humankind has applied the word.

But to say the word Christian is clearly not necessarily to mean Christian.  And there is an obvious disconnect between faith in God through Jesus Christ and what the Christian churches do or do not do.  Indeed, if we accept that evil does exist in our world, it only makes sense that true ‘evil’ will masquerade as ‘good’, just as the secular masquerades as the spiritual.

Hoffer’s book – which I thought convincing with respect to the individual psychologies that allowed people to follow mass movements – has forced me, however, to ask myself what is it about Christianity that is different?  For it is clear that, like his fanatical ‘true believers’, true Christians also are aware of their own inadequacies – their sin – and true Christians also seek solace in something greater than themselves – in this case God.

But therein lays the difference.  ‘God’ is not an excuse to escape our less-desirable selves.  Nor is ‘God’ a movement.  A religion may be a movement but God isn’t; God is God.  And rather reassuringly God isn’t there to be something that takes us away from our autonomous selves to meld us into some ‘universal mass’,  but God, through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, is there to love us as ourselves.  It is the gift of His love that empowers us, not the assemblage of many into a mass.

While God is universal, His love for us is a love for us as individuals.  God, removed from all the liturgy, politics, profanity, and misused words of churches remains our personal God.  It is not that all assemblages of humans are evil, or that all religions are corrupt without good in them, but only that they are imperfect.  A reminder to each of us that mass movements can take our freedom away.

How much more beneficial in the long term if we instead took hold of His promises of salvation and peace, knowing that it is God’s love that gives us true freedom.