Religion, faith and what other people do

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 23, 2009, 7:41 PM | comments: 10

My post on the dancing in the aisles wedding prompted quite a response on Facebook (which, by the way, I now see where Gonch was coming from about the weirdness of syndicating your blog there... I'd much rather see the conversations happen on my blog where I can keep them forever). As it turns out, apparently Tyler's bigger issue was that it happened in a church.

I know I've blogged about stuff like this before, but the conversation brings me a little more clarity on my own feelings on this, so let me see if I can bring it around full circle.

First off, let's talk about religion and faith. Faith and spirituality is your belief system, that there is some higher power, some kind of unseen order to the cosmos, or whatever. The most awesome thing about faith is that it's something you wholly own, and it can never be taken away from you. You may choose to adhere to it, alter it or dismiss it in whatever way you see fit.

Religion is the practice of (allegedly) mutually agreed upon set of principles taken on faith in the context of an organization. In most cases it's based on centuries-old doctrines and codes passed down through the generations. Church, temple or whatever is the product of the religious organization first, faith second.

Every religious organization does things a bit differently. Christianity, the religion I'm most familiar with, is broken up into hundreds of denominations, and their approach to Christianity is vastly different. I grew up going to a Disciples church, which I would describe as a relatively light weight flavor of Christianity that tends to focus on the bigger picture aspects of most any religion. I had a couple of good pastors who were extremely non-conventional.

Going to college, of course, is where everything I "knew" about Christianity fell apart, where I was first introduced to extreme right-wing "Christians" that were only interested in tearing down anything that did not conform to their own views. I wondered how God could be OK with this, and why She would let these assholes be, well, such assholes. It all came down to a conversation between me, my hall director and my fellow RA's, one of whom was a Hindu from New Delhi. My hall director, in the most serious tone, told him he was going to hell, and he felt sorry for him.

You can imagine that my college activist mind was shocked and horrified at this. Fortunately, my Indian friend simply laughed it off, but I was never able to respect that hall director after that. A discussion ensued that distilled down to the simple fact that no religion can be proven as "correct" through any device other than faith, to which the RD simply said, "I have the right faith." Yeah, this was an allegedly educated person.

By the time I graduated, I had befriended Jews, Buddhists and Muslims, and probably because of that experience at that staff meeting, tried to learn what I could about their religions. What I ultimately got out of this was that they all had their ridiculous factions (except the Buddhists, as far as I could tell), and that these factions should not define the religion as a whole. So while these things eventually helped restore my faith in Christianity, it very much tainted my view of religious institutions, and as such, eventually settled on my own brand of faith that is based on Christianity, but without the overhead and dogma of an institution. This is the point that the distinction between faith and religion became crystal clear for me.

Later in life I was able to further make the distinction that organized religion isn't inherently bad; It's bad when people in it are bad. And it's at its worst when people adamantly get in the face of others to tell them that they're doing it wrong, which oddly enough goes back to that staff meeting my sophomore year.

The way people conduct themselves in religion is truly none of my business, as long as it's not hurting me or anyone else. So while we can all agree that Christians bombing abortion clinics or Muslims crashing planes is bad, the bulk of what people do as it concerns their religion is none of my concern. I don't care if gay people get married, or if others have arranged (adult) marriages, or practice ritualistic circumcision, dance down the aisle or anything else that doesn't fall into the categorically harmful things that hurt people.

I also don't care for people who make it their mission to recruit people to their way of thinking. My faith is my choice, and a choice we're all entitled to. We can arrive at that choice as we see fit. We are not entitled to force it down someone else's throat.

As for Tyler's post, he stated it as his opinion, which is fine. I don't take any issue with people believing what they believe. My issue is with anyone who believes that their own beliefs are the only correct ones. I know Tyler well enough to know he's not one of "those people" like my RD, and I don't even think he's close minded. I was only troubled that he'd extrapolate that the dancing wedding party's actions meant that they didn't take marriage, or the ceremony in the church, seriously. What matters for the newlyweds is not the religion, but rather the faith that they share.



July 24, 2009, 12:35 AM #

Did you rip the breakdown between religion and faith from Seth Godin intentionally? Not being mean, just curious.


July 24, 2009, 12:41 AM #

I've not read anything by him. I have Tribes, but it sits unread on my coffee table. It's hardly a novel concept. I expect that with enough time, anyone would come up with the same thing.


July 24, 2009, 4:00 AM #

So, you have a faith "based" on Christianity. But, you don't believe in evangelism, which is a basic teaching of Christ himself.

And you say religion is "at its worst when people adamantly get in the face of others to tell them that they're doing it wrong". So, I can only assume you are quite bothered by the fact that Jesus himself "got in the face" of the Temple priests to tell them they were doing it wrong? Are you bothered that Jesus said he was the ONLY way to heaven and that there are no other ways to God? He basically told every other religious leader they were "doing it wrong". How does that make you feel?


July 24, 2009, 10:38 AM #

I choose the parts that work for me, and let go of the parts I don't. How does that make you feel?


July 24, 2009, 5:11 PM #

It makes me feel like you need to stop calling yourself a Christian. You can't pick and choose from Jesus' teachings as you see fit. Either he spoke the truth, 100%, or He didn't. If He didn't, then he wasn't the Son of God, which makes him a liar. And why would anyone want to follow a liar's religion or pick and choose to follow ANY part of it? Pick your side Jeff. You are either a Christian or you aren't. Why don't you make a post and let all of us know where you REALLY stand. In eternity, you won't be able to have it both ways. You are either for God or against Him. Choose ye this day who you will serve.


July 24, 2009, 7:24 PM #

And there it is... exactly the kind of response I would expect. The same judgmental bullshit I talked about.

Let me spell this out again... I don't give a shit what you think, how you choose to categorize me, or how you live your own life. It's none of my concern.

Move along. Your world of absolutes is not the world I live in.


July 24, 2009, 9:12 PM #

All I do is speak THE truth. This is an affront to you, because you want to be able to live your life however you please with no standards or rules dictated by any higher source than your own sinful heart. In short, you are the God of your own universe and there is no place for any other god but youself, certainly not Jesus.

And your world of pluralism and relativism is completely illogical and doesn't stand up to serious philisophical scrutiny. Gravity is real whether YOU choose to believe in it or not. Absolute truth absolutely exists. It is not based on the observer's perspective. So your agrument falls flat.


July 25, 2009, 12:27 AM #

No, you're an affront to me. You're confused. You just don't get it... I don't give a shit about what you think or what you do for religion. At all.

You're wasting your breath (and my bandwidth).


July 25, 2009, 2:42 AM #

"My issue is with anyone who believes that their own beliefs are the only correct ones."

While I respect everyone's right to choose what religion they want (or none at all), Anyone who doesn't believe that the religion that they choose is the only correct one (while still recognizing that other people have the right to choose what religion they want to be) shouldn't be a part of said religion. If I wasn't convinced that what I had was right, it wouldn't be a part of my life.

That's kind of the point of (informed) faith.

Granted, as a Christian, I think proselatizing (yea, I misspelled it and I'm too lazy to google it) is important, but I respect the fact that others may not want to hear what I have to say and only ask that such people respect me by being polite and telling me they're not interested. I'll stop in a polite way.

I would never EVER tell someone they're going to hell because they had wrong beliefs. Mainly because I don't believe in Hell, but if you're trying to be Christ like, you'd know that he took a peaceful and always positive approach.


July 25, 2009, 11:09 AM #

But again, those are standards that you choose, and no one is required to adhere to the same standards if they choose not to believe them. That was an early part of point, that your faith is wholly your own.

Truth be told, I could swap out Christianity with most any world religion, as the very core tenants overlap enough that it would meet my needs. (And anyone who thinks they subscribe to religion for reasons other than serving themselves is not being honest with themselves.) Buddhism I'm not sure I could totally do though... the whole thing about transcending your sense of self seems pretty hard. :)

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