For several reasons, today I'm going to explore what a science fiction writer I know calls "faithism."
In a recent note to me, he wrote this: "Christianity and Judaism and Islam and all supernatural religions that say THEY are superior to others are part of a sick vein of #FAITHISM in the USA and the world at large. Why don't you attack faithism on your blog?"
Clearly he means that some people wind up worshiping their religion instead of the god to whom religion means to point. And he is right. For instance, some people seem to worship the Bible instead of the god attested to in the Bible. Which is to say that they are so positive that every single word in scripture is inerrant in historical and every other way so there is no need for interpretation. Their position is: The Bible says it clearly. I believe it. That's it.
Which is, of course, an idiotically low view of scripture. All scripture must be interpreted, whether we're talking about the Tanakh (which Christians traditionally have called the Old Testament), the New Testament, the Qur'an or the scripture of any other faith tradition. To get at any scripture's meaning, it's necessary to know as much as possible about who wrote it, to whom, in what language, when, the historical circumstances at the time and more.
It's simply foolish to assume that words written, say, 2,500 or 2,000 years ago are directly applicable to our situation today without some exegetical effort to bridge the gap.
Faithism, to return to that made-up word, is, as I've suggested, a reference to the idea that only one religious tradition owns the truth and that there is only one way to reach what many people of faith call heaven. For instance, in the New Testament (John 14:6), we find Jesus quoted as saying that he is the way, the truth and the life and that "no one comes to the Father but through me."
If we are biblical literalists, that single verse, taken out of any context, would end any debate. I've heard or read two excellent sermons in my life that directly take on that often-misused verse and explain why there are several ways to make sense of it that don't end up in faithism, meaning the idea, in a Christian context, that if you don't pledge allegiance to Jesus you are eternally doomed.
Sometimes words of scripture taken at face value lose faith value. They do that by missing the broader point.
Every religious tradition, of course, makes exclusionary claims. Our often-binary minds want to say that only one of those religions can be true. Well, that's one possibility, but it's also possible that each tradition brings some new light to the table, some insight that hadn't yet occurred to others.
And yet, in the end, we must choose to follow just one religion or no religion at all. (I've never had enough faith to be an atheist.) Similarly, it's impossible simply to speak "language." Instead, we must choose English or German or Hindi or something else. Or we must be silent.
So there you are, my friend who urged me to write about faithism. I've certainly not unpacked all that word might mean. But every word I've written is the truth and divinely sanctioned. Unless it isn't.
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A MODEST PROPOSAL
I especially like this Religion News Service opinion column about white evangelical Christians because it acknowledges ways in which such people have contributed to problems in America while also suggesting that we quit demonizing them or any other people of faith. What a concept, huh? "On Nov. 4," writes, Arthur E. Farnsley II, research director of Religion and Urban Culture 2.0 at IUPUI, "all Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and every other American will still be in the same boat. Constantly berating white evangelical Protestants now will only make it harder for all of us to stay afloat." (IUPUI is Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis.) Let's be a little more gentle with each other, folks, even with people we might think are dead wrong. Well, unless you yourself have never been wrong about anything.
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P.S.: Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and leader of the Human Genome Project, won the annual Templeton Prize earlier this year. It honors people in the cross-hairs of science and religion. The other evening he gave his acceptance speech, and it's worth a read or a view. You can do either here.