Gretta Vosper had it right: With or Without God:…. How We Live is More Important than what We Believe. For a person like me, who has spent his life trying to make sense of Christianity, it is easy to get caught up in the importance of belief. And I would be following the dictates of Christianity ever since the time of Constantine.
We forget that Christianity was first known as “The Way.” Jesus’ teachings are all about how to live and not about what we should believe. The first few hundred years after Jesus walked the earth were creative, diverse, and fluid. Jesus’ followers were trying to find ways of expressing just who this person Jesus was.
Belief is important, but how we live, the quality of our humanity, comes first. Becoming more fully human is the challenge that faces us as individuals and as a species. Without a leap in consciousness our future is limited. As someone has said, “we are all in the same boat, and the boat is sinking.”
How do we get to where we need to be? How can we become the persons and community that promises a future? Evolving beliefs that we hold in common is essential to the process. It is a process that has several dimensions.
“How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light-bulb,” begins the joke. “Only one, but the light-bulb must want to change.” Or Jesus’ words to the man by the Bethzatha pool, “Do you want to be made well? (John 5:6 NRSV). Or better still, the KJV, “Do you want to be made whole?” “Want” is the crucial word. And I like “whole” better than “well.”
Behind any beliefs there must be the desire to be made whole. Do we want to “grow in wisdom and stature, and in divine and human favor?” (Mark 2:52). We must touch the inner yearning to know and grow. And that is not always easy. To pay attention to that inner drive to become who we can be means that our life is on the line. It may mean changing attitudes, lifestyle, work, partner, and whatever else; and live with never having the final answer nor the sure way. Communally it means doing justice, loving compassion and walking humbly, as Micah enjoined us many centuries ago. And most of us have far to go on that score. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is what Reinhold Niebuhr would call “an impossible possibility.”
To believe, or give assent to, a fixed set of beliefs, such as, “I believe in God the father almighty….,” or the inerrency of the Bible is to cut off the possibility of growth. If you have all the answers you are not open to new thoughts or questions. Communicating with a fundamentalist is very difficult, and we are all fundamentalist in a variety of ways. But Leonard Cohen reminds us that “there is a crack in everything, that’s where the light comes in.”
The first requirement of believing is that it ring true to our experience. That may mean probing dimensions of our experience that we often repress and ignore. Most of us have had some kind of “paranormal” experience, which our age does not encourage. Only in recent decades has spirituality become an acceptable subject – and still only in certain circles.
The wish to find meaning for our personal lives and purpose in the unfolding of the Mystery of it all forms part of that inner urge to commune with all that is deep and vast. We do this by bringing intelligence to our individual and common experience. We reflect upon our experience.
In order to reflect we need personal quiet or meditative time. We need to take moments and seasons to be with ourselves. We also need to commune with others. The “other” may be books, and all the modern forms of communication, but ultimately we need the give and take of partner, friends or a small group. I believe – if I may use that word – that the future of the evolution of faith and belief is in small groups.
We need to share our experience and understanding. The more diverse the group the better, but in order to communicate we must have some commonly held attitudes and assumptions. We have to agree on something before we can disagree creatively. If you come believing that the Bible is infallible or that science is the only way to truth, communication will be very limited.
Out of our experience, reflection and sharing will evolve commonly held visions, goals, meaning and purpose. In other words, a belief system will emerge. It will never be fixed or final and each of us will have our own version. It will always be evolving, but it will give meaning and purpose to our lives for this moment in time.
Groups will share with groups. We will unite in larger groups for more learning, sharing and celebration. We will develop ceremonies and rituals. We will have structures, like Progressive Christianity, to help facilitate the process.
I should not refer to this as a future happening for it is already in process. I believe, as one who is called to reflect, that energies move and evolve within the spiritual realm, what Jung called the psyche, and that beliefs evolve over time. Now we are in the midst of a great transformation in what and how we think. A new story is taking shape within our collective consciousness. With our swiftly growing awareness of the vastness, beauty and wonder of the universe, the Universe Story is becoming stronger and stronger and is taking on a numinous quality that makes it holy.
I trust it will evolve to where the whole human family can affirm themselves as all one as children of the universe.
I believe that the emerging Universe Story is a belief which can bring to the universe the gift of a more whole humanity and the possibility of a creative and purposeful future for all of us.