Saturday, August 21, 2010

The problem with faith

Recently I completed the book Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert and saw the movie starring Julia Roberts.  For me, the book was transformative.  I completely identified with the author's journey  to self-actualization, inner peace, and personal happiness. When I began reading the book, I couldn't stop talking about it to friends and family, but as Gilbert's story took her to an Indian ashram to study yoga, I stopped talking.

I learned some time ago that most Christians - as most of my friends and acquaintances identify themselves - see exploration of other religions and forms of worship as a threat to their own.  For many, questioning is the opposite of faith and not to be tolerated.  I knew more than a few of them would be discomforted by the spiritual questions the book raises and the conclusions the author reaches. Extolling the virtues of the book was not worth the uneasy conversations I was sure would ensue.

I don't agree with much of the author's beliefs and have no plans to study with a yoga guru any time soon, but I believe that exploration within and outside of our belief system is healthy.  While understanding the role of faith in religion, beliefs that flourish only in the absence of questions are not beliefs that will survive any real tests.

The ongoing discussion of creation vs evolution is one example of how dogged Christian views ignore science and make no room for an answer that lies outside the boundaries of Bible stories. Despite the wide variety of Biblical interpretations of concepts of hell, heaven and redemption from one denomination to the next, every one stands resolutely on their own, completely dismissing all others.  Even Christians who question some elements of their faith, only whisper those questions and don't truly look for answers, certainly not outside their frame of reference. This narrow view is Christianity's greatest liability I think.

Surely truth is to be gleaned from many sources.  Surely faith can exist in the face of questions - even those that go unanswered.  Surely we can stand to open our ears and minds to other arguments and possibilities.

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