So we arrive here at what is, for many, the heart of it all. If there is a major tension between an approach like religious naturalism and the monotheistic traditions, it centers on the question of whether or not one believes in a personal god. Most people raised in the context of theistic traditions would probably say that "being religious" means "believing in God." Indeed, when reminded that personal gods are not inherent in such systems as Buddhism or Taoism, they would likely question whether these traditions are really religions and not something else, like philosophies.
For me, and probably for all of us, the concept of a personal, interested god can be appealing, often deeply so. In times of sorrow or despair, I often wonder what it would be like to be able to pray to God or Allah or Jehovah or Mary and believe that I was heard, believe that my petition might be answered. When I sing the hymns of faith in Jesus' love, I am drawn by their intimacy, their allure, their poetry. But in the end, such faith is simply not available to me. I can't do it. I lack the resources to render my capacity for love and my need to be loved to supernatural Beings. And so I have no choice but to pour these capacities and needs into earthly relationships, fragile and mortal and difficult as they often are.
Theism versus Non-Theism. The choice has been presented to us as saved versus damned, holy versus heathen. But when I talk to thoughtful theists, I encounter not a polarity but a spectrum. Belief and faith in supernatural Being(s), when deeply wrought, are as intensely personal and individual and dynamic as our earthly relationships. They add another dimension, another opportunity for relationship, to be sure. But those of us incapable of embracing that dimension remain flooded with opportunities to open ourselves to human relationship and hence to fill our lives with the religious experience of love.
I heard this quote on the radio program "Speaking of Faith" and the topic was Exploring a new Humanism (see above link). It struck me that we are not so different. Our deep yearning for intimacy with God speaks to all humanity. I was moved by Ursula's words that painted a vivid image of the journey to athiesm or humanism. As a follower of Jesus, I am blessed to have the intimacy with God that she so desires and in His example, the intimacy through human relationship that is so often seen as secondary in our Christian walk. But I think this reminds me that our human relationships are where we live it out. Obviously it is where we love. A solitary faith does little for humanity, and frankly I see nothing about Jesus' example that says we are to be isolated. There are good people wanting good things, wanting love. Love. And God is that source.
As a Christian it is so easy to remain ignorant of other people's views and beliefs. Is it out of fear that it will challenge and crush our own beliefs? If so, do we really believe? What I know in my heart and the relationship that I have with God keeps me steady. He is my Rock. I trust in Him. The experience that I have had cannot be changed, and I am willing to go out and walk with others on their journeys.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
An Excerpt from The Sacred Depth of Nature
by Ursula Goodenough