By David Jones
Can the word “faith” be saved? A friend of mine brought up this captivating thought in a piece he wrote.
Now that might sound kind of weird. Faith and religion are words as natural to some as sunshine and breathing. For those of the Abrahmic religions, faith is life and every bit a component of living as breathing and the sun’s light.
Faith (in the divine, in others, in ourselves) should be as a salve spread upon a wound. It should be a lighthouse beacon signaling safety to travelers in a darkened world. It should evoke hope, light, peace and love.
So here’s a little history lesson about faith: my teacher, Jesus, had a few things to say about it, none of which was “Hey, feel free to use it to bludgeon folks who deserve it. You know who I’m talking about *wink wink*.”
Yet that’s exactly what many of my spiritual forefathers did, and today that’s the baggage the word carries. People hear the words “faith” or “religion” and often think immediately of crusades, forced conversion, persecution, intolerance, blind adherence to dogma, and preachy judgy people. Unsurprisingly, they want nothing to do with any religious path.
Perhaps it’s time the Christian mission shifted.
The word has been preached to pretty much every corner of the earth, so to speak. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses I went door to door to talk about faith in Jesus. Not one person said, “Who? I’ve never heard of this Jesus fellow.” They’ve heard. Now may be the time to start cleansing the temple—not of Greek or Roman defilement, but of the unloving and dismissive attitude towards others of different beliefs and views.
Reproach has been heaped on the names of God and Jesus because of Christians who force their beliefs on others, pronouncing judgments on folks who are different than them by finding a scripture and using it like a sniper rifle. If I hate how people malign my faith choices, I need to make sure I’m not malignant toward theirs.
Imagine if people rejected a course which might have benefited them simply because it was associated with my rotten example of being arrogant, judgmental and dismissive. It’s unwise to judge and condemn others for being Buddhist or Hindu, Muslim or Christian or Jew, Pagan or Wiccan, agnostic or atheist, gay or straight, white or black, male or female, Catholic or Protestant or non-denominational.
Feeling superior to others should never be a result of our chosen path.
How dare we have so much arrogant pride in our belief, so much haughty wickedness in our certainty, that we’d presume we’re qualified to judge others? Can you read the heart of another like a table of contents? Can you know the thoughts of someone else to base your judgment on? I sure can’t.
In Jeremiah 17:9-10 the prophet says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” In reply God says “I, the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
The point is, imperfect humans only judge by what they can see, hear, and imagine. God examines the things impossible for us to see to perform His judgment. I’ve known folks who claim they really know what someone’s intentions or motives are, but it just isn’t their place.
Over time “faith” was the excuse used for slaughter and wars, within scripture as well as without. “Religion” was a shield for enslavement and cultural destruction. But does that mean the words are bad or perhaps just tarnished? We run into similar situations today.
Being pro-life or pro-choice isn’t bad, but the terms have been captured and forced to serve the wills of certain groups as ideological buzz terms. Black/Blue/All Lives Matter ran into the same issue. It’s the same with Conservative and Liberal. Once these terms are joined to something, their meanings and connotations change in people’s eyes.
So how can we reclaim the word “faith?”
Maybe by taking a cue from James 2:14-17 which says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
How can we reclaim the word Religion? The Dalai Lama suggested, “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness.” And when I said the new Christian mission should be to cleanse the temple, how can we if there is no Temple in Jerusalem, no Tabernacle in the Wilderness? Again, the Dalai Lama says wisely:
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
We need to cleanse the temples of our minds and hearts, driving out the things which defile us including being judgmental and arrogant in the blind certainty of our religious belief and practice. Let compassion and love be our cleansers and humility be our washcloths.
Concerning this, Paul himself at 1 Corinthians 4:4-5 says, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”
Humans aren’t qualified to judge others, perhaps especially when they believe they are. And most especially when they hide behind religious freedom to condemn others and use faith as an excuse to justify it.
I’ll bet Jesus would have something to say about that, maybe something like, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Nah.
Editor: Dana Gornall