The Naked Believer

November 28, 2007

What is about about religion that scares so many people?

The vast majority of people who express their faith, do so quietly and usually within a community of like minded believers. They, like most Americans, hold the concept of ‘live and let live,’ dear. Most Americans do not impose their belief on others nor do they support those who do. Nevertheless, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to lump all believers together, regardless of their affiliation. We talk about the ‘moderate’ right, or the ‘moderate’ left, but when we talk about religious people the word ‘moderate’ is never spoken or implied. Religious people, it is assumed, are, well, religious. Enough said.

The Naked Believer, without the political agendas and motivations that are assigned to him or her, is for the most part, perfectly happy to live life in happy obscurity. Unfortunately, all too often religious people are dragged into political debate, or they are excluded from political debate, simply because they are religious. Faith seems to infuriate some people. The faiths, beliefs and believers that are shared and so familiar to most Americans are often subject to fierce criticism, ridicule and even vicious attack.

Of course, not all not all faiths are treated in the same way. Religious beliefs that are out of the mainstream or those that originate in far away places, or beliefs that are to be regarded as suggestive only, are fine. Religions and faith that are closer to home are more subject to disparagement. That religious critics are usually woefully deficient in their knowledge, understanding and experience in a healthy faith centric community seems to matter little. When religion is criticized, the credibility and integrity of the critic is of little import.

Why is there such a disparity in how adherents to different faiths are treated?

The answer lies in the kind of demands and expectations our faith, beliefs and fellow believers make upon us . Real faith demands morality, not just from the individual, but from an entire community as well. Faith demands sacrifice. Friday, Saturday or Sunday prayer instead of Friday, Saturday or Sunday sports or shopping. Real faith demands that charity, given on a regular basis, without the need to be prodded by guilt or by images of disaster. In a faith centric life, morality is driven from within and not because of external social or political pressures.

Religions are not measured by what they destroy, but rather, by what they build. Religions are not measured by how many they kill in God’s name, but rather by how many they save in God’s name. Religions are not measured by who they hate in God’s name, but rather, they are measured by how many they extend their arms in acceptance, in His name.

Those who claim to be believers, who profess God mandated hatred His name, reject the notion that there is something more important than the self. They reject the notions of responsibilities, accountability and a living up to higher expectations. They reject the notion of a higher self with moral obligations. They want to be free of obligations and expectations. By mandating hate as a religious obligation, they decree that the most primal and base of man’s instincts as superior. They do not elevate man to anywhere near his potential as God’s creations.

Some might say they are afraid of of the struggle and afraid of failure, as if having to struggle with faith is a shameful thing. From our post, Mundane Sanctity:

God treasures our spiritual achievements. He treasures our failures along the way even more, because in facing and overcoming our failures, we have shown that we are indeed worthy of the humanity He bestowed upon us. We are not meant to become perfect in our struggle and search for meaning and faith- we are meant to overcome the limitations, imperfections and obstacles along the way.

Relating to God is about relating to that most human side of ourselves.

The confrontation between believers and non believers (and that includes those for whom God is no more than a vehicle for their own agendas) is really a battle for the soul. That battle is not so much about belief in God as it is about the human conscience. There are plenty of non believers that believe that we are no more than just animals, concerned only with our own pleasure and needs and thus understand the significance of human responsibility and accountability.

In fact, the battle for the soul of an individual or a nation is a battle that scares a lot of people, because if there is even the possibility of a soul, everything changes.

The atheist says, “I don’t believe in God.” In truth, people of faith don’t believe in the God the atheists reject, either.

Non believers cringe at the words ‘Fear of God‘ and other similar expressions. They only see fear as a negative expression- the fear of the powerful intimidating the weak. They rightly understand that ‘fear,’ as they understand it, is a negative expression. They use that expression, as a mantra- because without it, the argument weakens.

What many non believers do not admit is that fear is not always a negative human emotion. Often, fear can be a positive expression. For example, when an athlete faces his opponent or a when a public speaker first faces an audience, the nervous fears they experiences can lead to heightened awareness. All his or her senses are at a heightened level. Any and all of the skills and capabilities they have worked so hard to achieve, can be called upon in an instant. In fact, every one of us knows the kind of fear that can brings out the best in us.

The more appropriate expression and description of a believer’s relationship with God is ‘Awe.‘ When we stand and behold the magnificence of nature, we are in awe. When we gaze upon an artist’s work that talks to us, we are in awe. There is music, sounds created out of thin air, that make us cry or can evoke memories, for decades. That too, inspires awe.

In fact, the awe we experience is a manifestation of human dignity. We see and understand ourselves to be a part of a greater scheme. We understand ourselves to be a part of the masterpiece that is Creation. We- each of us, have a starring role in the play of life- Creation. It is an unfolding drama, comedy and musical- with our best efforts and intentions a part of the script. We are not meant to ad lib our way through life. We are obligated and meant to make Creation an even more magnificent expression that It is, and we each of us have lead role in doing just that.

It is clear that when standing in Awe of God, we recognize what the gift of life means.

When we acknowledge the gift of life, we acknowledge that we have a purpose. We may not understand or even clearly understand our purpose, but we don’t have to, any more than we have to clearly understand nuclear physics or organic chemistry. We know they are there and they impact our lives. That is enough.

It is man’s objective to seek- it is a natural instinct. It is what we look for that to a very large extent, defines us. It is our charge to discover and celebrate, not our basest selves, but rather, that part of us that is as majestic as anything in nature or art. We are charged to take center stage in God’s creation. We seek the majesty that is in each of us- we seek to know our own soul.

It is not easy. It is not easy at all. We must acknowledge that even if we are to take center stage, we share that stage with everyone else- and sometimes, that may go against our very nature. It is then that we must put in that performance of a lifetime. Like the athletes that play beyond their capabilities in that last game, we must reach inside to our souls, to pull from within the very best of ourselves, especially when it seems the odds are stacked against us.

Sometimes, center stage can be a very scary place- and that is why so many people fear having a soul.

All gardens need tending. If we can remove the weeds in life- those things that restrain, contain us and hinder our growth, we will grow. When we refuse distort the reality we know exists so that our selfish needs are sated, and when we choose to remove the doubts and fears that hold us back, we will thrive.

We may indeed, be small in the eyes of history and Creation. That doesn’t mean we can’t be great.

Some parts of this post have been previously published.

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5 Responses to “The Naked Believer”

  1. Ken Says:

    Religious beliefs that are out of the mainstream or those that originate in far away places, or beliefs that are to be regarded as suggestive only, are fine. Religions and faith that are closer to home are more subject to disparagement.

    And religious beliefs that Mommy & Daddy (Boo! Hiss!) practiced — especially if they include that Pesky Christian Sexual Morality (Boo! Hiss!) — must be exterminated at all costs.

  2. Ken Says:

    It is not easy. It is not easy at all. We must acknowledge that even if we are to take center stage, we share that stage with everyone else…

    And the Universe cannot have more than one Center.

  3. expat Says:

    How rational were the people who believed the Lancet paper on the Iraqi body count? And how many people were forced to eat spinach because of a misplaced decimal point? We simply can’t be rational about everything. It is simply a question of who’s rationality counts.

  4. Dr.Steve Says:

    This is not a recommendation (people who can’t do it won’t be able to do it just because they hear about it) but a theory of sorts:
    Different tools are needed for different tasks. It’s not always obvious what the nature of the task at hand is, but it usually is. Logic is useful for many things – but not for figuring out questions of life’s meaning, etc. Relgious feeling is good for that, but not so hot for deciding what computer to buy. And so on.
    Problems come when we mix these up. (Bill Clinton’s famous compartmentalization re Monica lewinsky was using legalistic language for an ethical issue.)

  5. Bilgeman Says:

    SC&A:

    “Why is there such a disparity in how adherents to different faiths are treated?”

    Short Answer:

    Because the adherents of some faiths will pray for the soul of their persecuters, while the adherents of other faiths will cut their fucking heads off.

    Long Answer:

    Because the adherents of some faiths, if they look like, and speak the same language as, and share the national and cultural origins of the persecuters, are living challenges to the inner emptiness that the persecuters are trying to fill with the Self, rather than realizing that that hole is for the Divine.

    Whereas if the adherents of other faiths are alien in culture, nationality, and tongue, they are foreign enough to represent little rebuke to the persecuters’ self-image. The persecuter isn’t “like them”, and imagines that he could never be.

    The greatest contempt is always reserved for those who are closest to us.


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