Saturday, June 1, 2013

Holding Onto Beliefs

night surrenders to day in the desert skies

It's the weekend once again. - another opportunity for religious people of every stripe to gather together with their fellows and affirm their beliefs. 

Most people think of "beliefs" as a set of propositions to which one gives assent.  To some degree, every religion has their own unique set of beliefs about God, and they often cling to these beliefs very tightly. 

Many think that their beliefs are truer and more accurate than those who are different from them. For example,  some Christians think they have better beliefs than Jews. Some Muslims think their beliefs are more accurate than those held by Western religions.

The argument over who has the better and truer set of beliefs has also served as a wedge dividing the people of the same religions from one another. Churches and denominations have divided, temples, synagogues, and mosques have split apart over debates about who holds to the truer and more "orthodox" set of beliefs.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith was a well-respected 20th century scholar of comparative religion. Throughout his illustrious career, Smith was quick to point out that the way in which we use the word "belief" in our times is far different than the way the word was originally used.  

Our understanding of "belief" is a product of the "Age of Enlightenment," informed and guided by scientific thinking and "rationality;" hence beliefs are seen to be propositions, ideas about God to which we hold.  

But, in the past, to say "I believe" meant, "I pledge my heart and soul to God" - nothing about holding onto propositions deemed true or false or right or wrong. Belief was originally understood to be an act of the heart.

What a powerful way to think about "belief." When I say "I believe in God," I am saying "I surrender my ego to that all abiding Holy Presence in whom we all live and move and have our being."

I have a lot of trouble with the rigid way in which religious people hold onto their beliefs, but I certainly can abide with this understanding of believing as an act of the heart. 

This weekend billions of people from many diverse religious traditions will gather together.  Imagine if  instead of being divided from one another because we have different ideas about God,  all religious people everywhere would re-imagine what it means to believe; and when they say"We believe," they would mean, "We pledge our heart and soul and surrender our "self" to that one God in whom we are all joined in one harmonious relationship."

If religious people gathering around the globe this weekend looked at "belief" in this new re-imagned way, we would indeed all have the same belief.

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