my front yard
Several years back, the social philosopher Eric Hoffer coined the term "the true believer" to describe someone who rigidly holds onto his or her ideas and is fanatically committed to a cause. Hoffer went on to suggest that true believers are so rabidly committed to their view of the world that they will do anything to defend their position and will not budge an inch to change their rigidly constructed perceptions.
I think there are a lot of "true believers" around today.
Our own day has witnessed the birth of a widespread "atheist" movement in the United States and Europe. Atheists have written books and articles, posted blogs and appeared on talk shows, to promote their strong belief in atheism. Atheists have been a loud voice in the public forum, arguing against any mention of God in the marketplace - demanding no religious monuments be displayed or erected in the public square.
Recently some very interesting discourse has emerged on the internet in which "atheists" debate with "theists" (the so-called theists generally turn out to be Christian fundamentalists). The conversation in these debates is highly charged and passionate, and while this conversation may indeed be "discourse," it is never "dialogue," - both sides talking "at" one one another - no one listening to the other, everyone "absolutely sure" that they have the corner on the truth.
In the ongoing debate between "theists" and atheists, religious people are "absolutely sure" about their faith and absolutely sure that atheists are going to hell. The atheists are just as "absolutely sure" that all religious people are haters and simpletons who reject science and stand upon unfounded and ludicrous ideas about a "God floating around in the sky."
A recent letter to the editor in the LA Times featured a very telling remark by a local "anti-religion" college professor of philosophy. He writes: "I have no doubt that the true problem with religion is that it is so sure of something it knows absolutely nothing about."
To me, the professor sounds just like a "true believer" who is making a case against "true believers." There are lots of "true believers" around today.
Every day I look out my window and I see the vast, expansive and mysterious desert in front of my retreat house. I think about those 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers who moved out to the wilderness - to the margins of church and society in order to follow the teachings of Jesus more faithfully.
Their common life together in the vast and uncontrollable desert taught these Mothers and Fathers not to hold onto anything too rigidly. They lived simply, practiced compassion, and trusted that God abides. They never engaged in theological debates or demanded orthodoxy of doctrine.
One of the stories from the Desert Mothers and Fathers goes like this:
Once some brothers came to visit Anthony, and Joseph was with them. Abba Anthony began to speak about the Holy Scriptures. He asked the younger monks to speak about the meaning of the texts. Each of them gave an answer and to each he said "You have not yet found the right answer." Then he said to Joseph, "What do you think this text means?" Joseph replied, "I don't know." Abba Anthony said, "Indeed, Joseph alone has found the true way, for he said he did not know."
Those Desert Mothers and Fathers were faithful believers but they were never "true believers." In our own time, we would do well to emulate them, no matter what position we hold or what side we take.