WORLD NEEDS ADULT FAITH

  1. Fundamentalism, in terms of people having a simplistic faith, has become a problem for all of us. As a person’s world view progressively narrows, they become more and more judgmental, intolerant, and even dangerous. In some cases people are willing to kill themselves and others for their religious cause.

    As our world becomes increasingly complex, people seek simple answers in order to cope, and so fundamentalism is spreading everywhere. The solution is for people to develop an adult faith.

    By integrating the thinking of James Hayes, a former Catholic archbishop, Friedrich Von Hugel, a nineteenth century theologian, and Gordon Allport, a Harvard psychologist, we can outline ten characteristics of an adult faith which could apply to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahais, or any other faith-based tradition.

    First of all, a mature faith is open. It honours the basic freedom and autonomy of other adults, knows that our world is complex and ambiguous, and therefore respectfully listens to others and tries to understand their viewpoint. Then it speaks its own truth freely. This “dialogical” rather than argumentative approach represents a middle path between saying nothing and being authoritarian, that is, trying to impose our faith on others. 

    Secondly, an adult faith is searching. The adult believer distinguishes between constructive questioning (the search for truth) and destructive questioning ( the desire to disprove the truth). Constructive questioning is essential to progress in faith and normally produces greater clarity, broader horizons, and deeper ownership of one’s beliefs. The adult believer is wary of anyone who tries to shut down the quest for understanding.

    A mature faith is also informed and comprehensive in its world view. Ideally, adult believers know the scriptures of their tradition well, and supplement this with ancient and modern spiritual classics. Adult believers should also become familiar with at least one science, and scientific methods of investigation, to keep their faith from becoming superstitious and ungrounded.

    An adult faith is humble. It is a pilgrim faith that never believes it has fully arrived. It is open to ongoing learning and conversion, rather than the faith of someone who has all the answers.

    Fifthly, a mature faith is critically evaluative. While it immerses itself in its culture, it critically evaluates the social order in light of the demands of human rights, responsibilities, and justice.

    An adult faith is also decisive. In spite of cultural complexity, the mature faith is not paralyzed. Rather, it is able to make sophisticated judgments and to take appropriate action for the common good.

    Seventh, a mature faith is integrated, that is, it integrates the sacred and the secular, faith and life. It acts the same whether inside or outside the synagogue, church, mosque or temple. It is consistently moral and just.

    Adult believers also have a differentiated faith. That is, they don’t believe that all religious traditions are the same, so that it doesn’t matter which one you belong to. They make critical discernments about the different truth claims between major world religions and also the diverse claims by the various branches within each tradition. At the same time, the adult believer focuses on similarities more than differences and builds bridges between and within traditions.

    Adult faith is also personal. Adult believers struggle to come to their own conclusions rather than just simplistically accepting what is handed to them by religious authorities. They wrestle with whether or not assertions by those in authority make any sense to them based on their own personal life experience.

    Finally, knowing their own limits and the limits of others means that the adult believer’s faith is simultaneously compassionate and communal. They know that they and others cannot do it all alone, they need human support. They know that being a part of, and being accountable to, a supportive religious or spiritual community is essential to maintaining an adult faith.

    What the world needs now is not just love but also adults with an adult faith.

INTERFAITH PANDEMIC LESSONS

INTERFAITH LESSONS FROM A PANDEMIC

    In Falling Upward Richard Rohr talks about the “spirituality of subtraction,” the value of letting go. The first half of life is about gaining: an education, job, home, marriage, and children. The second half is about subtraction: the kids move out, we downsize our housing, retire, start to lose our health, friends or spouses die, etc. 

    In a spirituality of subtraction, we learn four main spiritual values: humility, gratitude, simplicity/poverty and solidarity/community. A number of spiritual leaders from various traditions have noted that a crisis can speed up this process. 

    Humility. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated in a talk in our city a year ago, that we all tend to be “cultural snobs,” that is, we think our culture is superior to all others. There may have been famines, wars and plagues throughout history, but this couldn’t possibly happen to us because we are so scientifically superior. 

    The point was to not get too self-assured. My priest in Winnipeg, Fr. Firmin Michiels, similarly told the congregation “Don’t pray for success, pray for strength when everything falls apart.” This is a frequent theme in every religion. “When people say ‘peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). COVID-19 has subtracted the illusion of our cultural-scientific omnipotence.

    Gratitude. Omar Ricci, an imam at the Islamic Center of Southern California, gave a talk titled “Thank God for the coronavirus.” Not that God caused the virus, but we should thank God for this reminder we are not in control and always depend on God. Thank God for this reminder to be grateful for all things, particularly things we take for granted like groceries and good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile and “we had best appreciate the miracle of life God has given us.”

    A rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic community in Bozeman, Montana, noted that “Jews have always said that for every breath we take, we should thank God.” In light of the respiratory problems caused by COVID-19, “it’s become very real.”

    The Buddhist attitude of gratitude towards any crisis has been summed up in four words by the well-known monk Thich Nhat Hanh “No mud, no lotus.”

    Simplicity/Poverty. In Hinduism, the goal at the end of life is to become a “sannyasin,” a holy man or woman who renounces all the trappings of society and chooses to be reduced to nothing but his or her relationship with God. 

    All this stripping away is mirrored in Christianity in people who take religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Jesus himself emptied and “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

    The spirituality of subtraction is about emptying the ego of self-centered pride so that God can fill you. In general, a good day for the ego (a day of gain) is a bad day for the soul, and a bad day for the ego (loss) is a good day for the soul. Subtraction is meant by God to edge the ego out, reversing Wayne Dyer’s definition of “ego:” “edging God out.”

    Solidarity/Community. Churches are experiencing what they have always given intellectual assent to – that the church is not buildings but the “ecclesia” – the community. They are reaching out online far beyond their normal congregations. Adam Ericksen, a United Church of Christ minister in Milwaukie, Oregon has noted that “the role of the church in this moment is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

    Beyond churches, mosques and synagogues, God’s work is going on everywhere, in every single person who makes the decision to love their neighbor as themselves: health care and grocery workers and everyone sacrificing themselves in inconvenient self-isolation in order to keep others healthy.

    This time of subtraction will hopefully continue to be a time of great spiritual growth.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage preparation specialist and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com

BEING EXALTED IN GOD’S EYES

Suffering and humility are what exalt a person most in the eyes of God.

Being willing to do whatever God wants, even if it involves our suffering, is a sure sign of someone who is completely surrendered to God’s will: “Thy will be done, not my will be done.” This takes absolute trust on our part, and God showers those who trust God with many blessings in the long run. Nothing pleases God more than trust. God works all things to the good for those who love and trust God.

Humility likewise pleases God. God can only really work with people who have moved beyond their ego. As Wayne Dyer used to say “E.G.O. = Edging God Out.” And as scripture says “Those who exalt themselves will be brought low. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

brucetallman.com, btallman@rogers.com