T.H. Luhrmann writes an oped in theNew York Times on the question of how much faith people in churches need to have or do they need any?
Some Sundays ago, I was part of a sermon in my university’s church. It was the kind of ecumenical church in which I’d grown up. The minister and I sat on the proscenium above the congregation and below the stained-glass windows, and spoke about the ways that evangelical Christians understood God — a subject on which I had written a book. Afterward, there was a lunch open to the community. The questions people asked as we ate our avocado-and-cheese sandwiches circled around the puzzle of belief. Why do people believe in God? What is our evidence that there is an invisible agent who has a real impact on our lives? How can those people be so confident?
Not all members of deeply theologically conservative churches — churches that seem to have such clear-cut rules about how people should behave and what they should believe — have made up their minds about whether God exists or how God exists. In a charismatic evangelical church I studied, people often made comments that suggested they had complicated ideas about God’s realness. One devout woman said in a prayer group one evening: “I don’t believe it, but I’m sticking to it. That’s my definition of faith.”
In fact, you can argue that religious belief as we now conceptualize it is an entirely modern phenomenon. As the comparative religion scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith pointed out, when the King James Bible was printed in 1611, “to believe” meant something like “to hold dear.” Smith, who died in 2000, once wrote: “The affirmation ‘I believe in God’ used to mean: ‘Given the reality of God as a fact of the universe, I hereby pledge to Him my heart and soul. I committedly opt to live in loyalty to Him. I offer my life to be judged by Him, trusting His mercy.’ Today the statement may be taken by some as meaning: ‘Given the uncertainty as to whether there be a God or not, as a fact of modern life, I announce that my opinion is yes.’ ”
Data on belief and faith from Gallup and one poll result. More at url.
How much in your heart of hearts do you “believe it” – whatever “it” is for you. Does your church welcome people wherever they are on the “belief scale?”
h/t to Susan Forsburg at Friends of Jake blog.