Saturday, January 09, 2010
The Face(book) of My Faith
This was the question I asked on a tweet on New Year's Day. Once my tweet made it across the not so great divide from Twitter to Facebook it turned into a discussion. The thrusting and parrying of terms turned into a wildly different set of values about faith over the next 46 comments.
The comments can be divided up into four basic responses:
1) Our faith is personal. No one should be able to judge it.
2) Those on the inside - who believe like we do are the only one's who have a valid judgment point from which to gauge the validity of our spiritual strength, and the stability of our faith.
3) Outsiders (those who do not believe as we do) are a better gauge of our faith than those who think just as we do.
4) a general "neither" with some leaning toward the idea that only God is a real judge of faith.
Then there were some random asides which were bunny trails off the main point.
The group of people responding was a combination of conservative Christians, liberal Christians, a couple Neo-Pagans, and some harder to define people.
Faith as a personal unjudgeable element was held out as the option by those who were from every position - conservative and liberal Christian, and Neo-Pagan. Responding "neither" was similarly spread across the demographic. Responding that insiders and/or outsiders were the better judges came only from the conservative leaning evangelicals, with those who are most missional minded responding that outsiders were the better judges.
My question was not presented as query about the general validity of measuring a person's faith, as much as a recognition that it happens in this world today whether we like it or not. In typical missiological (missional for the more trackable pop term) consideration (since that is my bent) I wondered about this as it relates to the betterment of the faith system I value - Christianity - yet, not as a denominational system, but a more as mystical invisible line of demarcation - i.e those who know God generally as I know God, and follow Jesus in living measurable faith.
Off the Facebook grid, someone on Twitter responded that our faith was measured by our works. Harkening back to our Bible buddy James we know that this is a biblical concept - so it fits into my worldview, but I am still left with the question, who judges those visible works of my faith best? those who think like I do, or those who are critically evaluating my faith works (from here on out I will create a new word "faithworks") from an outsider's perspective?
The problem with an insider's perspective of my faithworks is that since they think like I do, they are far more likely to have the same blind spots, and myopic evaluations of Christianity that I have. Their view of my faith will be tainted by the little cultural, western, 20th century, evangelical Christian paradigm I have lived within. If our faith system has been off course by 2º for a couple centuries we may be miles away from plumb, and not know it, because we have been told we are on the course of the straight and narrow our whole lives. We have even been given scripture references and proof texts to validate our experience.
Now of course, the problem with the outsider's critical view is that their expectation of my faithworks may be tainted by a cultural bias against my traditions. Sexual mores, theological misstatements by church leaders, abuse int he name of religion may all play a part in a skewed reference point, and an automatic rejection of my faith system as a completely broken and invalid system of belief.
Since I am missional and driven that way by a deep seated desire to adventure into faithworks I am less concerned with how my cronies view my faith. This of course is dangerous. It could get one excommunicated by golly! But I want my faith to live in places where my "kind of faith" is typically lampooned.
Furthermore I choose (please note the word "choose") to view those who critically look at my faith as people who are typically well intentioned and in search of authenticity. I tell myself that they have probably rejected Christianity for a good reason. There are after all a couple reasons to do so. Maybe a few. Okay maybe a whole bunch. If I truly view them as being on an authentic search then I place a mantle of nobility upon them. In the course of the discussion it was observed that I appeared to place something that looked like the Romanticist's innocent savage moniker upon everyone who criticized Christianity. I responded by saying that although I did not have a Rousseauan noble savage anthropology, looking for the noble in the savage appeared quite Christ-like to me. (This will probably become a whole new post at some point soon.)
Now I know that on a person to person basis there will be Christians whose evaluation of my faith is beneficial and valuable. I also know that there will be Christians who expect me to live up to some culturally established set of unwritten and silly rules. Similarly these potentials will occur with those whose faith is different than my own, but this I do know: I more frequently value the critique of my faith from those on the outside of it, more than those from the inside.
Some would say that this could lead to syncretism - that I might adapt my faith to fit their cultural and religious expectations. To that insider's critique I say: Do you think that we may have been off a couple of degrees for sometime now? Maybe our friends on the outside looking in at Christianity have something valuable to say to us.
P.S. I really liked Marshall's response, "Faith is always measured by ones self and enjoy(ed) or tested with others." I don't think Marshall would call himself a Christian. Of course, I view my faith as being ultimately tested by God, but Marshall, your response rocks.