Faith


 VS 

Recently I have been contemplating if the church has any real significant and positive influence on the world today, especially in the beliefs and actions of western society in particular. There was a time when Christian ideology, through the church was very influential (good and bad) in shaping political, social, cultural and even personal beliefs and viewpoints. I would argued that today this influence is not as great as it was say… even 30 years ago.

I read an analytical report on The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life website which somewhat dealt with this issue, from an interesting point of reference. This article entitled: “Science in America: Religious Beliefs and Public Attitudes”, discussed the findings of a survey which concluded that “when scientific evidence and long-held religious beliefs come into direct conflict, many Americans reject science.” 

According to the authours of the report, American society has a unique dichotomy in that on one hand, it is the most religious of the advanced industrial democracies, while on the other hand, it’s leadership in scientific research and application has been instrumental in making it a powerful nation. This has… not surprisingly… created some conflict between faith and science on societal beliefs, particularly on controversial issues such as evolution, homosexuality and global warming. The report primarily looked at the influence of religion and science on these three topics in American society.

The report contended that a close reading of the survey shows that large majorities of the American public respect science and scientists, but where scientific evidence and long-held religious belief come into direct conflict, “many Americans reject science in favor of the teachings of their faith tradition.” However, surprisingly today such areas of explicit differences are not common. 

It was interesting to compare the beliefs of Black and White Christians (specifically Evangelicals) on the above three issues, as well as secularists, Conservatives, Moderates, Liberals, college and high school graduates. The results were not as straightforward and/or obvious as one would be expect. There are definite mixtures and combinations of scientific and religious influences which run through even strong held beliefs and opinions.

The report does not necessarily answer my original question on whether the church, Christianity and religion in general is a positive driving force on western society, but it does offer some insight on what motivates beliefs and therefore actions… which can have obvious implications in areas such as the formulation of government statutes and public policies. 

Over the holidays one of the books I read was “An Ordinary Man” by Paul Rusesabagina. His real life experience as the general manager of the Hotel Mille Collines during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, was the inspiration for the film “Hotel Rwanda“.

One of the issues he discusses, which I found to be profound, was the question of whether the true nature of human beings was more geared towards doing evil than good? As a species, do we fall primarily under the Darwinian law of “survival of the fittest”, the resulting by-product of which are the wars, conflicts, genocides and other atrocities which we continually face throughout the ages, the present and into the future? Are we engaged in a losing battle against the very nature of humankind, i.e., the “so-called” 7 deadly sins: pride, jealousy, greed, gluttony, lust, anger, laziness… when we put forth the effort to be humble, supportive, generous, sharing, exercise self-control, forgiving and responsible? Are the virtues of justice, equality, liberty, integrity, charity, kindness, mercy, etc., figments of our imaginations and delusions of our spirit? And if doing “evil” is not the natural state of humankind, then what is it, why aren’t we doing it and how do we get there? 

To participate in this carnival, post an essay on this topic on your blog page and then forward the link of your post to Afrospear@hotmail.com, by Sunday 13 January. The carnival date will be Monday 14 January when all the links will be posted here.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-14

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

 

 

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

I am sorry to be late with my submission on this exciting topic for our second carnival, but I haven’t yet mastered how to best divvy up my time as a new father. I am always tired…. I sleep, I take care of baby, I go to work, I take care of baby, I sleep and the cycle starts again…. I have “a minute” to spare so here goes…..  

The work of Marimba Ani in  “Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior,” has a lot of truth in it (it is definitely a must read) and I agree with Lubangakene when he asserts that it “makes it clear that the intention and proselytizing usage of European religion was for control and conquest of other peoples. “ Some of his questions also “struck a cord” within me and sparked a thinking process as I contemplated my responses to them…. namely:

  1. How does our God-consciousness, filtered through an alien religion, shackle us?
  2. Can our spiritual/religious beliefs flower within such a context? Can those beliefs and practices empower us?
  3. Is the white man’s religion a positive or negative force, ultimately, in the lives of African peoples in the diaspora?
  4. Is it possible to adopt/adapt the religions and religious practices of an oppressor who has used religion throughout history to conquer the minds and bodies of his targets/victims – to positive affect?

Percolating within me was a rational, intellectual and measured response anchored by my religious beliefs and literary knowledge. I had quotations from the Bible and references from James H. Cone’s “A Black Theology of Liberation” as well as, “God’s Politics” by Rev. Jim Wallis, chosen and ready to assert that religion is about a personal relationship with God and whatever choices we make…. whether good, bad or indifferent, especially in His name, we will have to answer to someday. I was ready to debate that Christianity is not a eurocentric-based religion as such, but that version of it was forced upon us, people of African descent, and it was up to us to free ourselves from spiritual (as well as mental) slavery and find our God… the One who meets all our needs as a people. That is the physiological, emotional, psychological, financial, societal, environmental, intellectual, safety and spiritual needs which may be unique to us and our condition. I was all set to argue that paradoxically, all these needs are not ethnically nor culturally based, since they are important to everyone, regardless of colour of skin, nationality, gender, orientation, language, or even religious beliefs…. however the way and how God meets our needs are not necessarily the same. Depending on any one or combination of the above factors, He may meet our particular need(s) on an individual, community or yes…. even a cultural level. I was ready to boast of how multi-cultural and multi-racial the church I attend is and that as a Black man…. as a Black family,  it certainly meets my/our needs and that it reflected the best of what heaven on earth can be. Yes I was all primed to “shock and awe” with my blah, blah, blah….

Then I went to do my weekly volunteer commitment. I am involved with an inner-city mission that I found out about through my church. It is a Christian based facility that specializes in assisting the homeless and those with psychological challenges and substance abuse issues (and the combination of all for some). We simply provide information on where to access city services, feed the hungry, provide shelter for a time, listen to life stories, offer advice and when it’s appropriate, tell them about the love of Jesus. On Sunday afternoons we hold a inner-city service for those who don’t belong to a specific church or denomination, or profess to follow any particular religion. The mission caters to different types of people, from a variety of cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common: regardless of our circumstances or status…. we are all striving to make it through the day.

So as I was working, I looked around at the people I was serving and I thought that as a Christian, as a person who believes and wants to serve God in my own “little” way…. this is what really matters! Standing there it was clear that cultural and historical context didn’t matter. Eurocentric or Afrocentric symbolism didn’t matter. Religion and religious practices didn’t matter. What really matters and gives me hope is that today, there are people all over the world who are inspired by their own religious beliefs to serve others (the Buddhist monks in Myanmar come to mind). What truly mattered was the “smile” and “thank you” I got from connecting with another human being and hopefully making a positive impact on their life. Even it that just means giving them a sandwich and a coffee or listening to the same joke or story for the umpteenth time. Regardless of my all religious pontificating and intellectual discourses, the few hours I spend each week, serving each individual, meeting their individual need at that particular time, for the glory of God, is what my religion means to me.                                 

  

 

Religious discourse can be very controversial. Although I am open to share and listen to the religious beliefs of others (or lack thereof), I have never been interested in debating the issue. How can one debate the issue of faith? I find it pointless. I have nothing to prove nor do I want to convert someone to my way of thinking (or belief). However, I do want to comment on the endorsement this week by Pope Benedict XVI of the doctrinal document “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrines on the Church“. In a nutshell, this treatise asserts the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, while other churches, like the Orthodox church are “wounded”, and that Protestant churches are not “true” churches. It also claims that Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation.

In this age of inter-denominational and inter-faith dialogue, which is working to bring about a better understanding and respect for others of different beliefs, I find this assertion and endorsement by the Pope as troubling. As the arenas of government, politics, economics, culture, etc., struggles towards greater harmony and peace, it appears that the religious community and their leaders, regardless of their faith, are moving towards greater fundamentalist polarization of beliefs. We don’t need to look only to history to see the danger in this type of thinking. We need only to look at the Middle-East today, Iraq in particular, to see the outcome of such rhetoric. Although I am a Pentecostal Christian and have beliefs, which could be classified as “christian fundamentalist beliefs”, I do not believe that only Pentecostals are going to heaven, nor do I believe that other denominations are “wounded” or are not “true” churches. As a Christian, I do believe that it is only through Christ that someone can receive salvation, but I don’t condemn to “hell” someone from another religion or those who have no belief in religion at all. Judgment, as far as I am concerned, I will leave to God.

There are 3 points I would like to share in regards to this topic.

1. The church I attend, although fundamental, it is non-judgmental. The Pastor believes, preaches and is involved in inter-denominational and inter-faith dialogues. This is one of the reasons why I go to this church.   

2. As far as I know, there has been no bombings of Catholic or Protestant churches; no burnings of effigies of the Pope by Protestants; no return to the Inquisition; no killing of Priests, Nuns, Pastors or Reverends; no violent demonstrations or protests; no separation into neighbourhoods based on religious beliefs, due to this proclamation. I would pray that those of the Muslim “Ummah” will be influenced by this example.

3. There has been no difference in the dynamics of the relationship with my family, friends or acquaintances of different denominations (or faiths for that matter), since the Popes endorsement of this edict. It is all a non-issue for us. Regardless of religious beliefs or non-belief, we are all still “cool”. Love and respect prevails.            

     

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