Thursday, February 18, 2016

What Do You Believe?

Theology makes us ask ourselves some big questions. For anyone who belongs to an organized creedal religion, this means that you pick the one whose answers to these questions make sense, or at least are not abominable, to you. For a UU, first you have to find the answers yourself, and then decide if your own answers make sense.

But what does this mean in your daily life? What does it mean about the choices you make?
And what does it say about you?
It always amazes me to know that so many people believe that God just happens to hate and want to oppress all of the same people they do.
Who knew?
It astounds me that people can ignore 300 directives in a Holy book to love one another, and yet justify hatred by taking a half of a quote from that same book, out of context and in translation, and squinting at it until it means what they would like it to mean.
Follow a religion, or don’t.
Believe it is all true, and follow it yourself as closely as you can. Ok with me. Believe it is all metaphor, and interpret it all as cultural stories- still good. If you are holding to both the letter and the spirit of whatever you believe, I’m even good if you get peeved that the rest of us aren’t. Fair enough.
But you don’t get to claim that you have a truth, and then violate every element of the spirit of the belief, in order to make others adhere to the letter of pieces of your holy book.
So let’s look at these theological questions. They shape every known religion- you can’t ignore them. And the answers have to hold together in a coherent form- if they contradict one another, congratulations. You have achieved a state not of religious belief, but of religious hypocrisy.
What do you really believe?
The first question is a big one. What is the nature of that beyond which we cannot conceive? In other words, tell me about the God you believe in (or don’t believe in. This works for an atheist worldview too!).
Does It have a gender? What does that really mean- do you believe God has genitalia? Attributes of one kind or another? Does this mean one set of attributes or genitals is better?

Does God interfere or interact with humanity? Why or why not? Does God know everything? Does God have some sort of plan? Is this God a friend of humanity? A parent? A disciplinarian?
The second question is another good one- what is the nature of humanity? Do you dare to believe that human beings are essentially just? Are we kind unless taught otherwise? Are we naturally moral beings, or are morals imposed on us by society? Your experience, your reading, your education, your TV and movie viewing all inform your answer to this question, and that answer becomes your anthropology, and your faith in humanity, or in its impending doom. Your interactions with others are colored by this faith every day.

This question is especially meaningful for those who claim that certain people have little value- immigrants and refugees. Poor people. Handicapped people. People whose skin is darker or lighter or different from some imagined normal.

You cannot claim to follow a God who loves humanity, and simultaneously claim that you should be able to ignore or destroy sections of that same humanity because they somehow don’t have to matter as much.

The third question speaks to behavior- how am I called to behave in the world so as to have the fewest possible regrets and be free from the weight of sin? What is the nature of evil? Once you have made decisions about what you dare to believe as God, and the nature of humanity, you can begin to decide what that means for your actions in the wider world. Are you called to work for social justice? To serve as a witness? Maybe to speak with a prophetic voice, or care for others as a ministry? Maybe you create art, or write books, to expand human perception, or understanding, or even our sense of humor. Your faith forms your theopraxy, or your lived values.

The fourth question is about endings. What do I believe is required of me at the end of a life? How do I end things well, and how do I help others end things well? Must I help others to resolve their lives? What is a good death? When you have begun to shape answers to the first three questions, the fourth begins to shape itself. Your faith and your culture lead you to a sociology of death and dying, a set of internal rules and expectations.

The fifth question is a straightforward one-   How do I believe that I gain understanding and information about the first four questions? Do I think I need to study? Is my own experience sufficient? Is there some sacred writing I must understand? Whatever the answer to this one, it is again your answer which is the correct one. Even if you believe that information must come from an outside source and then you can process it, you are the one making this decision.

The sixth question asks What is the purpose of church, for me? How do I understand the meaning of faith community? This is a call to explore how the presence of others expands and develops your sacred life. How can I share myself through my outward expressions of my personal faith, and how can I receive others offerings of their beliefs?

The final question to consider is about relationship, and it ties all the rest together. What is the nature of the relationship between God, humanity, and the call to action in the world? or “What is the connection between freedom, respect, and justice?” Basically, this means given all my other answers, how do I live my life so as to honor myself, my God, and the rest of my universe. What full form does my faith take?

When you’ve explored these questions, and thought about your answers, compare them to the teachings of the religion you follow. Compare them to your actual life.

Do they match?
Isn’t it time they did?

Don’t kid yourself. If you aren’t trying to live what you say you believe, that Church is a Sunday social club.

Live your beliefs.
Let others live theirs.
Love the hell out of the world.

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