It’s great that the arrogant, entitled version of Christianity is essentially so last millennium now! Sadly, there are still some Christians who haven’t woken up to, or simply refuse to accept that, we are living in a post-Constantinian world.
With the last gasps of this Constantinian world, with its the presumption of a Christian society, people of faith have often looked at the glass as being only half full.
For too long, with tick-the-box faith numbers shrinking in censuses, Christians and other people of faith were often on the back foot, battling people who were fundamentalist, evangelising anti-theists. But the anti-theist attack on the straw-god, not-really-almighty, invisible Sky Fairy hasn’t really been leading to increased health and happiness in an atheist Shangri-La for all. Rather, wellbeing, compassion, and mindfulness, ripped out of their religious foundations, are now flavour of the month in a world looking for a new agreed, objective compass by which to steer.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, people of faith are beginning to say, hey – we make up half the population, we have a positive message and lifestyle, and whilst we might disagree with each other about some things, and there are the expected usual minority of nutters and extremists, the vast majority of us share some pretty big agreed perspectives, insights, ethical positions and way of living.
Donna Miles-Mojab said it well yesterday: it might be time for people to change their attitude to faith. She quotes Stephen Fry who famously said that if he met God:
I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about?” How dare you, how dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I’d say.
It’s well said, of course. But, let’s not pretend that Stephen Fry was the first to articulate The Problem of Evil: how can God be all powerful and all good and yet bad things happen? Colloquially, people ask: why do bad things happen to good people? It’s a question I regularly hear even atheists asking in a reformulated way: she was so fit, so careful with her diet, why did she get this disease? It’s a philosophical problem with strong emotional weight.
But Donna Miles-Mojab turns this on its head (do read the whole article): faith helps people to get through tragedy.
In secular societies, culture is supposed to be the new scripture but, given the state of our mental health, it’s evidently failing to deliver the sense of spirituality most of us need to bring resilience, solace and meaning to our lives.
Maybe it really is time for us to rethink our attitudes towards faith and its role in modern society.
I’ve sat through enough secular wellbeing and mindfulness seminars, read books, articles, and watched YouTube talks advocating compassion to self on the assumption that each of us is trying one’s very, very best. But, we aren’t. And I think in our heart of hearts we know it – it’s just scary to admit it. I sin. You sin. We have sinned in ignorance, we have sinned in weakness, we have sinned through our own deliberate fault. I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Faith offers something secularism cannot: forgiveness. And, forgiven, we can forgive others. Daily, Christians pray: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
The presumption – that it’s not the terrible context that should be one’s focus but controlling our inner reaction to that – is false. Just because I am paranoid does not mean I am not being got at! People of faith roll their sleeves up and work with a God who wants the world to be a better place – not just have people feel better about it.
That doesn’t mean we don’t feel better about it. Plenty of studies highlight that people of faith have better mental health. But feeling good about things isn’t the goal; it may be a side effect of a commitment to a journey towards deepening union with the Source of being and meaning.
As we come to accept that we Christians, we people of faith, are no longer the biggest players in town, with the biggest buildings, as we come to accept our abuse and our hubris, from this new position we can, with more integrity, point to our search for meaning, our real care for those in need, our intellectual tradition, our love and production of beauty in art, music, architecture, our positive contribution to history…
The glass of being a person of faith is at least half full – and its content is good.