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On Love, Hope, and Faith

January 14, 2016

IT’S SAID, in clichés, every day, that it’s best to avoid conversations about religion or politics in polite company. But I’m a shy introvert, so to be honest, I steer away from most conversations. And as a cynical malcontent, in the interest of politeness, it’s probably for the best. But if a guy can’t open up on his long defunct blog to expound on the topic of religion for a thousand-plus words, then where can a guy?

I’m not cocksure enough to call myself atheist, nor so timid as to call myself agnostic, nor pretentious enough to reject labels altogether. I consider myself a deist (with qualifiers.) “Deist” to distance myself from the trollish ‘new atheists,’ and “(with qualifiers),” to say that I replace the notion of “God,” with “Truth.” That is, the likely unknowable true nature of the world/universe/reality. I say the creative forces of the universe (if any) have abandoned humankind to our own devices. And I’d add that if there truly is an intelligent, all-knowing, all-powerful creator watching over us, then they are an asshole. Like the possibly apocryphal graffiti, said to have been scratched on the wall of a Holocaust death camp says, “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.”

In any case, I hold to the possibly apocryphal advice, often attributed to Marcus Aurelius:

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid.

This seems to be the main thrust of the church: To teach people how to live good, virtuous lives, and to get right with God, or the gods, before death. The problem I run into with religion is that the dogma reads to me like some of the more kooky conspiracy theories: with an over-reliance on circular reasoning and confirmation bias. And yes, I’ve listened to and read a lot of Catholic apologetics, as well as watched a lot of (literal) Flat Earther YouTube videos over the last [embarrassingly long period of time.] These are hobbies of mine, and are entertaining for the same reasons. Circular reasoning: tremendous fun but irreconcilable.

Religion for its part, at every sticking point, circles back round to faith. My malfunction is that I don’t consider faith as a virtue. Appeals to faith serve as a boundary demarcating the limits of acceptable thought. It’s a kind of restraint that compels me to rail against it. (Again: cynical malcontent, with a serious anti-authoritarian streak.)

Still, I strive to be open to other ideas, so let’s not write it off without further examination…

Faith

I’ve heard it said that faith, hope, and charity are the three pillars of Christianity, so I would like to make sure I’m giving faith a fair shake here.

The virtual identification of faith with believing a set of statements is … a serious impoverishment of the word “faith.” The word has several rich meanings… To see faith as “belief” not only obscures the other meanings, but also distorts the notion of faith itself. Seeing the heart of Christianity requires recovering the rich meanings of faith, a recovery that leads to a relational understanding of faith and to an understanding of Christianity as a “way”—as the way of the heart. [Marcus Borg [via: AZ Spot [via: FB [via: A Book I Have Not Read]]]]

Indeed, “belief” is an issue for me, I prefer the more open territory of “opinion.” And “faith” isn’t mere belief. Faith is unquestioned belief. Not having the man’s book at my disposal, I’m left to ponder what the other several rich meanings are. The word “relational” seems important. I’d hazard we’re talking about things like trust, loyalty, and sincerity as aspects of faith. Maybe some sense of openness? (Openness with respect to the relational faith of the individual to God and/or the church.)

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to call faith a weakness. Indeed, it seems indisputable that power can be drawn from it. It’s just not for me. There’s a place for things like trust, loyalty, fidelity, allegiance, etc. But why should these things be accepted on faith, to never be reexamined? There is power in changing one’s mind! (Mine is a serious anti authoritarian streak.)

Hope

The first order of living a good life is … living! To keep going! Perseverance!

One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere. [William the Silent]

Again, I don’t consider hope to be particularly virtuous. It’s harmless, but unnecessary. The absurdist in me only ‘hopes,’ in perseverance, for a few laughs along the way.

Love

Well, Charity…
The Dude

This is where religion gets it right. The third pillar was charity, which to me is an expression of love. Love is the big one. Love is the linchpin of a good and virtuous life. Not just romantic love, but love in all of it’s forms, especially “agape”:

The fourth love, and perhaps the most radical, was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word “charity.”

C.S. Lewis referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism. [Roman Krznaric]

Romantic love and familial love are easy. Selfless love is a virtue. Kindness, respect, empathy, nurturing, equality, charity, sincerity, forgiveness! Common human decency. Treating others as fellow human beings with stories and feelings, rather than objectifying them as economic resource units, or sex toys, or disabilities, or freaks, or sinners, or illegal alien detritus, or parasites, or criminals, or ordnance.

Polyamory, when it comes to romantic relationships, tends to get a bad rap. First of all, try treating polyamorists as equal human beings. Show them some of that selfless love. Secondly, what I propose is a revolutionary kind of polyamory: Love everybody. Practice loving in all of its forms, and embrace selfless love as a virtue.

If there is a universal statement here that in my opinion reflects an ethical Truth worth championing, it’s in the words of my late, great, Great Aunt Brenda: “Love one another.”

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