Posts Tagged faith

Uncertain faith, a comment on “Love Wins”

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I recently read “Love Wins”, the hugely controversial book, which seems to claim that everybody goes to heaven. But it doesn’t, not really. The book is really just a huge maybe. And this is actually awesome. Allow me to explain.

Bell states quite clearly that he is not certain whether people go to heaven or hell or how this happens. But he states several views, and gives some compelling arguments why the traditional position could be challenged. The important point: Bell is uncertain. A pastor, a leader of thousands, a person influencing millions, is admitting that he does not know.

This almost never happens. Just as politicians must always know exactly what the right policy is, so pastors must know exactly the right answer to every theological question. And so they spend thousands of pages on theses and books and sermons convincing themselves there is only one inevitable conclusion. Because to do otherwise, would mean that you are unsure, that you are doubting, and is that not the opposite of faith? Doesn’t faith demand certainty?

The Bible is a pretty big book and it certainly contains a lot of answers – it makes some things very clear: there is one God who created heaven and earth. But the Bible also contains a lot of ambiguities. Resolving these ambiguities has been the task of theologians for two millennia. When two groups decide an ambiguity should be resolved one way and not the other (for instance the very silly issue of whether young children can be baptised), then churches split. Furthermore, the Bible is finite. By definition there must be questions for which it cannot give clear answers.

Not all ambiguities have to be resolved. Not all questions have to be answered. It is hard. It means you have to live with some uncertainty, which is uncomfortable, but to try to create certainty where there is none, is (borrowing from Voltaire), simply absurd. When you recognise the uncertainty, even if you have a preferred interpretation, you have little choice but to defer judgement. You cannot bash others with your particular version of the Bible and your dogmatic beliefs. It means you actually have to listen to other viewpoints.

Wouldn’t that make us better Christians?

As a general principle, even about things you are certain about (such as whether God exists), try putting yourself in the mental position of someone who has not reached your conclusion. Seriously consider the questions they ask, and how hard it is to answer them. Consider the experiences they may have had that led them to that conclusion. Here is a particular one: consider how an atheist may have come to reject God because of a horrible experience at Church? Now, how sure are you yours is not such a Church?

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Faithful to science

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A gripe of many atheists is the strange ability of believers to affirm science in some areas (they believe in the principles that led to combustion engines) but to blindly deny it in others (notably: evolutionary theory). This has to stop. If Christians are ever to convince the thoughtful scientific atheists out there, they will need to start treating science with the respect it deserves. Two things have recently underscored this for me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Marrying outside your faith

My thoughts on marrying outside my faith have grown from extremely naïve (of course, it’s fine!) to pragmatically cautious (is it really wise?). I dated a girl who was not at all religious for a short time and I realised that maintaining a relationship with someone outside your own faith is really hard. But I still think it’s possible and that, importantly, it is not wrong or sinful. This post on the blog I kissed my date goodnight got me thinking about the topic of interfaith relationships again (Here and here are two others to look at). Here are my views.

You have to think its ok (at least in principle)

I should probably add a caveat. It is not wrong or sinful unless your beliefs specifically prohibit it (for instance, as I understand it, many branches of Islam do not allow women to marry men of other faiths unless the latter convert). Even the Catholic church allows interfaith marriages (although there appear to be lots of rules, consisting mostly of asking the bishop for permission for various things, which I am sure most Catholics don’t care about). Let us thus assume you don’t think God will smite you if you marry outside your faith. Does that make it a good idea?

Why is it probably not a good idea?

Interfaith marriages (and relationships) have all the problems of more typical relationships, and several (significant) extra ones. Divorces rates are high for these marriages.

You will lose out on an important source of strength and support for your own faith. Even if your spouse accepts and supports that you have another faith, they can never support you in the same way that a spouse of the same faith would. You cannot grow in faith together.

You may have moral/ethical viewpoints that are not compatible. Shared faith is a simple heuristic for shared moral beliefs (but not a perfect one). Any workable marriage must have both partners share important moral values and they must be willing to live with the fact that their partner does not share certain other values. For instance, probably you will want your spouse to feel that adultery is wrong. To enter the relationship soundly you must feel that despite not having the same faith as you, your spouse shares most of the values which your faith leads you to cherish. (This is a necessary but not sufficient condition).

You must decide how to raise the children (if any). Pick a faith or have the children choose when the time is right. But some decision must be made, and it must be made before the marriage (and certainly before the children are born). You have to be content with the fact that your children may choose your spouse’s faith over yours (or none at all, even). I think an incredible amount of damage can be done to children if this is not handled well.

At crisis times you will tend to turn in different directions. It is during crises that all marriages are tested. An important way in which couples get through crises is often by turning to God, together. In an interfaith marriage, it may be that only one person turns to God, or the same view of God. It can lead to separation rather than bonding. It may make it harder to support one another as you have trouble finding common ground. One or both of you may get more support from outside your marriage than the other is comfortable with, which can lead to jealousy.

You will have important goals that differ. Shared goals are important in relationships. At least one potentially fulfilling shared goal is now eliminated: growing in (the same) faith together. You will need to find others, ones that are not shallow, but that nonetheless intersect with your spiritual lives (however you define your spirituality).

An important thing to remember is that none of the above problems are static. You do not just fix them once and then they stay away. No, people change as grow. New circumstances arise. You will continually be faced with all the above challenges in new forms and you must be willing to deal with them.

Why can it still work?

The above problems are, of course, huge. But they are not insurmountable. It is possible to be a fully committed Christian and grow in your faith with a spouse who is not (for instance). Raising children within an interfaith marriage can (potentially) be a beautiful gift to them, instilling a respect for other faiths and human freedom of choice that is so sorely lacking in society. It is possible to find comfort in your spouse’s love and respect in times of crisis even if they have a different faith.  I think it is awesome if one of the shared goals of a couple is growing in faith together. But it does not need to be – substitutes are possible.

Love does not recognise boundaries imposed by culture or faith. The important thing is that there is mutual respect in the relationship and a willingness to work together, to bend, if not to break. If your faith is important to you then an interfaith relationship will almost of necessity be very challenging. But, I think, it is also exactly when both partners are committed to their respective beliefs when such a marriage is most rewarding.

That said, I need to stress that I think making an interfaith relationship work is very hard and the chances of failures (despite the best intentions by both parties are high). I personally think I am very unlikely to find a person of another faith with whom I share enough values and goals to overcome the difficulties. 

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Carnaval

100_4048 100_4040 100_4026 100_4058 100_4018 100_4012I attended “Carnaval” this weekend, which is basically a huge party in February, celebrated in the South of the Netherlands. The South of the Netherlands is (of course) historically Catholic. Carnaval is meant to be a big party before the fasting of Lent (like Shrove Tuesday, I suppose). Of course in the Netherlands (almost) no one is religious so it is basically just a big excuse to party.

It is, however, a singular party. People dress up in insane costumes (I was a Viking with a saxophone) and there is a big parade with massive floats. My photos do not do justice to the size of these floats. Some seemed to be three stories high and they all had moving parts and blasted “foutmuziek” so my eardrums nearly burst. I awe at the amount of planning and dedication that had to go into these things.

The towns where I went get new names specially for Carnaval season, for instance Prinsenbeek, a small town near Breda, is known as “Boemeldonck”. The best parade is in Prinsenbeek rather than the larger city of Breda. Carnaval is a festival for country folk.

As with any festival, alcohol is paramount. Many of the floats were beer-themed. (Others were lewd. Some bordered on improper – for instance making fun of the church. They were all quite fun, and I do not think there was any ill intent). Many of course use the festival as an opportunity to drink more than anything else. I missed this part of Carnaval (by choice) and I instead have the memory of a fun time with some crazily dressed Dutchies.

While having fun and walking through town I did notice the remnants of the religion that this festival came out of: A Catholic church and some posters advertising the love of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be awesome if people could celebrate with love of God and with love for each other? The latter I experienced first-hand.  I am most grateful for the residents of Breda and Prinsenbeek who hosted me – they were most gracious and loving. I hope that the love of God will return in time. I also hope that Carnaval retains its risqué yet fun-loving quality. It seems more sincere that way.

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