04 May 2007

Lyrical Friday: Thoughts on Faith

Ah, the news of my impending death
Came at a really bad time for me
Yeah, the news of my impending death
Any other day might have been ok

I was starting to track with my inner guide
I was getting in touch with my feminine side
But when the doctor starts whistling "happy trails"
Tends to take a bit of wind out of the old sails . . .

I'd built iron man stalls in the northern wild
I'd played cabbage patch dolls with my inner child
Now i'm getting sealed bids for a granite vault
And i'm pretty sure this is my parents' fault

--The Lament of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Frederick IV by Steve Taylor

When nothing satisfies you
When nothing satisfies you
When nothing satisfies you
Hold my hand

--When Nothing Satisfies by Jennifer Knapp

I like to read O Magazine because it has longer, more thoughtful articles than most women's magazines. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of pages devoted to such world-changing topics as "stuff Oprah wants you to buy" and "fashion trends that you can follow if you have a spare thousand dollars for this hot new designer dress."

But the real articles tend toward the narrative, personal experiences, and sometimes even a feature article about someone doing some good in the world, rather than the "10 Ways To Improve Your Pathetic Life" that you get in other women's magazines.

The most recent issue of the magazine, though, did its readers a disservice, I think. The issue's theme was "faith." As is the standard format for the magazine, there were a number of articles, most relatively short, written by a variety of contributers. Some of the stories were quite lovely, all were well-written, and at least one brought up some interesting insights. But the magazine had already lost me by that time.

"YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH" the introductory section said. "It doesn't have to be a God thing. You don't have to be religious. But when you're all alone on troubled waters, you need something to hold on to..."

Seriously? It doesn't matter what you believe in, only that you believe in something?

This sentiment is standard Oprah/O Magazine stuff, and, perhaps the sentiment of a good many people in American society. It goes even beyond the idea that all religions have truth. Because O Magazine says faith doesn't "have to be religious."

No. I just can't agree. The object of faith is important. What you believe (or, as Christians say, who you believe in) in shapes you. The mere fact that you believe distinguishes you from the athiest or the nihilist, perhaps, but even they believe in their non-belief.

And (although "the terrorists" are getting to be like "Hitler" in over-the-top comparisons) I venture to say that Muslim extremists are pretty high up on the "strong faith" scale.

Think about what a person's life would look like who had faith in:

  • a vengeful, demanding god

  • a merciful god

  • his/her own abilities

  • his/her own feelings (another Oprah gospel)

  • the power of money

  • other people

  • Mother Earth

  • aliens

  • nothing

Faith matters, yes. But faith is only the act of holding on. Our lives sometimes depend on what--on who--we're holding on to.


Momoo said...

Thought-provoking article, Jen. Great thinking! I agree with you, wholeheartedly. I, too, have some difficulty in understanding some of the "worldly" interpretations of the meaning of faith.

Dave said...

I agree in general. I share your irritation at the vapidness of this kind of writing. But I think it's also useful to distinguish between two basic kinds of faith: faith as faith in something or someone -- i.e., trust -- and faith that such and such a proposition is true. For example, when we say "I believe in you" (or in myself, etc.), that's often not quite what we mean by saying "I believe in God"... at least, not for many Christians. Some of the Jewish theologians I've read say that in Judaism, faith is much more of the trust variety; arguing with, and sometimes even doubting the existence of, G-d is seen as part of a passionate engagement with divinity. For me as an agnostic, the language of faith is still not inappropriate because I do feel a kind of trust in the rightness of the cosmos, mingled with awe at its beauty and harmony. (Or at least, I aspire to feel that way.)

Jennifer said...

Dave, I think that Christians, too, aspire (or maybe I mean, should aspire) to trusting God in the way you describe. But it can be easier to subscribe to a precisely defined set of beliefs than to truly trust someone (God or not). When along with that trust comes the matter of surrendering your heart, soul, etc., it gets even more difficult. The Law may be impossible to obey perfectly (per Christian theology), but at least it's laid out in black and white. Perhaps that's why so many churches stray into legalism.