Previously we pointed out that faith is important to life and the entire human experience.
Of course, that does not mean faith is important to you – yet. Maybe the idea is growing on you. I am encouraged you have at least a smidgin of curiosity, though thinking about faith may be new territory for you.
Let me see if we can fan this interest more by talking about you. The answer to how faith fits into your future depends quite a bit on how you view yourself.
Who are you?
I know … that sounds too much like a college professor’s opening riddle to a series of boring lectures in sociology class on self-identity. Believe me, I don’t want to get overly philosophical or psychological about the answer. I just want to raise the question so you can see your connection to faith.
The following are some common notions of “self” which may be true of you. I relate each one of them to faith. If one or more of them describes you, it might help you connect yourself to the need for faith. There are twelve different views you might have of yourself. I assigned each one a brief “out-of -the-mouth” description so you can see if that sounds like something you would say. If not, you can skip ahead.
SELF IDENTITY #1 = THE MATERIALIST “Who me? I view myself entirely as an evolved material/physical species, randomly selected by nature, without a spiritual component or soul and in no way accountable to any creator or deity in the way I choose to live. Religion is mostly a need of an earlier era in human history. Now that we are in the age of science, its time has passed.”
- SOME REASONS YOU NEED FAITH: The purely materialistic view of self is very hard to maintain. The materialist places himself/herself in a precarious position by having to prove a universal negative, namely that there is no spiritual part or component to human life. Not just the logic of that position is flawed but life’s experience itself speaks to spiritual realities. Daily life involves nonphysical concepts such as love, peace, joy, or even meaning & logic. The materialist feels compelled to re-describe spiritual things in physical/chemical terms to make it accountable to science. However, that is a dead end for it is reasoning in a circle. Someone like this assumes only the physical can be real. But that begs the question. An open mind will consider the greater human experience and not rule out spirituality up front. Concepts such as patience, justice, integrity, peace, loyalty, forgiveness, mercy, righteousness, worship, friendship, and value cannot be reduced to chemical reactions. They must be acknowledged for what they are – real. They are irrefutable evidence for spirituality. Humans also have a conscience of right and wrong which is meaningless if there is no actual right and wrong. Morality means nothing ultimately if it is random and without base or design. Even the laws of logic we intuitively know control reason’s discourse and transcend the physical. So the materialist is backed into a corner. Hopefully he/she won’t get defensive but will open the mind to what does not fit neatly into one’s sheltered worldview. Besides, the materialist already has some faith in something! And, guess what? Faith is not material either!
SELF IDENTITY #2 THE UNIVERSALIST = “I am a child of God because all humans are created equal and loved by God regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. No one is excluded. All are equal in the sight of God.”
- SOME REASONS YOU NEED FAITH: Invoking God as the basis of your view immediately places you into the stream of faith and spirituality. Believing all people are children of God deepens that spiritual concept. So you are already immersed in the spiritual. The pertinent question for you concerns the right way to view God’s relationship to humanity. In what sense are we all children of God, if that is true? Does God distinguish people based on morality, or does how someone lives not matter to Him? Are there evil people God rejects or punishes, if not how can He maintain justice and righteousness? Even if we are all created by God and His children by origin, it does not follow He is pleased with every murderer, rapist, blasphemer, bully, and liar. There still is innocence and guilt. God may forgive plenty, but does He approve all ways of living? So this brings us to the important questions, who speaks for God, and what is God like? A proper faith will answer these questions correctly.
SELF IDENTITY #3 = THE LOST “I am basically confused about life. I don’t really know who I am, why I am here, or what I am supposed to do. I feel in a quandary – adrift with little certain identity. I am searching for guidance.”
- SOME REASONS YOU NEED FAITH: Your need for faith is fairly straightforward. You are reaching out for guidance and need someone to steer you in the right direction. Your confusion and aimlessness may be caused by an uncertain upbringing or it may stem from disillusionment due to things people told you were true, but proved to be disingenuous. So now you may be doubting yourself, those who trained you, and your experience. Though it is unsettling to be in this situation, I think you can take some encouragement. You may actually be better off than many who keep trudging forward in life under the illusion their life is as they think it is. Your present humbled mindset places you in a better position to learn if you will take advantage of it. You now can reach out to see what true faith and the spiritual side of life have to offer. However, there is a caution. Because you are not settled, many cults and brainwashers would attempt to give you self-identity through lies and unsubstantiated claims. They may pounce on your vulnerability. So more than a sense of belonging, you need to crave truth. Don’t fall prey to bad religion. Learn to discern truth and true love from error and control.
SELF IDENTITY #4 = THE TRADITIONALIST “I know exactly who I am based on my strong cultural, national, or religious heritage, and have little doubt about my place and purpose in this world. I am not open to other faiths or worldviews.”
- SOME REASONS YOU NEED FAITH: You are the opposite of the “Lost” person in the previous category. You are self-assured and have planted your flag deep into the soil of your religion or heritage and frankly do not take kindly to someone coming along and telling you that your faith is wrong or that your people are in error. So I won’t do that. However I will urge you to evaluate your faith. Just because someone has a strong sense of identity does not mean it is all based on truth. Some of it may be right. Some of it may be misguided. Right now there are millions who believe differently than you, and they also have the same loyal commitment toward their beliefs. Everyone cannot be right! The benefit of tradition is that it keeps us anchored to the past and the heritage of hardworking people who got us where we are. The disadvantage is that it can lead to blind loyalty. Any group which does not encourage its adherents to test their faith by morality, fact, history, revelation, and logic is clearly afraid their shortcomings will be found out. If you go along with something that you refuse to test, do not be surprised in the end if you are on the wrong side. Truth always wins in the end. Make sure you are standing on truth, not tradition alone.
SELF IDENTITY #5 = THE CYNIC “I have been exposed to way too much educational and life experiences and people of every stripe not to be cynical about just about everybody I meet. Every institution and so-called good cause is tainted with less than pure motives. I have heard the false promises, seen the hypocrisies, and witnessed the inconsistencies everywhere. So it is very hard for me to put my confidence or faith in anybody especially discredited organized religion.”
- SOME REASONS YOU NEED FAITH: This cynicism, then, would include me or anything I am about to write. So there is not much I can express to gain your trust. If you are still reading this I guess there might still be a glimmer of hope. Maybe there are two things I can write which will at least keep the door open. One, make it clear to you that I have no way of benefiting from you on this web site, nor do I receive any funds or favors for what I write. Two, to let you know that I write because of what I believe, and as sincere a motive as I am able to produce, to help others study, analyze, and choose the kind of faith which will benefit them. If I never hear from you that will not discourage me from writing. People like you have been burned and seen others burned too much. Well I have had much bad happen to me too in the realm of religion. My first pastor, we found out later, was a child molester, though not with me thankfully. Another pastor I had for a short time in college was “raising funds” for a building project which “God had told him” to do. It was found out he was pocketing the offerings for his lavish lifestyle. Fellow church members once falsely accused me of “sin.” without producing evidence. I felt like I had a couple of knives stuck in my back. I have been gossiped about, neglected, and lied to numerous times. I also exercise regularly and try to take good care of my body, but was found out to have Pancreatic Cancer last year. I lost my father to heart disease earlier in life. Yet, none of these, or other disappointments in life, have turned me into a cynic about Jesus or God. And I see lots of the same ecclesiastical abuses and phony ministries taking advantage of the lonely and vulnerable that you do. So I guess what I am saying is that you can be a cynic and still be a believer. You can see all the ugly in life and still find the expression of sincerity and truth, albeit, somewhat hidden amongst the weeds. Jesus never taught that faith was going to be easy. He said it was going to be good.
SELF IDENTITY #6 = THE OPEN “I am a curious learner who is interested in people of a wide variety of faiths and life backgrounds while holding to some of the beliefs and traditions which were handed down to me by my family and society. I love to interact with people and keep an open mind and learn from thoughtful people I encounter.”
- SOME REASONS YOU NEED FAITH: Openness is the prerequisite for learning, so you are to be commended for this. Minds close far too soon in most cases because it makes people feel comfortable with a neat and orderly worldview. However life is complicated and messy at times. Surely there is much to learn from others along the way. However openness is only the beginning of learning. Discernment and knowing how to come to conclusions is the other prerequisite for learning. Gathering information is only the first part of research. Knowing how to separate the truthful and valuable from the false and irrelevant yields the wisest person. Another way of putting it is that if your mind is too open, watch out, you will believe lies! One who believes everything ends up believing nothing. Faith should be pursued because it makes sense, ties into fact, and explains life adequately. You are not having trouble having faith, but you need to know why some faiths are dangerous and how to evaluate them properly.
We continue next time with part 2 and the remaining six self-identities.