My eyeballs stopped in their tracks when I read this quote the other day:

‘I often envy religious people who have that devout faith. They know that they’re going to see their … loved ones again when they die. But I don’t believe that. Sometimes, I wish I did.’ — Carol Fiore, an atheist, whose husband died after the plane he was test-piloting crashed.

Must one have to have religion to have faith?

I used to be afraid of this question. Afraid to ask it. Afraid to get in a conversation with someone about it. Afraid because I didn’t know what I believed. I eventually found my answer, for me, once I separated faith and religion.

When religion and faith walked hand in hand in my life – as a school girl in a rural Catholic school and also a child of the south with Southern Baptist family members – I did not feel a connection to faith. I tried. Believe me, I tried. On my knees at night at the side of my bed I prayed for God to show me a sign, to give me faith so that I could believe. And that’s what kids do. Kids want to be shown. Kids need guidance and a hand to hold until they are ready to let go. We see this metaphor most clearly with babies around the age of one when they start to walk. I will never forget the first time my daughter looked back over her shoulder at me with a knowing look and let go of my hand. There has never been a more concrete example for me of the act of faith as watching my little girl take her first steps without my guidance. She knew she had it and was ready to let go because she felt it. She was devoted to her own faith, her faith in herself and her truth. This is a faith beyond religion. It is the faith of the heart.

If I could I would ask Ms. Fiore, “What do you believe?” Beliefs are the pillars upon which the foundation of who we are stands. THAT’S what we must have faith in, our own BELIEFS. That is what will get us through the tough times. Not some script from days gone by that tells us to blindly believe. Scrap the religion aspect or not. Faith is a feeling that we are trusting our own pillars – that what we believe, what each of us knows deep down in our own HEARTS, is the TRUTH.

DO HABITUAL MENTAL CONSTRUCTS KEEP THE PRACTICE OF FAITH AT BAY?

There is no black or white. Entertain the idea for a moment, whether its that you will see your husband again or some other idea that feels silly in the moment. Sit on it a while, carry it around with you and see what happens. Sometimes the feeling of SILLY is really RESISTANCE to what your heart really wants based on constructions of the mind that have been built up over time (past beliefs, hurts, etc…). So feel the SILLY, walk around with it and see if it changes. If it still feels silly in a few hours to think that you might see your husband again then by all means you have every right to think it’s a silly thought and stick with that. If it starts to feel good in your heart, soothing in some way – then let your heart be soothed – doesn’t mean you have to give up being an atheist to take care of that vital physical organ that keeps you alive.

I am not being didactic here. I’m curious. Where do you place your faith? What is your truth? Which are your strongest beliefs in your heart?

6 thoughts on “A Question of Faith

  1. Gtde. Stein said the question is more important than the answer… seems to apply here. thought provoking piece.

  2. In addition to the Stein quote, I carry that Rilke one about loving the questions themselves… finding it: “Try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live with them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.”

    Did you ever listen to the program on NPR, This I Believe? I would always be inspired by people trying to articulate what it was they believed in most deeply, even if it wasn’t always a thing that I could agree with. I also love that having used that as a prompt over the years I’ve seen my answers change. If I were writing it this afternoon, I’d start “I believe in questions and I believe in questioning the premises of my questions.”

    The idea that religion is the same as faith is the same as belief seems to be the premise of question and I’m delighted to hear you questioning that. My first instinct is that sometimes we wear religious belief/habits as a convenient label for others or ourselves, but that there are also settings built from our temperament and experiences that shape faith as much as any formal institution. My earliest teenage journals talk about the internal gyroscope, that allowed me to dive fearlessly into stuff because I always knew I could find up, and that faith, that things are going to work out, that the universe is essentially set to “just right, even if we don’t understand it” is why, I think, one of my less religious friends compares me to Alexei Karamazov–a comparison I struggled with when she made it.

    Did you seethis article in yesterday’s New York Times where the writer talks about the therapeutic dimension of the evangelical personal relationship with God? I had a complicated response of feeling like my own beliefs are pretty different from those of most evangelical Christians and yet I loved how this idea works. I think that there are arguments lurking against this that go something like “the fact that your God-beliefs fit so conveniently into your psychological needs for God invalidate the existence of God” and those are really frustrating. And also I don’t want God shrunk down to merely nice therapist.

    (Sorry for the super long response but this was really thought provoking!)

    1. I really enjoyed your comments Mara. Thank you! I’m doing a lot of gardening right now and really interested in other’s view on separation of belief and faith – the discourse is like fertilizer – it’s really helping me come to an understanding of my own beliefs – that are constantly being revealed, like the never ending peeling onion. I’m so glad you brought up NPR’s, “This I believe.” I loved that segment. It is what first made me cognizant that this was even a question to me as I pondered what I would write. It’s so ironic that you mentioned Luhrmann’s piece from last Sunday’s NYTimes. I did read it. Your points articulate what’s been churning in my head that I couldn’t put into words. It’s the anthropomorphism of God. And I agree with you, that element really extracts the essence that for me is God. Dare I say, mother/father God. I just thought of something…my God is an un-anthropomorphized hermaphrodite and I say that with all due respect.

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