Protestant Obsession with Belief

August 15, 2006

For better or for worse, I have been reading other “Christian” blogs. (A disclaimer: I find the use of the word “Christian” as an adjective for anything other than people or a group of people theologically stunted. What exactly makes a book or a store or a telephone directory “Christian”?)

So, many of these bloggers seem absolutely caught up in a frenzy about “believing” in God. It’s like this big, heroic, amazing thing that they “believe” in God. First of all, what does it mean to “believe?” Is it a mere acknowledgement of existence? That doesn’t seem all that fantastic to me. Does it connote some sort of life commitment? I’m sorry, but you’ll have to be more specific.

My belief, just like every other Christian’s, is paltry to the point of being insignificant to my religion. Moreover, there is nothing heroic or redeeming about my belief, nor is there anything individually special about it. I got my “belief” the same way as everybody else–it was mediated through the community of faith. This latter group is the one that I do things with. I do religious things with them. We worship God, we sing, we pray, we stand up and sit down, we have meetings, we argue, we help each other and sometimes we hurt each other. But we do it together. What I “believe” is not really at issue with these people.

The French sociologist of religion, Emile Durkheim, wrote a hundred years ago: “Religious representations are collective representations which express collective realities; the rites are a manner of acting which take rise in the midst of assembled groups and which are destined to excite, maintain or recreate certain mental states in these groups.” And to tell the truth, more often than not, the mental state it excites in me is pretty neutral (with occasional numinous exceptions). The point, though, is that we do it all together.

These bloggers’ big testimonials about their precious beliefs really creep me out. They are inherently alienating, and ipso facto, not religious in any sense that I understand.

4 Responses to “Protestant Obsession with Belief”

  1. Alex Says:

    This goes along with my understanding that God is not Santa Claus… God is not an old man with a white beard… God does not make a list and check it twice… we do not have the power to force God to do things because of our faith.

  2. Matthew Says:

    When I think about faith for any length of time it becomes a issue of trust. I trust God to be God, to be present, etc. But much like my trust that the sun will rise tomorrow, whether I have faith in that event, or not, will not change its happening. What it will change is how I order my life in congruence with the coming of the dawn.

  3. Brett Says:

    You two definitely get it. I like what Matt says about congruence of action–this is a nice metaphor for Calvinists.

    And, while many think of God as Santa Claus, they will be so utterly devastated when that exercise in manipulation proves that they were “naughty.”

  4. The word “believe” simply comes from the old German word for “to hold pleasing or satisfactory” and “belief” means (again, in old German) “dear, esteemed, valued.” So, in a strict sense, these people are talking about “their precious beliefs.”

    As far as them giving these “big testimonials” isn’t there some line in the Bible about not displaying your faith simply to impress other men? (Actually, I do mean that as a honest question and not just a sardonic remark – I think there is one, but I cannot remember exactly what it is . . . then again, I am the pagan).

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