Sounding the Faiths: Believers Follow Many Paths

Religion is often a visible or tangible element of identity. Faith can be a more complex and frequently subtler concept. For a person raised in both a faith tradition and a liberal society, this distinction becomes vitally relevant. Many people from generation “Y” were raised as Christians but do not cleave to the doctrine in which they were raised. Departing from the past generations’ religious practices is anything but a new phenomenon, especially in America. Yet the fusion of modern liberalism and Christianity has brought about significant new attitudes among young people.

Tolerance stands as a pillar of our modern society. In the liberal arts we are taught critical thinking to identify, analyze, and uproot sources of intolerance. The noble intention of such intellectual endeavors is putatively held to be concomitant with secular humanism. In many ways secular humanism provides the ideal platform from which to analyze our world. However, secular humanism cannot and does not attempt to answer the spiritual questions which have puzzled humanity since ancient times. Is there a creating force in the universe? Is there a purpose to life? Are we more than a collection of cells and genes in a certain environment? Is there an afterlife? Looking for answers to these questions can mean risking intellectual credibility in a college environment like ours, which can, at times, be downright dismissive of faith.

Many still seek answers to spiritual questions but wish to do so within the bounds of tolerance for others and their beliefs. How is this possible for a person of faith, if each religion must be the one true revelation of truth? One answer is the development of non-exclusive and less doctrinal forms of faith. Examples of this would be the Baha’i faith. Baha’is respect the major faith traditions as different revelations of one larger truth. Baha’is do not adopt the clerical structure or strict social doctrines which have caused conflict, immense suffering, and violence. Certain forms of Unitarianism also operate with a similar orientation toward other faith traditions. Even amongst ostensible Christians, a progressive form of faith is present.

Many Christians maintain their own faith but acknowledge that other faith traditions are valid; this is not simply to say that others can worship whatever they want but will still be condemned to burn in hell. In fact, the idea of good people of other faiths being “condemned” is a significant reason to depart from normal religious doctrine. Instead, a great number of progressive Christians believe that good works are essentially the one true measure of someone’s character, no matter their faith. Spiritual pursuits can be separated from religion. Someone who pursues answers to spiritual questions must not be regarded as being necessarily opposed to science, reason, or logic. Faith is ultimately an intimate personal examination. As such, it is possible to incorporate an independent investigation of the truth into spiritual practices in place of rigid orthodoxy. Let us not assume that all people of faith are imbecilic or willfully blinding themselves. Rather, we need to be able to acknowledge the exploration of spiritual questions as a valid personal undertaking. Progressive paths of faith need not carry teachings contrary to reality. Rather, progressive faiths should help explore areas beyond our powers of reason.

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