Dion's random ramblings

Monday, February 11, 2008

When faith gets subtle...

As I have grown over the years I have always been amazed by the many subtleties that make up a lived faith in various contexts.

What we seldom consider is that faith has both subjective and objective elements.  Subjectively there are those elements that shape our reality and so shape the questions of our faith.  For example a young black woman living in an informal settlement in South Africa, having lost her husband to HIV / AIDS, will have different questions of meaning and life to a white middle class person who lives in Southern California.  So, subjectively we find that there are elements of our being (maleness, femaleness, one's age, one's sexual orientation, one's status and place in society etc.).  These issues are the issues that often lead us to articulate very particular theological or spiritual responses to the things that press us and shape our reality.  For example a feminist theology is a response to some particular issue in faith in relation to gender.  Liberation theology is another example of such a subjective response to a particular need.

Then, as mentioned earlier, there are objective elements that bind all of us together as persons in relation to God and one another.  For example, the fact that we are created beings whereas God is creator is an objective reality - it doesn't matter who you are, where you live, what age or gender you are, this is a fact.  There are of course elements such as sin that are common to all humanity - somehow we find it difficult to be unselfish.  I have met very few people who choose for others rather than themselves.  That is a problem, God has a desire and a will in relation to that problem, and that is something that all humans have to respond to.  Of course there are some other 'natural' objective realities that shape our faith.  For example, all persons are born, live, and die.  Much of what we believe is shaped by these common realities.  How we are born, where we live, and how we die, are of course subjective issues that will shape our spirituality and theology.

Why is it important to be aware of subjective and objective approaches to faith?  Well, fundamentalism is a common problem in society.  Liberalism is equally problematic.  Fundamentalists try to take their subjective reality and enforce it as an objective reality for all persons - 'I believe this, so everyone must be believe the same'.  Conversely, liberal and post-modernist agendas sometimes forget that there are objective truths that bind us all to one common experience and reality - 'We believe the same things because we are all different - you believe what you want, and I'll believe what I want'.

Neither of these approaches is absolute, an end in itself.  Rather, they should work together in what we call a 'dialectic tension' in theology.  My experience and our experiences inform each other, they shape our common reality and our individual reality.  Yet, the God who is your God, and my God, holds us together within God's love and life.  This single reality has some significant and concrete outcomes.  We are bound together in this thing called faith, bound from 'below' because of the concrete objective realities that make us human, and from 'above' by the real objective love of God.  Yet, we also need to find unique and special expressions of our faith and life because of the uniqueness of who we are, what we experience, know, and long for.  An outworking of the 'tension' between the objective and the subjective is thus that I need to acknowledge that while your desire and experience, your subjective faith journey, may not be the same as mine, but it is authentic and real even if I cannot identify with it.  Because of the God who holds us together I need to find the capacity to hold your desire, as God does, within my heart and spiritual life.

The problem is, of course, that often religious people hold radically different views on things (for example human sexuality).  How do we deal with such tension that threatens to allow subjective reality to fracture our objective reality?  I don't know the concrete answer to it - perhaps a common journey of self discovery, and discover of the other, is one positive step in the right direction.  However, if you have any suggestions I would be grateful to hear them!!

Today I have spent the day listening to various Christians, from very different age groups, cultural groupings, races, and of course both genders, speak of their faith and theology.  Most of them struggled to make the connection between their subjective experience and the objective experiences that bind us all together.  Sadly, many of them experienced this tension as destructive, something to be avoided, rather than something that sharpens and shapes us.

What are your thoughts?

God is, we are, often this is not an easy thing to experience, understand, and embrace.  It is the mystery of life and creation.


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