Where do I belong? I call myself a Christian, because I am one. But unlike a younger me, I’m now openly agnostic about it. (My profile on Facebook currently describes my religious views as “Agnostic Christian. Or is it Christian Agnostic – I can never make up my mind”.) I have no feeling that I should be leaving the church, as it’s somewhere I feel at home. Or at least, as ‘at home’ as I do anywhere else; I’ve always had that vague sense of “not fitting in” wherever I’ve been. But is there a sense in which I’m deceiving (that word again) myself and others by staying? I hope not.
While I was away over Easter (which I guess is as good a time to think about faith as any other) I picked up a wee book at my mother-in-law’s: Why Belief by Richard Holloway. The bulk of the book was okay, touching on things such as that all human relationships are dependent on trust and that we do, in day to day life, accept all manner of things without being completely certain about their reliability of accuracy. Good stuff, but nothing really special. He referred to the difference between “belief that”, which requires no commitment by ourselves, and “belief in”, which does. Again, interesting but not much more. But his closing section really seemed significant to me. Or at least, to the question I posed at the start of this post. It’s a lot to type, but I’m going to quote it in full:
But what about those who cannot believe?
Many of us may not recognise ourselves in any of this. We may be too hesitant and tentative to describe ourselves as believers, yet we are strangely drawn to the life of faith and wish we could own it for ourselves. Communities of faith should be big enough to include people like this, because the human experience of belief describes a wide spectrum that ranges from the ecstasy of the saint to the fumblings of the non-believer who longs to believe. The best and most generous of communities of faith will recognise and allow for these realities. The best wisdom in the search for faith is to find out what we already believe and start there.
Rose Macauly, the English novelist, in her own constant wrestlings with faith, used to talk about an interchange of experience between hope, faith, and belief. She spent a lot of time hoping it might be true; some time trusting, having faith that it was true, and the occasional moments of firm belief that it was. It was important for her to be able to bring all these phases of her own heart and mind with her into the church, and fortunately she found that the Church of England was big enough to let her do this.
There are many rooms in the household of faith and there is quite a lot of movement between them. being the kind of creatures we are, prone to self-defeat and cynicism, it is important to take some step, no matter how tiny. Sometimes it is a matter of nuance, of detail, a placing of slightly more emphasis on one aspect of our complicated life that another, a whispered yes to faith and a whispered no to cynicism. Many people stay with the whisper of faith throughout their lives, longing for that fullness of belief they see, admire and are nourished by in others. They, too, have a valued place in the community of faith and Thomas speaks for them: “Lord, we believe; help thou our unbelief.”
On an somewhat separate note, my minister Dave has corrected me about something. In a previous post I suggested that I partly blame him for setting me off on my path of questioning my faith. As he rightly pointed out, the appropriate word is that I should credit him for doing so.