Apprentice to the Truth

A New Book by Myron Penner

I haven’t read this book yet, but I can recommend an article taken from it, called “Ironic Witness,” which appears in the July 10th issue of The Christian Century. Myron Penner likens living faithfully, in this age, to being an “apprentice to the truth.”

I love that phrase, “apprentice to the truth.” Penner explains what he means:

“… a life of faith is more aptly articulated in terms of a struggle to be faithful— to live truthfully– than as the possession of truths and absolute certainties…. Rather than thinking of the believer as the possessor of truth, who must then work ardently to maintain belief over against all rational challenges, it might be better to view the one who has faith as an ‘apprentice to truth.’

“To speak of an apprentice to truth in this way is to acknowledge that truth is not our possession, but something by which we must be possessed. I do not have the truth and cannot get it on my own. Instead, I must apprentice….”

In many ways, this is a fine articulation of religion in balance: the affirmation of the reality of a Truth (or a Love, or a Power, or a Goodness, or a Beauty) bigger than– and independent of– any person’s idea of it; the affirmation of a humility that recognizes our inability to possess this Truth (Love, Power, Goodness, Beauty); and the affirmation that this Truth (Love, Power, Goodness, Beauty) is worthy, not only of our time and attention, but also of our bending our will in its direction. It’s a reality to build lives out of.

via NetGalley Catalog


Easter Faith

Faith is not certainty; neither is faith a comforting lie. Jesus actually died; each of us will actually die one day as well, and no faith that is really faith will try to airbrush that one. Faith is not a comforting lie.

Nor is faith an intellectual “I believe in God” — or any other kind of  assent to statements about God. That’s too easy: it just remains in the head– as a former teacher of mine used to say, “massaged between the ears.” No: faith always involves commitment— the intentional engagement of the will to trust.  Faith is more verb than noun, which means acting before we’re sure. If we wait to act until we’re sure, it’s not faith anymore, is it?

An Easter faith is an active trust, now– and again now, every day we begin again– an active trust that the God who gave life, can give life again. To trust resurrection is to trust that the God who created life, can re-create it.

Such a trust raises to consciousness the darkness of our lives: the shadows of pain/of shame/of grief/of sadness/of betrayal and rejection– raises them to consciousness, AND THEN FREES US FROM OUR ANXIETY ABOUT THEM. Trust frees us from the anxiety that binds. It’s only by denying the grief of  Good Friday and the anxiety of Easter Saturday that they have power over us; it is by trusting the Easter Sunday God– by trusting Our Risen Lord– that the darkness is integrated with the light, and we are free to love, and praise and serve. Trusting God frees us to live.

Atheists in “Interfaith” Dialogue?

Atheists in “interfaith” dialogue? I hope so.

We probably need to change the terminology. Loosely understood, “faith” is shorthand for some kind of religious belief– and “religious belief” is generally understood to include the existence of a god or gods (or goddesses). The defining feature of atheism is the affirmation that, in the realm of all that exists, divine beings are not included. At that level, it seems incorrect to call atheism a “faith.” Therefore, it seems incorrect to call a conversation between a theist and an atheist “interfaith” dialogue.

Terminology aside, I hope that theists and atheists alike would welcome the kind of open and searching conversation, that in other contexts is called interfaith dialogue. Such dialogue, properly understood and properly undertaken, is not about trying to convert the other. It’s not about trying to convince the other that her beliefs are benighted and her practices superstitious. Rather, true interfaith dialogue starts from the acceptance of the other, and moves into conversation in the spirit of openness and learning. Instead of defending one’s perspective, true dialogue moves in the much riskier direction of allowing for the possibility for change– most daringly, for the possibility for change in one’s very own self, through the encounter with the other. Theists and atheists have things to learn from one another.

Below is an excerpt, and the link, to an article entitled “Do Atheists Belong in the Interfaith Movement?”

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in the organized atheist, humanist, skeptic and freethought movements about the potential benefits and drawbacks of interfaith work.

Over at Patheos, the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt, recently made an excellent case that while the terminology of “interfaith” may be problematic and there are several other important issues to grapple with, it is worth atheists’ while to get involved. At Friendly Atheist, Secular Student Alliance Communications Director Jesse Galef offered a long list of reasons atheists might participate, and how their involvement might improve some of the problems within the interfaith movement. Despite Galef and Speckhardt’s serious concerns and reservations, they have been actively involved in intentionally interfaith efforts, and I suspect their participation has informed their conclusions about the idea….

Religion At All? (Let Alone in the Balance…)

In response to my recent post on Salman Taseer’s assassination, my friend Paul writes:

Violence is rarely the answer, perhaps never. And it leaves me to wonder if John Lennon wasn’t onto something when he said, “imagine no religion …” Can the good ever outweigh the evil done in religions’ name(s)?

Thankfully, the critique of religion is not just the province of atheists– of whatever historical moment and philosophical stripe– but is also the province of religious people themselves. In a recent article in The Christian Century, Douglas John Hall quotes Swiss theologian Karl Barth as having remarked, “‘The message of the Bible is that God hates religion.'” The idea is to contrast religion– understood as the way to capture and own God– with faith: faith being a lived and living trust in the transformative power of the Transcendent One,  Who by definition is beyond being controlled or captured.

As long as human beings are around, religion isn’t going away. That means that the need for the critique of religion isn’t going away either. And that’s the spirit of this blog: that true religion opens individuals and orients communities toward active trust in the mystery and power of God– and that it is precisely this kind of faith that can provide a balancing counterweight to the violence and narcissism of our time.