Faith of Love: A Time of Rethinking
Faith and Religion have been ongoing, important aspects of human society. One can have faith—be spiritual—without organized religion. For some, this is the path well chosen. For others, the community and other attributes of a more organized religious expression works best. For them, that path is also well chosen, so long as it is grounded in love. For yet others, the rendition of a life in love can be expressed without faith in a higher being or religion. Humanism is an example. If that works for them, and they honor themselves and others, that is a good thing. Again, love is the key. If it is the grounding of our being, it is good.
This section, however, will focus on organized religion, given its importance to so many.
The positive influences of religion can be multi-fold.
- Hope, support, guidance, peace, comfort. A refuge in the storm.
- Purpose and focus in living.
- Guidance in living and sharing.
- Guidance in self-worth. An abiding grounding of confidence.
- Charity, compassion. A pooling of resources and sharing with those in need. Shelters, food banks, hospitals, schools, altruistic orders.
- A vehicle for reform, and opposition to forces of oppression and pain.
- Joy and warmth.
The list could go on. Like faith, religion is, has been and can be a positive influence in daily living for many people. It provides a venue for and is inhabited by innumerable altruistic, gifted and loving persons.
Yet, it can also have a dark side. At times, it has been subverted to support discrimination and repression. Doctrinal overtones of religion have sometimes bred intolerance and persecution. At times, it has been infected by power, hate, greed, abuse—particularly when conjoined with secular governance. At times it is a destabilizing rather than a positive force and conveyance for peace, as hardline doctrinal beliefs clash.
How to account for the differences? The answer is simple. The good of religion is typically grounded in love. The bad typically reflects man-made doctrines, beliefs and practices having little, if anything, to do with love. The difference reflects an axiomatic truism. Love begets love. Doctrine and actions not grounded in love beget something else. One of the major problems in this world is perhaps not separation of man from God through “original sin,” but separation of God from Love.
At the same time, religious institutions do and perhaps must have at least some doctrines. Differing expression of faith have different emphases, approaches and rituals that make them relevant to the particular societies and circumstances in which they exist. Doctrines can be the spices that flavor particular expressions of religious faith—allow them to resonate with a particular society. Just as different music touches different people, different religious expressions touch different people differently.
Constructive doctrines can help guide, educate and act as helpful lenses in the religious experience. Doctrines not based in love, however, are the weeds of religion. Dogma not based in love is a poison that sucks goodness out of faith, deflects its purpose, and alienates.
What to do? How to protect the institution of religion without emasculating it on the one hand, but avoiding deflection from the concepts of the Great Commandment on the other? The answer is both hard and simple. Return religion’s focus—ALWAYS—to roots in love. Ferret out situations in which misguided doctrines have so encrusted faith that the essential message has been lost. Test doctrines, beliefs, dogmas, teachings, practices with the tests of love:
Is it born of love?
Does it increase love?
Does it honor Self/Others/God?
Prune back doctrine so that faith may regrow and flourish. Faith needs another voice.
A voice of love, not doctrine.
A voice of inclusion, not exclusion.
A voice of warmth, not dogma.
A voice of support, not subservience.
A voice of encouragement, not judgment.
Actual exercise of the tests of love in the area of faith and religion will help with discernment and begin the gentle background beat of love in choices in daily living. In testing and considering matters and belief, persons may also be better able to shape and build a faith to which they can relate and which touches them, and/or to address areas of concern within existing faith. For some of the disaffected, faith and religion may not grow. That is okay. If they are better able to live a life of love because of the guidance of the tests, that is a good thing.
The paths will differ in time, direction and approach. What is important is not the how, how long or destination, but that the journey be started.
Sometimes, in the most egregious cases, doctrines and beliefs may need to be scrapped and viewed for what they are: vehicles of power, greed, control, repression, elitism. Some will simply be inconsistent with the language and intent of the Greatest Commandment.
Sometimes, application of the tests will suggest dangers, so that doctrines and rituals may continue in a given expression, but with a view to retaining their positive attributes, while at the same time guarding against misuse or excesses.
Sometimes, the tests will suggest that doctrines or practices need re-purposing or amendment to be consistent with the Greatest Commandment.
As society and needs change, systems and institutions may need to be adapted. The two-fold tests of love will again help to guide evolution of belief systems—including religious expressions—in a positive mode.
Because love is ecumenical, reforms promoting its incorporation into belief systems will necessarily increase tolerance. Love will help to reduce persecution, conflicts between Sunnis and Shias, Catholics and Protestants. Its purpose is to support, grow and love, not preach, repress and conquer.
Will religious institutions change and reform? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Ultimately, however, reform begins within. That is enough. Drop the trappings of doctrines and beliefs that get in the way of love in favor of the overriding doctrine and unifying force of love.
Let faith become a faith of love.