Faith: Is it all about the language we choose to use?


BCW 11.5.17

Consider the following rumination I have constructed as an attempt to put into words the kinds of uncomfortable reflections that we older “baby boomer” Christians living in Australia in 2017 may well put to ourselves, if we haven’t done so already:

I look back and remember how as a young member of a local church at age 14, I boldly answered “Yes!” to the questions put to me at Confirmation by the Archbishop. Am I now to be provoked, 50+ years later, to wonder why I still say “Yes!” to those same questions? I may have serious questions about the liturgical form in which that affirmative answer came from my lips. But am I to conclude that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ today because I chose to be his disciple yesterday? Am I to say that I am a Christian today because I refuse to deny what I affirmed yesterday? Is it that I have chosen to hold onto what I have done in the past, merely choosing to standby what I chose to do yesterday or the day before? Am I merely being headstrong and dogmatic about what I was taught and came to believe in Sunday School, and Catechism Class, while also choosing to be selectively critical about other matters that have since come to my notice in my “scientific education”.

The question arises: how am I to maintain the authenticity of my most basic choices now, today? And to entertain this question is to raise other ones: Am I being unfaithful before God to engage in such reflection? Do I believe today and maintain my affirmative answer because of the choice I made yesterday has had certain life-shaping consequences, and to now choose otherwise would simply make my life too problematic with too many new questions to answer for which I might not know the answers, too many problems created for which I have no desire or even competence to solve?

Now I may not want to adopt such a line of “self inquisition”, but whether I ask it of myself or not, it is nevertheless the kind of accusation that jumps out at me from the way our post-modern, consumerist life is lived. The way “religion” is featured by all the power-houses of the mass media would lead us to believe that people like myself are “religious” by means of a peculiar choice, because of our habit of attending a peculiar market-place, supermarket or even “corner store” that deals in “spiritualities”. Most religious people are those who have decided not to undo their “religious decisions” and “spiritual choices” despite the fact that we, in Australia, like the UK, “no longer live in a Christian country”.

Could it be that my faith is what I am continually told it is, just another commodity, even if it be one that I have manufactured by my own “Christian” choices to live within a “Christian” story? And have I not grown older and become wiser so that I can even now ask such a question and face up to its challenging consequences? Would I truly be leaving the faith were I to now concede that as I have grown older I have grown wiser as a consequence of my own choosing? Don’t I now know that to be a Christian in this post-Christian context requires me to be clear-headed and courageous about this self-evident fact? Have I not, as a mature adult, chosen God even while as an enthusiastic youth I got carried away with the delightful prospect that God had chosen me? Should I not now move beyond such presumptuous arrogance of youth?

The statement itself is my attempt to formulate the way of life I confront probably every day – a way of life dominated by a pragmatic view that assumes that human life is best viewed as problem solving and that language is the deeply mysterious device we use to solve the problem of what it is all about.

And to face up to the power and allure of such a line of self-questioning – to think through the questions that it throws out to indiscriminately challenge Christian faith – is not however to endorse the taken-for-granted way of life that is thereby assumed. Rather, it is to face up to the way Christianity has seemingly accommodated this essentially humanistic way of thinking, way of life, and in the process weakened seriously if not completely undermined its own faith.

Now I am not wanting to suggest that everyone I meet has a well elaborated philosophy of language in these terms. However, the idea that humans are primarily problem-solvers is deeply rooted in the modern and post-modern soul. It is embedded, deeply, in school curriculum and has been for decades. It has also become embedded in churches as they have adopted managerialist techniques to “keep the show on the road”.

Are we not encouraged to see the world as an intricate system of communication filled with the language we choose to use, the words by which we give voice to our inner-most thoughts? And our personal contribution – including even a blog such as this – along with millions of other spoken and written communications become viewed as an enormous self-perpetuating system giving expression to the human race’s self-creation, giving an ongoing shape to our habitat, the life-worlds we inhabit. And when we ascribe such autonomy to language how are we to think of ourselves? Are we truly constrained as this view suggests, held in a vice of unfreedom, our choices today narrowed radically by the choices we made yesterday which were in turn narrowed by choices made the day before that? And if we adopt this view then the constraints of language call forth our self-creating resistance at the very moment that the meaning of our endeavour stands on the brink of the annihilation of all meaning. We may tell ourselves that the choices to which we have given voice we have created ourselves, but the embrace of such freedom brings with it the immediate pain that it lacks any enduring meaning.

In response to all this we might ask:

How did I ever get into this muddle? Can I ever get out of it!

One way may be to turn to the Book of Psalms and sing Psalm 42:

As the deer, weak with longing,
Trembling in deep agony.
Searching out a creek of water,
So my soul will search for Thee.
Yes, deep thirst is why I cry;
Lord of my life, O when shall I
Standing firm then in your presence?
Living life with holy reverence.

But it is not merely a retreat to the Psalms that we need. We can sing that slowly and making every word count and yet the Biblical view is that we “go on our way rejoicing.” Can we truly do that in these troubled times? And can such deep yearning for God and His ways find true expression in our lives as citizens, in our political lives?

In this series of posts I want to explore these kinds of questions. Stay tuned.




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