You Gotta Believe

I’m spending the first seven days of Christmas in Indiana with my parents and youngest brother. I’m reading a wonderful Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, Jesus by Marcus J. Borg. It occurs to me that I really should read some other theologians, at least Dominic Crossan or Hans Kung, but, hey, I’m on vacation.

In Jesus, Borg spends some time on the word “believe.” I’ve talked before about how belief is a funny word because it can reflect more or less certainty than the word know. As in, “I believe the keys are on the table” versus “I believe honesty in a relationship is important.” The first one is a belief that can be dispelled by knowing a single fact; the second can be changed, but it would require a serious of “facts” that amount to new experiences. After knowing dozens of relationships ruined by honesty I might no longer hold the belief that honesty is good for a relationship.

Borg talks about this in terms of what the object of believing is. He says that during the Enlightenment, in response to emerging scientific exploration, some members of the church shifted from believing in God and the Church, to believing that a series of facts were true. According to Borg,

Thus, until about four centuries ago, believing in God and Jess did not mean “I believe that the following statements about God and Jesus are true.” Rather, to believe in God and Jesus had two primary meanings. It meant to trust in God and Jesus. . . . In addition, to “believe” meant to commit one’s allegiance, loyalty, and love to God and Jesus.

The point is not just a semantic one. If you believe, as in trust and are loyal to, God and Jesus, actions of charity seem to spring out naturally. You are not afraid of those who question, why should you be, you trust God. On the other hand, if you think believing means believing facts about God and Jesus, then non-believers are a real problem for you. It makes it harder for you to believe these things are true if others don’t. And–if you accept that notion of believing–your continued belief in these hard-to-believe things directly impacts your afterlife. So, you are naturally less tolerant.

What do you believe in? Does it shape the way you live your life and perceive your world?

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