Is Faith Correlated to Religion? (and other great questions)

What a busy and challenging summer this has been.  Blogging has necessarily been on the back burner.

What’s brought me out of my hiatus are heartfelt questions posted  a few days ago in response to my comments about the film “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.”  I wanted to share the questions and my response, and also to ask how others would respond to Kate’s queries:

Do you believe that faith is directly correlated to religion as the Sheikh had suggested? Or do you believe that faith can be correlated to what we have experienced and what we know? It is obviously possible for both to be directly correlated because religion can be what a person knows, but is faith possible without religion? I am assuming, because of your URL, you are religious, I, however, and an unproclaimed nineteen year old, curious about the world. ( I just finished the film and I have found myself unable to sleep, as my mind is running wild with these ideas)

And here is my response to Kate (slightly edited because every time you look at your own writing you see stuff that makes you cringe.  Or maybe that’s just me):

Kate, those are excellent questions. First, let me say that questions are awesome; they are our primary way of exploring and discovering what is true. Too many “religious” folks discourage questions, but I believe God values our questions – and that God is big enough to handle our questions and even our doubts. (Mark 9:24.)  As to your specific questions . . .

Do I “believe that faith is directly correlated to religion . . . or . . . that faith can be correlated to what we experience and what we know?” Yes. You see, I don’t think the “or” belongs between those two questions. If we define “religion” as our attempt to faithfully follow God, then I don’t believe that believing in God and trying to live out our belief faithfully is exclusive to our experiences and/or our knowledge. When I was an unChristian (an atheist/agnostic), I thought that to be a Christian you had to check your brain at the door of the church. But what I discovered, once I began to explore the Bible and theology, is that there is nothing anti-intellectual about Christianity . . . although there are certainly some Christians who are anti-intellectual. The mind of God is infinite; therefore, we will never fully understand God in a lifetime, or even an eternity, of striving.

If Christianity was totally antithetical to my experience, then I would not be one, much less a pastor. What Christianity explains is what my experience tells me is the human condition – I am capable of incredible selfishness, but also of acts that are self-sacrificing. Lutheran theology has a way of talking about this – we are totally “saint” and totally “sinner” at the same time. We are people created (and recreated in Baptism) in God’s image, but also people who fall short of God’s plan for us and are therefore in need of forgiveness. We are forgiven totally by the grace of God, not by anything that we do (or that we could do).*

You also ask if faith is possible without religion. Certainly! When I was an unChristian I had faith in lots of stuff – friends, family, my Isuzu I-Mark, the power of words and language, The Who, and especially knowledge. But I have come to believe that the only “thing” that is worthy of ultimate, eternal faith is God . . . and God’s promises.

So, I am sorry to hear that you are having trouble sleeping, but I am glad that you are searching and questioning. I have been there, and seeking can be an uncomfortable place to be. But it is the way to Truth (and I do believe there is a capital-”T” truth among all the lower-case “t” truths).

Finally, it is awesome that a film could inspire so much thought. It is an example of the power of art, and of God’s power to use artistic expression for God’s purposes.

So, how would you answer Kate’s questions.  Or how would you question my response?

[*That paragraph was partially inspired by Pastor Nadia Bolz Webber‘s excellent message at the ELCA Youth Gathering – you can see it here.]


About pastordavesimpson

I'm an unexpected pastor. Why unexpected? Because no one is more surprised than me that I'm a pastor. See the "About" page on my blog for more info.
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