You’ve probably have heard many sermons over the years that bemoan the fact that there are too many in the congregation that are “Sunday Christians”. They come to church regularly to worship, praise and adore Jesus and to give thanks to God for their many blessings, but as soon as the service is over and they rush to the parking lot, it’s every “man” for himself. What happened to their sense of community and resolve to follow Jesus’ example and his admonition to love thy neighbor? Not just at the Sunday service! Perhaps they just don’t know who their neighbor is.
They seem to have forgotten how Jesus replied when a lawyer asked what the greatest commandment was. Jesus’ reply was that second to loving God, “To love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked who our neighbor is, He did not answer directly, He went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember, it was the Samaritan, who demonstrated compassion and love by caring for a man dying in the ditch, beaten, naked and abandoned from an assault by robbers? It was not the priest or the Levite who saw him their beaten, naked and abandoned. They passed on to the other side of the road, ignoring the victim. But along came a Samaritan, who instinctively showed his compassion. Hearing this parable at that time in history, must have had an impact on those who questioned Jesus, because they would have been very aware that there was no love lost between the Samaritans, who came from the north and Priest and Levite who came from the south.
When asked, Jesus refuses to define who our neighbor is. Instead he asked a question. “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands?” The lawyer who asked the original question sheepishly responded, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” Jesus’ message is clear; loving our neighbor is not limited to family or friends. It’s showing the love of God to all who are in need, whoever they may be, whatever faith they belong to. His message to us is the same, “Go and do the same.”
For us to follow Jesus, we must reflect God’s love by loving one another. Not just in words, not just to those who share our same beliefs, but by our actions to friends and enemies alike. It’s often easier said than done. Jesus is more direct in Matthew, 25:35, when He reminded us who we needed to serve, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me something to drink… I was naked and you gave me clothes…” etc. Then He was even more explicit in the Beatitudes (The Sermon on the Mountain), Matthew 5-6, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” And “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.” Etc. In our current vernacular, He was saying, If you want to follow me, you need to be a “change agent”.
I strongly recommend a website that deals with these issues in great depth, and has references for where to go to get involved in social action projects you might be interested in. The website is Following Jesus. It has examples of how we might follow Jesus almost two thousand years after his birth. For example, homelessness, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for the environment, or working for peace and justice, all have excellent references.
One of my good fortunes that I had on my life’s journey was to be sent by my bishop to study social work at Fordham University, so that I eventually could be director of Catholic Charities in Schenectady, NY. At that time I had no idea what social work as a profession was. I just obediently followed his orders. I soon was introduced and embraced social work, its values and it practice model for social change. It opened up a whole new world to me. It became my way of being a change agent and follow the social gospel.
I intend to use what I learned in my social work training as a model of change. It’s not the only model but it made sense to me. Social work is basically grounded in our Judaea/Christian heritage, which believes in the dignity and worth of every human being. It believes that we don’t have to become someone or belong to a certain religion, be of a certain gender or be heterosexual, or a member of a certain social cast or income level, rather just by being a human being we are already someone and we can thankfully accept our rights as outlined in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed…
For me, the social work practice model fits perfectly with my understanding of the type of action to affect change that Jesus might have had in mind for his followers in the 21st century. Social work doesn’t have the corner of the marked on the model I’m going to describe. Change theory is used by different organizational systems to achieve a higher degree of output or self-actualization. One of the differences with social work and other profession who are change orientated is that social work deals with both small and large systems, Micro and Macro. The underlying theory of social work practice for change is Person in Environment (PIE). As the title indicates, the focus for change is both on smaller system, e.g. individuals, families and small social networks (Micro); while the focal point of Macro practice is on changing larger systems, such as neighborhoods, communities, governments, and other organizations. That is, those systems that impinge on individuals and other smaller systems. Macro practice encompasses a broad spectrum of practice, including planning, program development, community organizing, policy analysis, legislative advocacy, program evaluation, task-oriented group work, community education, and human services management.
PIE is a holistic, since it is interested in effected change at different levels and takes into consideration cultural diversity. For example, a person who is homeless and hungry has an immediate need for shelter and food. Since a hungry person cannot eat retroactively, and has an immediate need for food, we follow Jesus’ example by providing food to the hungry person, but from a macro perspective we need to help change the other systems that might be causing the problem of hunger and homelessness. This could require advocating for jobs or job training, affordable housing, or programs to meet their needs until they can support themselves. We need to play both the role of enabler, by helping the person become capable of coping with situations or transitional stress by meeting their immediate needs and advocating for the resources they need to be able to pursue what Franklin D. Roosevelt – The Four Freedoms in his address to Congress on June 6, 1941. The third and fourth freedoms are particularly appropriate for macro change:
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
FDR goes on to articulate what I believe is a mandate for our engaging in social change. A mandate that I believe Jesus would have given if he lived in America in the 21st century.
Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions—without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society. From Congressional Record, 1941, Vol. 87, Pt. I.
For a powerpoint presentation on Social Change and Social Action that I developed when I was teaching at Walden University, click here. It provides:
- A Definition of Social Change
- Theories of Social Change
- Roles of Social Change Agents
- Ameliorator—Health and human service workers
- Social Reformer—Legislative Activists
- Social Actionists—Saul Alinski, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Rebel—Students for a Democratic Society
- Revolutionaries—Simbinese Liberation Army
- Strategies of Social Action
Have you noticed that an increasing number of formerly “religious” people identify themselves by saying, “I’m not religious but I am spiritual,”? I suspect that for many it’s because they’d rather say that, than identify themselves as an atheist or agnostic. Perhaps it’s because they have become disenchanted with organized religions for any number of reasons, but still believe in God and have a need to acknowledge a higher power, without having to profess a particular faith tradition.
I read in a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that approximately one-third of those who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic; which means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics. I’m not sure how many of those “ex-catholics” call themselves spiritual, but I suspect it is a high percentage.
My own experiences in speaking to many folks who do not identify themselves with any religion but identify themselves as spiritual, is that there is often confusion between religious and spirituality. A person I spoke to recently told me, “I suppose if I were being admitted to a hospital and they asked my religion, I’d tell them I’m catholic, even though I haven’t gone to church in years. If I were to say I’m a spiritual person, it might take too much explaining.” I’ve heard others say, “I’d tell them I’m a ‘recovering catholic’.” It’s this kind of ambivalence or confusion that prompted me to pursue this topic both here and on my blog.
Below, I have a number of links to the topic that I believe will be helpful in our dialoguing on religion and spirituality. I have them here as references that you may use when I bring up the topic on my blog. Or if you just want to explore the topic on your own, hopefully these articles and essays will be useful.
- Religion versus Spirituality a Spiritual Problem: Reconnecting Experience with Tradition by David Tacey – I suggest that this article by Dr. David Tacey be read first. I found it very helpful in distinguishing between religion and spirituality and realizing how they can work better together than separately. He argues that Spirituality and Religion are becoming disconnected and they need to be re-connected., since they both rely on the other. In his opinion, Religion focuses more on community and worship and, spirituality is usually, but not always, based more on an individual’s experience. I personally have a need for both a sense of community and my own sense of awe, when I meditate, read inspirational book, or just discuss a specific topic with someone else. All of these spiritual experiences can lead to feeling of awe.
- This is an article by Emmy Silvius, a lay theologian, that appeared in the Australian website Catholica – Her commentary is based mainly on Dr. Tacey’s premise of how religion and spirituality might be reconnected. Her belief is that Spirituality is not just a selfish, individualistic pursuit, but that it has a community aspect.
- The author of this web page asks the question: “I think that Spirituality is believing the universe is alive, and Religion is believing it expects something of you. What do you think?” Good question! Basically, it’s a position the Creation Spirituality believers embrace. (see Mathew Fox’s website) So, what do you think?
- The Journal of Religion and Spirituality – This journal has a number of resources that can be very helpful.
- Enlightened-Spirituality. There are a number of interesting web pages on this web site. For example if you scroll down the main page, you’ll find information about how a variety of religions describe and practice spirituality: Buddhism, traditions of the Jewish Kabbalah, Hinduism, Islam etc.
- Interesting interview with Dr. Micael Ledwith – Since he retired as a catholic priest he has gone on to appear in the groundbreaking film, What the Bleep Do We Know? He has also produced three volumes so far in his own series of DVDs that deal with fundamental matters in relation to spiritual evolution, and three more of which were scheduled for release in 2010/2011. In 2008 Ledwith published The Orb Project, a book detailing his intensive five-year study of orbs, which was co-authored with German physicist Klaus Heinemann. He is currently working on a new series of books titled Forbidden Truth, a three-volume work that focuses on human destiny and the mechanics of spiritual evolution. The interview with Dr. Ledwith and SuperConsciousness Magazine speaks at length about his life, his choices, and his passion to know God as himself.
- The following reading illustrates some parallels between Native American spirituality and the Buddhist way of life. The authors of this web site chose themes and readings for their proximity to Buddhist teachings. They are not meant to suggest that Native American spirituality and Buddhism are the same or share similar historical source, both are different from one another but share some similar viewpoints and religious experiences.
- This web site is authored by Orrin Lewis, a Cherokee. He says in his introduction that, “This is my personal homepage – I am old-fashioned and I don’t like to put my picture on the Internet.” He might be old fashioned, but his web site contains a wealth of information besides this article entitled Seeking Native American Spirituality: Start Here.
- This article by Jody A. Long, J.D., Near Death Experience, Religion and Spirituality, is described by the author as one of the last frontiers of study surrounds spirituality and Near Death Experience (NDE). She also suggests that this is a highly sensitive issue due to the nature of religion. What this study attempts to do is to objectively look at the data submitted by NDErs to the website and to categorize the answers. Questions that are analyzed include pre and post NDE religious preference, and changed beliefs. There are some surprising results that focus on universal purpose and order gained from NDE understandings.
- There are a number of rich spiritualities within the catholic tradition. These spiritualities have their origin in great spiritual leaders after whom they are named; for example, Franciscan spirituality is attributed to teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, and so on. A particular spirituality is a system, or schema of beliefs, virtues, ideals and principles which form a particular way to approach God and therefore all life in general.Even though these spiritualities are different, does not mean they are contradictory. They all have their roots in the same Christian heritage and they all aim at the same goal – to love as Jesus loved. The difference is a matter of emphasis. The differences give each approach its unique character traits.To mention just a few of the more familiar: Ingnatian Spirituality, Franciscan Spirituality, Benedictine Spirituality and Dominican Spirituality.
- In addition to those from the catholic tradition, here is a website that provides spirituality from other faith traditions including: Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslin.
I believe that since faith and beliefs are so often confused, it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the differences. If I were to design a bumper sticker for this topic, it would be, Keep the Faith but Question the Beliefs.
Theologian and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Harvey Cox, in his book, The Future of Faith, describes a conversation he had with a friend, who described himself as “a practicing Christian but not always a believing one.” Initially Cox was surprised with his friend’s statement, but the more he thought about it, he came to the conclusion that to call oneself a practicing Christian but not a believing one acknowledges the certainties and uncertainties that mark the life of any religious person. When I read his book, I realized I had come to the same conclusion about the differences between faith and beliefs a number of years ago, but I just wasn’t able to articulate it as well as he did. In my case, the more I studied the magisterium tradition of the Catholic Church, and the fathers of the church, the more I came to the conclusion that many of the beliefs of my pre-Vatican II background did not pass the litmus test of my conscience.
My faith was in the Jesus of what Cox calls the Age of Faith, the first three centuries after Jesus died, when the early church was more interested in following Jesus’ teachings than making obligatory what to belief about Jesus. The Jesus that I believe in and in whom my faith is grounded in is: the Jesus who gave us the Beatitudes and his example of how to live; the Jesus who focused on compassion for the disenfranchised. As Dr. Cox observed, when he realized how faith and beliefs were not the same,
“To focus the Christian life on beliefs rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught ‘faith’ consists of dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds, this came as a welcomed liberation.” Amen!
This webpage provides a number of references to faith and beliefs. It primarily focuses on the Christian tradition. It does not pretend to be all inclusive. The references are meant to be background for future discussions on my blog or as possible sources for your spiritual reading.
From Blind Belief to Enlightened Faith – Reprint from the Theosophical Movement. The following is a quote from the article that is characteristic of the author’s position.
“Blind belief passing through the fire of reason emerges as enlightened faith, casting off the ashes of exclusiveness, fanaticism and bigotry. If a man of religious belief passed from blind belief to real knowledge and practised the ethics of his own creed, he would soon be forced to discard the exclusiveness of that creed and to embody its universal aspects. Thus enlightened faith comes to birth.”
- Faith Versus Belief. Posted in The Thinker by Jeffrey Ellis. In addition to this article there are a number of interesting topics that the website covers.
- The Omega Connection – Faith and Belief. A brief but interesting article.
- Bill Moyer’s website Faith and Reason, contains a wealth of information about faith and beliefs. It contains dozens of interview of religious leaders from every denomination, scientists who have positive and negative views about religion and in depth articles and programs both in text format or tapes of actual intervies. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/faithandreason/index.html
- Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (New York: Harper, 2009). 16. The author of classic, The Secular City, writes his last book before retiring from Harvard University, on the difference between faith and beliefs and how important this distinction is for the future of faith.
- Donald F. Fausel, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith: The Memoir of a Cradle Catholic. (Bloomington, IN. 2010 iUniverse) Fausel’s Memoir is a combination of stories of his life pre and post-Vatican II, including his time as a catholic priest, his struggles with many beliefs of the church, his dispensation from the priesthood and his reflections on his life’s journey, back to a responsible faith in his catholic tradition.
- Judy J. Johnson. What’s So Wrong about Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Beliefs – This webpage is a commentary that Johnson contributed to her book in the Australian website Catholica. After considering some of the major features of dogmatism: the power of dogmatism and its psychological aspects, its intolerance of ambiguity and its authoritarian positions, the author concludes that “It seems reasonable to conclude that, given that features of dogmatism become manifest in social institutions, the challenge for scientists, religious leaders, and politicians – indeed, for all of us – is to open our minds about dogmatic thought; first and foremost our own.”
- Faith and Foolishness: When Religious Beliefs Become Dangerous – This is an article in Scientific America, by Lawerence M. Krauss, that offers statistics about the high percentage of respondent who discard scientific facts in favor of their religious beliefs.
- What is Belief, What is Faith? This is a video on YouTube by Randall Niles.
He suggests that beliefs are something we arrive at after a period of time when we intellectually accept a premise, either because of a preponderance of the evidence or evidence beyond a reasonable time, while Faith is when we put our beliefs into action. He provides an interesting but simple example (parable) of a tight rope walker who successfully walks across Niagara to the amazement of large crowd of on-lookers. When he finishes, he ask the crowd if they believe he can walk across Niagara Falls. They all shout yes! He then pushes a barrel across the falls and ask the same question and get the same answer. Next he puts a friend in the barrel and pushes the barrel across the falls. When he finishes he asks if they believe he can push someone across the falls in a barrel. They all respond excitedly, “we believe,” his response to the crowd is, “whose next?” That, says Randall, is the difference between Belief and Faith. Faith requires putting beliefs into action.
- Here’s a summary by Meghan Smith, News Editor, of The Gavel Online on March 25, 2011, of an address at Boston College by Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late senator, Ted Kennedy. It is on faith and political beliefs. She said at one point, as a young girl, growing up in a Democratic family, she actually thought that Jesus must have been a Democrat, because He advocated for all the things that she learned growing up: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and reach out to the poor and disadvantage, all things that were a vital part of her family’s beliefs.
- Mark Powel, on Faith vs. Beliefs
This is a video on YouTube by Mark Powell giving his views of the French Theologian Jacques Ellul on faith and beliefs. On the same You Tube page there are a number of other spiritual topics that Jacques Ellul presents, that are worth listening to.