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.
The more I read and researched the faith community’s involvement as advocates for saving our planet, the more I was impressed, and encouraged by how much impact their commitment has had locally, nationally and internationally. It became apparent to me that scientists cannot make changes in global warming alone. They supply the empirical data that we base our judgments on as to whether or not our earth is in peril, and if we are responsible for its condition. The faith based leaders provide the theological underpinning based on a belief that we all are “stewards of creation”.
Another surprise for me was that despite the diverse traditions and beliefs the major religious communities have, they are able to work together on their common concern for creation. Abortion, gay marriages etc. seemed to pale in comparison to their mutual concern for our responsibility for the future of mother earth. In this commentary, I will focus on the contributions of Popes John Paul and Benedict, and the catholic bishops in confronting the dangers of Global climate change. In a future commentary I’ll provide an ecumenical view of how the various faith communities are working together to preserve planet earth for future generations.
STEWARDS OF OUR PLANET
The Stewardship movement is a shared sense of moral purpose; with roots that are in the beliefs of major faiths’ communities. All of our faith traditions call on us to serve the poor and vulnerable. In the case of global warming, the poor will be the ones who will suffer the most. In the Christian tradition, Jesus emphasized two great commandments, to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Most of us have the loving ourselves part down pretty well. It’s the love for God and his Creation and our neighbors that we need to work on. The catch is, our values aren’t our values unless we act on them.
The religious leaders provide the theological underpinning in their interpretation of our responsibility for maintaining God’s Creation. I chose to first focus in this commentary on the Catholic theology of stewardship and sustainability of all creation, not because it’s my faith tradition, but mainly because when we think of the life that God has created, and the Catholic Church, we usually think of about things they are against, like abortion or same sex marriages. We don’t immediately associate the Catholic Hierarchy with promoting God’s love for the earth that he created. I believe that if the earth is to survive, it needs all faith traditions to prioritize sustainability as the sine qua non for mother earth’s continued existence.
STANDING IN SOLIDARITY
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis Assisi
It seemed appropriate to include a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi, who in recent times has been declared The Patron Saint of the Environmental Movement because his life and teachings were models of living in harmony with nature and being at peace with the earth and all living creatures. The prayer, like St. Francis’ life is simple and direct. Also, many of us hope that the fact that the new pope chose Francis as his name, is a sign he was sending a message of how he intends to model his papacy on St. Francis’ life. At this early point Francis has made several positive statements about his position on our responsibility for the environment. His first homily as a pope at his inauguration on the feast of St. Joseph is a good example. In several paragraphs he makes an analogy of St. Joseph’s role as protector of the holy family to our role of protectors of God’s creation. Pope Francis reminds us that “…whenever we fail to care for creation, and for our brothers and sisters, the way is open to destruction and hearts are hardened….and later he continues…To protect creation, to protect every man and every women, to look upon them with the tenderness and love, is to open up the horizon of hope…” [LINK] It seems obvious, that if we are not protectors of mother earth, what else will there remain to protect. To paraphrase the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are those who protect Mother Earth for they shall be the eternal children of God.
Up to this point, Pope Francis has continued to emphasize our role as protectors of the ecology. In an Audience he had with representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial communities of different religions, [LINK] He reminded the ecumenical group that, “The Church is likewise conscious of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect.” In another part of his talk he pointed out that, “…men and woman, who although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, …are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in safeguarding and caring for creation.” Hopefully he will continue to prioritize in a ecumenical way the importance of supporting climate change and acknowledging the impact that our failure to act will have on future generations.
THE GREEN POPE
Francis I is not the first pope who addressed the issue of climate change straight on. Although many of us will remember Pope Benedict XVI for his deep-rooted conservatism and, on many levels his efforts to keep the Church from embracing the 21st Century; others will blame him for how the church’s child abuse scandal was mishandled, and how his views on contraception have contributed to the spread of AIDS, but I suspect that relatively few know that he was named the Green Pope. Whether or not Benedict should be given the title of Green Pope is debatable and not all that important. As far as his position on the environment is concerned, I believe there is little doubt that the stance he took was a progressive one. Given the alternatives of either denying the dangers of global warming or taking a neutral position, he chose to be a prophet for God’s creation.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
What Father Mc Donald doesn’t take into account in his article is the impact the writings and actions of both popes have had on the response of the People of God from the bishops on down, or perhaps from the faithful on up. I’d like to think of it as a shared interest. Since, I’m most familiar with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), I’ll just focus on a very few of the many initiatives that were stimulated by John Paul II 1990 message referenced above. Here’s one from Australia—the website for the Catholic Earthcare Australia. It was established by ACBC in 2002 as an agency of the Catholic Bishops Commission for Justice and Development. It’s a good example of how John Paul II’s call to “stimulate and sustain the ecological conversion” was heard and responded to in Australia. If you haven’t already, check their website [LINK] it has dozens of projects where folks can become agents of social change for the planet.
Here’s one project that ACBC is currently piloting; an initiative for schools, parishes, church organizations, and congregations to achieve ecological sustainability. It’s called ASSISI, an acronym for, A Strategic Systems-based Integrated Sustainable Initiative. Click here to find out more about ASSISI or here to check resources, references, and other projects. I have dozens of references but here’s one more from the 2002 Australian Catholic Bishops Statement on the Environment entitled What Can We Do? [LINK] It has a number of suggestions that you and I can take as shareholders of planet earth.
This posting on the website of the USCCBs is a good example of the type of advocacy the Bishops in the United States have taken. It’s under the title of U.S. Bishops Call for Moral Focus on Global Climate Change.[LINK] It includes a letter from the Chair of the Bishops Committee, Thomas Wenski to the members of the United States Congress. The letter refers back to 2001 when the bishops’ statement Global Climate Change A Plea for Dialogue Prudence and the Common Good, [LINK] which I believe is a classic statement that served as a basis for taking personal action. It’s a comprehensive resource for parishes, with information that catholics can use to better understand the connection between faith and the environment, and the urgency of dealing with “…the moral and human dimensions of climate change.” Then there is the Faithful Stewards of God’s Creation a book that the USCCBs developed which is also a resource for distribution to parishes, religious organizations, and schools that includes much of the information in the documents above, along with a DVD.
A section on USCCB’s website, A Catholic Resource for Environmental Justice and Climate Change [LINK] provides dozens of resources. Just click on one of the sub-titles on the left hand side of the page. For example, What are Catholics Doing provides description of programs in eight states and one region which received grants from the USCCBs. Now that’s faith in action! Another sub-title What We Can Do has four topics: A Personal Reflection, Taking Action in My State; Taking Action Nationally; and Taking Action Globally. You can also join their mail list for up-dates.
This is a short story about St. Patrick’s Grammar School in Chatham, New Jersey and their Environment Club, whose president was fifth-grader, William Brockman. To make a long story short, I just wanted to quote President Brockman’s wise words,
“There’s so much we can do to save the planet. At St. Patrick’s, we are learning as much as possible. We are environmentally aware. We need to conserve energy and our non-renewable resources. God has gifted us with the earth. We must do something to protect it.”
Out of the mouths of children… If you’re interested in the whole story, here it is [LINK]
Until the next time when the topic will be on the interfaith environment initiatives. I’d like to leave you with The St. Francis’ Environmental Pledge, from the Catholic Climate Covenant, [LINK] with the hope it might motivate you to get involved with environmental movement.
I/We Pledge to:
- PRAY and reflect on the duty to care for God’s Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.
- LEARN about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.
- ASSESS how we-as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations-contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.
- ACT to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change.
- ADVOCATE for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable
I just flashed back to the 1940ies, when if a news story broke between the time the morning paper and evening paper were published, there would be a special addition of the paper. If you happened to be downtown, you’d see and hear paperboys in their corduroy knickers and wool caps, waiving papers with large headlines, like JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR. To get your attention that something important happened, they’d yell at the top of their voices, Extra! Extra! Read all about it!Well, Stop the Press, I’m breaking into the commentary I was writing, because I am concerned with several issues that aren’t actually new, but have irrupted to a new level recently and need to be addressed as breaking news, on climate change and global warming.My hope is that I can provide you with enough information to realize at an intellectual and emotional level, that we are not winning the climate change and global warming battle, and encourage you to put these issues of environmental justice on the same level for change, as we do social justice.
I believe that each of us has a responsibility to learn everything we can about climate change and global warming, so we can become part of the solution, not as scientists but as followers of Jesus. I believe Jesus would be leading the way to save Mother Earth, if his earthly ministry were during the 21st Century. This commentary will provide basic scientific knowledge for us to be informed advocates for future generations.
WHAT IS GLOBAL WARMING, CLIMATE CHANGE AND GREENHOUSE GASSES?
Just so we’re all on the same page, as they say, here are some brief definitions of some of the major terms that are often confusing. Climate change and global warming are the terms that are commonly and often used interchangeably; however they are two different phenomena. They both are causing drastic changes to our planet. Climate change is change in the climate of a region of the world, which occurs over a long period of time. Global warming is the rise in the average temperature of the atmosphere surrounding the Earth. Most scientists agree that Global warming and Climate change are a threat for every living thing on earth.
The Greenhouse effect is the change in the earth’s climate caused by accumulation of solar heat in the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Human activity contributes increasing amounts of the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbon, to the atmosphere. Some of the particles and gases in the atmosphere also allow more sunlight to filter through to the earth’s surface but reflects much of the radiant infrared energy that otherwise would escape through the atmosphere back into space. For more information here is a website article entitledThe Connection between Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change, and Global Warming,[LINK]andanother, Greenhouse Gases and Why they are Increasing on the website ofUS Energy Information Administration(EIA) [LINK]
THE DANGER OF THE CLIMATE CLIFF
For several months the local, national, and international media has focused on the consequences of United States congress letting us go over the Fiscal Cliff , and the likelihood that its lack of action would have on the global economy. As we all know now, after keeping us in suspense at the very brink of a likely disaster, they came up with a “stop gap solution” that kicked the proverbial can down the road. As irresponsible as the way congress handled that situation was, it pales in comparison with how the power elite in our global community refuses to acknowledge the scientific facts that we are getting dangerously close to the tipping point of going over the Climate Cliff.
In early January of 2013, Moyers and Co. aired a TV program entitled, Ending the Silence on Climate Change, hosted by Bill Moyers. In his introduction Moyers took what some might think is a provocative position of our going over the Climate Cliff. He warned, “Meanwhile another reality beckons and there’s a menace more threatening than the Fiscal Cliff. What should really be scaring the daylights out of us-the crisis which could makeall others irrelevant-is global warming. Get this one wrong and its over-not just for the USA, but for planet Earth.” His interview with scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of theYale Project on Climate Change Communication, and specialist in the psychology of risk perception, made his position on theClimate Cliff more plausible. To paraphrase James Carville’s slogan that he coined for Bill Clinton’s election campaign, “It’s the climate change, stupid”!
In addition to providing important scientific information about global warming, Leiserowitz provides answers to the questions, “Why isn’t this planetary emergency on every politicians mind? Why are any of us still silent?” He also points out: the theme of social justice, that we have a responsibility to take care of the poor, the sick, the powerless both in our own country, and around the world; the argument that how can it be okay in good conscience for us to “…ignore a problem that’s going to push millions of people around the world into the exact same kinds of circumstances we’re trying to help them with”; the need to engage both the faith, secular and scientific communities and identifies six groups, all with different needs for information in order to become engaged with part of the solution. Additionally he provides a number of solutions, which as I said above I’ll cover in another commentary. Here is the video of Moyers’ interview. [LINK] It’s approximately fifty minutes, and right under the screen is a link to a full transcript of the interview.
THE TIPPING POINT
In my last commentary in Catholica, The Creeping Culture of Consumerism [LINK], I discussed how we needed to become more conscious and conscientious consumers by reconsidering how we value and acquired stuff, and for the sake of the planet, how we dispose of stuff. Our appetite for accumulating more stuff than we need not only has an effect on us spiritually. How can we damage our environment by not disposing our stuff properly, and live a spiritual life at the same time?
I don’t presume to be an expert on climatology, but I have been researching what some of the most acknowledged scientist have concluded. Here is an eBook entitled, Storm Warnings: Climate Change and Extreme Weather. The book was published by the editors of Scientific American, which is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. You can go to Amazon.com “to look inside” and read sections including the Table of Contents, which lists 22 articles from different authors. After reading the book, I felt as if I completed a course in Climatology 101. The book is available for $3.00. [LINK]
Here’s a book with a provocative title, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. I suspect that title was chosen to attract attention, because the author, Clive Hamilton, questions others who use environmental warnings that are apocalyptic, and his text is less seditious than his title. He is clearly concerned that the growth of global greenhouse gas emission which is now “…exceeding the worst case scenarios of a few years ago, and we will pass the tipping points that will trigger irreversible changes in climate…” However, instead of debating the science, he focuses on why people, including some scientists, deny climate change and oppose most steps offered to prevent it. Hamilton believes that the reason most politians don’t act on the findings of the majority of scientists, is because they are trumped by “… power, money, bureaucratic inertia, and our own innate desire to ignore what we don’t want to believe.” It’s clear that he believes that large corporations are the major offenders behind climate change resistance. So we’re not dealing with just the problem of climate change, but with the power elites, and our own tendency to ignore problems by denial. As they say in the 12 step programs, “denial is not a river in Egypt” it’s the elephant in the living room that everybody ignores.
In the early chapters he describes gloomy probabilities for the environment’s destiny given the power of the contrarians. But later in the book he offers solutions. He calls for action-immediately and resolutely. But even if the future looks grim, Hamilton’s position is, “…action is the best cure for despair.”
FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN
Whether or not you have grandchildren, here’s a book for everyone who’s concerned about the safety and wellbeing of future generations: The Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe, by James Hansen. It’s available as an eBook on Amazon.com for $3.00. Here is some more information about the author and his book. [LINK]
Rather than giving my version of his positions on the damage global warming is having on our environment, here is a twenty minute presentation he gave on the TED YouTube series. You’ll see a person, who is not only an eminent scholar and expert on global warming, but a grandfather who is deeply concerned about his grandchildren’s future on a planet that is moving towards disaster, and a social activist who is willing to go to jail for the sake of future generations. [LINK]
At the risk of overloading you, here’s a recent fifteen minute YouTube interview with James Hansen, entitled Human Fingerprints on Sandy, in which he connects climate change as one of the major causes of Hurricane Sandy as well as: storms, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts, that are increasing in scale, severity and frequency. [LINK] If you’re interested in an extended interview with Hansen click here [LINK] .
SWAT THE MOSQUITOES OR CLEAN UP THE SWAMP?
As a former professor of mine advised me over fifty years ago, “We need to keep our hands on the near things and our eyes on the far things.” He put it in more concrete language when he said, “As social workers we need to swat the mosquitoes and clean up the swamps at the same time.” It seemed to be wise advice at the time. It fit well with my religious values, and with the ethics of the profession of social work that I practiced and taught for well over thirty years. Social work practice focused for years on the Person in their Environment (PIE). Until recently the environments that they dealt with, were limited to the family, small groups, communities, and large organizations, like corporations. However, in the last dozen years the social work profession has begun to realize how important it is to be committed to environmental issues, while at the same time not abandoning their responsibility to the Person in their Environment. So the old adage of the mosquitoes and the swamp still applies. The difference is that our sense of environment extends to Mother Earth.
My point is, that just as the profession of social work has adapted to the 21st century and is becoming more involved with the survival and sustainability of future generations, I believe that we all have to be equally involved in that mission. I intend to write a follow-up commentary on strategies we can use personally to be part of the solution in our everyday lives, and how we can work in solidarity with those who have been laboring in the vineyard of cosmic social change. I will pay special attention to the role the Catholic Church and other faith communities have taken in sounding the warning bell that the fate of our planet is our Common Responsibility. I am convinced that if we don’t make it a priority to become part of the solution of global warming, future generations will suffer. Personally, I’ve decided that however much time I have left, my mission is to do what I can to become involved and promote causes, whose focal point is sustaining our planet. At this point, anything else seems like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.
Let us pray for the environment!
PRAYER for the ENVIRONMENT
teach us to conserve, preserve, and use wisely
the blessed treasures of our wealth-stored Earth.
Help us to share your bounty, not waste it,
or pervert it into peril for our children or our neighbors in other nations.
You who are life and energy and blessings,
teach us to revere and respect our tender world.