Organised religion and unrestrained cynicism are both a threat to organic conversations about faith and doubt.
It is unfortunate that the conversations between people of faith in God and people with questions about God are led by religious fundamentalists and angry skeptics, both of whom showcase an excess of emotion, anger and vested interests in their own conclusions. But between these two extremes, there is a moderate middle where mature skeptics and humble believers can engage in meaningful conversation.
My great hope for this life is to drown out the fundamentalists on both sides by creating a culture of healthy inquiry into matters of faith and doubt.
It is assumed by fundamentalists in religious thinking that those who doubt are lacking in something; perhaps character, humility or the capacity for faith. Sometimes that is true, but it is more often a caricature of reality.
It is assumed by fundamentalists in non-religious thinking that those with faith are lacking in something; perhaps education, intelligence or the willingness to think reasonably. More often that is true, but it is sometimes a caricature of reality.
It is believed by some that those who have faith must naturally reject the nudge of doubt, but it is because we have faith that we must listen more carefully to the earnest cries of suspicion.
It is believed by some that those who are educated will naturally question the dogma of religion, but it is because we are educated that we must question the dogma of education.
If our education cannot teach us the difference between bad religion and wholesome faith—then our education has failed us or perhaps we have failed our education.
If our Bible cannot teach us the difference between religious Christianity and the way of Jesus—then our faith has failed us or perhaps we have failed our faith.
Western missionaries told us what we should believe about Jesus until western philosophers told us what we should not believe about Him. We trusted them both too quickly.
If the “uneducated” have quickly believed in bad religion, we must wonder why the “educated” have quickly accepted suspicion of faith as the natural alternative when there is a third way to think about things.
It is because we have reason that we can appreciate faith. It is because we have faith that we must think reasonably.
I have had conversations with sincere Christians who refuse to see the difference between Jesus and their fear-based, guilt-driven religion and continually use the words of God to justify the wickedness of men.
I have had conversations with angry skeptics who use exclusive language to condemn exclusivity and dogmatic tones to question dogma.
They are both difficult, ineffective and unproductive conversations.
Fortunately, I have had meaningful conversations with mature skeptics who appreciate the beauty of an honest exchange of ideas and I have had interesting conversations with religious Christians who have turned away from the burden of religion to walk in the way of Jesus.
The doubts of skeptics who turn away from anger have inspired my faith and their questions deepen my experience of God. The courage of Christians who turn away from religion have given me joy and their stories embody my hope for the world.
Such conversations are an enriching reality that ought to be the norm, but these are conversations that will not sell in mainstream media because they do not possess the drama, the excess and the conflict that drives internet traffic, television ratings or book sales.
Perhaps these are conversations that are not meant for mainstream media. Perhaps they are best enjoyed in living rooms and cafes, over a warm meal or a hot cup of coffee. Then perhaps, the middle can drown out the noisy extremes on either side with an inquisitive mind, in a mature conversation, with a humble hunger for the truth, and even possibly a good laugh.
Image Credit: Rudolf Vlček