Some Thoughts on Belief
There’s been a lot of talk lately at the pub and in the press about faith and belief. An apocryphal story has been told that says something very profound about the nature of belief in our society.
The story is told of Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian Cosmonaut and the first person to have gone into orbit and in outer space. When he came back to the earth, there was a reception for him in the Kremlin. During the course of the reception, Nikita Khrushchev, then the general secretary of the Communist Party and the head of state, slowly led him in the study and said, “Comrade Yuri, you are the first man to have gone into space. I want to ask you a question, and I want an honest answer from you. Out there in space, was there a heaven? Were there gates of pearl? Streets paved with gold? Angels? God? Did you see anything like that?”
Khrushchev said, “Well comrade, this is what I always feared. But you know that you cannot say this to anybody else, because the Communist Party depends on NOT having heaven up there.”
Then he was taken on a world tour to further propagate this great achievement of the Russian State.
He also came to the Vatican, and he was given a reception in the Vatican and a private audience with the Pope. The Pope also took him aside and asked, “Brother Yuri, you are the first one to have gone into outer space. Now tell me, did you see a heaven and God and angels and Peter standing at the gates of pearl?”
Yuri was reminded of the warning given by Khrushchev, so he said, “Holy Father, I am so sorry to tell you but there is no such thing up there.” And the Pope said, “This is what I always feared. But you know you cannot talk about this outside.”
What might this story tell us about belief in our culture?
Mike Friesen recently asked on his blog, “How important is belief in God for Christians?”
“Growing up in an Evangelical church, I thought that belief was the most important thing to Christian faith. We placed enormous emphasis on the Bible as the end-all-be-all of the Christian faith (unfortunately, we never developed real spiritual practices). And, as I get older, I find myself reading the bible more, loving the bible more, and caring about what the Bible says and what it means for not only my life, but for those around me. I find the authority in scripture. When I turned 16, I began having thoughts like: Do I believe in God? Or, do I believe in my pastors beliefs in God? Do I have my own answers? Or, do I have the answers of those around me?
Does one believe in God, if they just believe the teachings of their pastor? Maybe a better way is to say, by believing in the Christian religion, does religion believe for me? And, does what makes you a good Christian come from a checklist of beliefs?”
Marcus Borg notes that faith and belief have shifted in our culture over time. (Below excerpt from: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Bible)
“The modern preoccupation with factuality has had a pervasive and distorting effect on how we see the Bible and Christianity.
Christianity in the modern period became preoccupied with the dynamic of believing or not believing. For many people, believing ‘iffy’ claims to be true became the central meaning of the Christian faith. It is an odd notion – as if what God wants from us is believing highly problematic statements to be factually true. And if one can’t believe them, then one doesn’t have faith and isn’t a Christian.
The thoroughly modern character of this notion of faith can be seen by comparing what faith meant in the Christian Middle Ages. During those centuries, basically everybody in the Christian culture thought the Bible to be true. They had no reason to think otherwise; the Bible’s stories from creation through the end of the world were part of the conventional wisdom of the time. Accepting them did not require ‘faith.’ Faith had to do with one’s relationship to God, not with whether one thought the Bible to be true.
For me, being Christian is not about believing in the Bible or about believing in Christianity. Rather, it is about a deepening relationship with the God to whom the Bible points, lived within the Christian tradition as a sacrament of the sacred.”
What do you think? What does belief entail? What role does it play in the life of faith? Do you resonate with any of the thoughts and questions above?
Post your thoughts or comments below!