Dear Friends,

I spent Tuesday night with 20,000 Evangelical Christians at a Hillsong concert.

It was part participant observation and part celebration, as Angie and I love the smash hit Oceans. (Don't at me!)

The raised arms testifying to the power of Jesus and narratives of sin and grace fulfilled many of the stereotypes of Christianity. This, for most of us, is what we think of when we hear the word ‘religion’ – the key test for which is whether or not you believe in God.

But this is a fundamentally incomplete understanding of religion - for two reasons.

First - religion is as much about practice as belief. Anthony Carroll and Richard Norman write in their book Religion and Atheism: Beyond The Divide that, "Religion is not best seen as a set of explanatory hypotheses about the nature and origin of the universe."

"Its practical dimension is vital, and that in turn means more than just providing ethical guidance. Commitment to a religion, with its practices and rituals and symbolism, furnishes a way of ‘being in the world’, making sense of one’s life and articulating one’s deepest emotions and experiences."

Judaism, for example, has always sat uncomfortably within the dominant definition of religion. Jews identify themselves through culture, tradition, or even ethnicity. Indeed, the dominant test of religiosity in Judaism is observing a set of practices – not belief.

Buddhism is largely uninterested in the question of God and much more engaged with the experience and cessation of suffering through practices, while Hinduism could hardly be described as a single ‘ism’ before Christian scholars fit it into their preconceived notions of religion in the nineteenth century.

The importance of practice echoes Alison Gopnik's wonderful conversation with Ezra Klein in which she argues that we don't care for others because we love them, but that we love them because we care for them. In the same way, we largely don't behave religiously because we believe, we believe because we behave religiously.

So why does this centrality of belief exist in our popular imagination? It stems largely from the dominance of Protestantism because of the Reformation's proclamation that faith alone would lead to salvation

And here's the second shortcoming.

Even if we take seriously Protestantism’s core claim, that word ‘faith’ is an imperfect translation from the Greek in which the New Testament is written. The Greek πίστης (pistis) can just as easily be read to mean ‘trust.’ Rather than thinking of religiosity as having strident certainty, this linguistic shift suggests vulnerability and hope. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams even suggests replacing the words "I believe" with "I trust," when reciting the creed to experience those words anew.

Mystic and philosopher Alan Watts agrees. “Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is like when you trust yourself to the water. You don't grab hold of the water when you swim, because if you do you will become stiff and tight in the water, and sink. You have to relax, and the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging and holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.”

Be that as it may, I wasn't quite ready to commit my life to Jesus as my Lord and Savior, so I headed out before the encore. Three hours of singing along was bound to have an impact sooner or later...

Have a wonderful weekend, Shabbat Shalom,

PS. If you want to explore practicing a tech sabbath (which I highly recommend!), check out Tiffany Shlain's new book 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week which is now available for pre-order.

Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
    could be cured with a hot bath,
says God from the bowels of the subway.
    but we want magic, to win
the lottery we never bought a ticket for.
    (Tenderly, the monks chant, embrace
the suffering.) The voice of God does not pander,
    offers no five year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
    Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
    darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

Mary Karr

h/t Hanna Thomas
Copyright © 2018 Casper ter Kuile, All rights reserved.

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