Sunday, April 13, 2008

Belief Divides; Doubt Unites

Two years ago, the fellow who purchased my auction item of the right to choose a sermon topic suggested the idea that "belief divides and doubt unites". The English actor Peter Ustinov was one of many who coined phrases with that theme and my congregant and his wife had seen a play in Seattle where the adage was featured in a poster.

Tragically, before he and I could have a conversation about the sermon, he died suddenly and the sermon has been on hold ever since. His wife has grieved his tragic death long and hard and has not been ready to set a date for me to offer the sermon until now. We have set the date for June 15 and I will talk with her about it in advance, to get a sense of where she thinks he might have wanted me to go with it.

I have seen many references to this concept lately: the Dalai Lama, visiting Seattle right now, referred to how religious belief is so often a source of conflict and division. We see belief, both secular and religious, causing division in our presidential campaign. We as Americans are deeply divided by belief.

This is going to be a hard sermon to write, because I am still grieving the man's death as well. I want to honor him and do so in a way that recognizes his many strengths and the contributions he made to our congregation. Yet I still feel the loss strongly and find my emotion about it creeping in whenever I start to think about how to present his topic.

Your thoughts about this topic might help me start to get past the grief and on into serving his memory appropriately. Please have at it! It would be a great kindness. I'll be grateful for your help.


Lizard Eater said...

I think if you grabbed any random stranger off the street, within a short while, you’d be able to find a belief that divided you and a doubt that united you.

I think of the many cancer-parent friends I’ve made. Many of them have a religious faith that I don’t share. But when we share our doubts … oh, we are all in the same club. We don’t understand why this happens. We question what we did. We question our treatment.

And every time it’s time for scans … we lose our faith. We doubt. And we are united.

I go to my beloved church. We are all the same religion. But we do not all share the same beliefs. Someone tells me of her belief that before we are born, we choose our life circumstances. I look at Little Warrior and back at the church member. A gate slams between us. We are divided.

Mile High Pixie said...

The very fact that you would nto let go of the topic and would want to speak on it is a fitting tribute, to me. Perhaps you could speak on it more than once? It seems like a deep topic. You can approach it from a political-then-spiritual angle, a totally spiritual angle, a historical angle. There's a lot there. I say good luck narrowing it down!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your thoughts, LE and Pixie. They are helpful.

And LE, we lit a candle for your family and LW today at Joys and Sorrows.

The Favorite Son said...

I can’t quite allow myself to agree with “Belief Divides, Doubt Unites” although LE made a very good example. Personal belief does tend to divide; it is a personal journey that, by its very act, separates you from everyone else and boils down to how you interact with your DoC. Ask any of the “Born-Again” folks how they ended up being born (again) and you will get radically different answers (as far as their life/spiritual journeys are concerned). If you ask others of the same congregation what they think of the aforementioned journey, they internally compare it to their own journey and either be impressed or feel that their journey was more poignant. I don’t really feel as if they are keeping a scorecard (although it seems that way sometimes), but the only thing they have to compare the other’s journey to, is their own journey. There is no Platonic ideal of religious/spiritual belief, each of us are seeing shadows on the cave wall.
But there is a flip side to belief, social belief, and social belief unites people (sometimes scarily so). It is what joined people together in making change that they felt were for the good for society. Two of the most infamous examples of the twentieth century are Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Communist Russia. Of these two, both the means and the ends were horrible, but the belief that united these societies was not evil. Both groups were united against corrupt governments, starvation, and a belief that life could be better. Unfortunately, both societies came under control of sociopathic megalomaniacs who turned the belief for their own ends. On a more positive note, the Twentieth Century saw other movements, including Gandhi’s movement for a free India, MLK and the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War protests. While they did divide initially, they united people under a common belief. And after that belief manifested into reality, the division slowly healed. (One of my Uncle’s best friends was “Ordinance Disposal” in Vietnam; my Uncle was a student deferment. My Uncle was one of the few people that the friend would talk to about his experiences)

Doubt also is a two-edged (s)word. It feels good to be able to talk with someone and feel superior to the topic. People make references to “preaching to the choir” but we all do it, especially if the subject is one in which we feel morally superior about. We want that validation that our opinion is unassailable, and it’s easy to unit with people who have the same doubts. Social doubting unites in the same way that social belief does.
By the same token, personal doubting divides. If you do not, or can not believe in yourself; if you doubt your own actions, it divides you from others. People don’t want to be around someone who is a mealy, wishy-washy person. We all know someone like that. You want to be nice, but their constant self-depreciation makes you want to strangle them. They usually aren’t taken seriously, no matter how credible or talented they are. And it usually is because they doubt themselves at some deep level.

Instead of saying “Belief divides, doubt unites” I prefer to look at it as “Society unites, individuality divides” and neither one is evil at the heart, both have their place.

ms. kitty said...

Hmmm, interesting perspective, FS, thanks---I think. You've got me thinking outside the adage.