Via new blogroll addition The Port Stands at Your Elbow, I ran into this piece at First Things, which I think makes an interesting point. David Mills is talking about a pamphlet he received from a religious group:
“Derek? Who’s Derek?” begins a flyer I have in my files. “He isn’t a prophet or a god, just a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Community at Pitt. You see, we draw upon many sources in our search for truth. Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism. And most importantly You [sic]. After all, you determine your own faith.”
Mills moves on to note that it isn’t much of a search if you never actually get around to finding anything, noting that a number of groups never quite get to that “finding” business. And that’s certainly a fair charge, but I’m a bit dubious about the pamphlet on another level.
What I find interesting is what I see as two yoked ideas from the tract — the capitalization of You (which Mills has the good sense to [sic]) and the idea that we determine our own faiths. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t see my faith as my own doing — in fact, I spent a portion of my life trying to run away from it. What I have is something that God has given me, perhaps as a tool for whatever purpose He has for me. I didn’t choose God — He chose me. To believe that we determine our own faith is to put the wrong entity in charge of the transaction.
I would suggest that the same sort of pridefulness manifests in capitalizing the You in the tract. To put the self in charge is, I think, to put oneself in the position of the Misfit from Flannery O’Connor’s most famous story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Near the story’s climax, the Misfit lays out his dilemma:
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness[.]”
The Misfit puts the choice boldly. While I don’t believe that the folks who wrote the pamphlet Mills discusses believe there is “no pleasure but meanness” — in fact, I’m sure they’re your neighbors and mine, and very pleasant, kind ones at that — to claim that we determine our own faith is to refuse to humble oneself sufficiently to follow. At best, it’s a sort of Laodiceanism, kicking the can down the road to avoid having to commit, to admit that we’ve found something bigger — more important — than we are. At worst, it may be a dark solipsism, the same promise the serpent made in the Garden: “Ye shall be as gods.” And once you take that deal, as the Misfit says, there is no pleasure but the exertion of our own power.
I wouldn’t presume to speak for Derek in the tract; his life is his own, sufficient to stand, yet free to fall. But perhaps the easiest way to fall is never to decide to stand. You may think of that as empowering, but at the end, you’re still on the ground.
Good, now I don’t have to gripe – First Things did it for me. There’s a Unitarian compound (for want of a better word) I pass on my work commute. They have a big banner that advertises, “Room for Differing Beliefs – Yours.” Strikes me as the exact opposite of a faith, in which you’re the one making room for a differing belief – the one you need to hear.
It’s also led to a running inside joke… on that stretch of road, if I get cut off, tailgated, or otherwise witness nitwitted driving – nine times of ten, the nitwitter turns into the Unitarian lot, and often without their blinker. Now instead of cursing bad drivers, I sometimes mutter, “You drive like a Unitarian!” My poor wife can only shake her head…