Sunday, September 09, 2012

Ethical meditation today: Actions turn belief into faith, but belief itself matters


There was an interesting message at a “homecoming service” in Fairfax, VA today for the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia, delivered by interim pastor Onetta Brooks, a sermon titled “Faith Without Works”  (the New Testament reference is James 2:1-10. 14-17).

Dr. Brooks stated, “Belief becomes faith when validated by action”.  The Biblical reference asks “Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?”  Words alone don’t do anything for a person in need.

Yet, experience says that people often need “belief” to get going in life.  We’ve heard a lot in the past few weeks  (from Mitt Romney’s campaign) about the practically mandatory missions for Mormon young men, which they pay for themselves.

Apparently the missions involve both service and proselytizing (the “words”), and that means directly approaching people and knocking on doors.  Most of us don’t like to do that today, and most of us don’t want to be approached all the time.  It seems like it’s impossible to take the time to respond to multiple calls for donations every day for so many specific causes, each representing some sort of “belief”. Of course, we've come to resent to disruption of the calls as technology has made us more "independent" and perhaps less interested in manually maintained "social capital". 

The track record for many men who experience these missions seems to be quite good.  It seems that people benefit from becoming committed to a cause, even if that cause is questionable to others on some intellectual level (and the Mormon “belief” system – made into faith by action – certainly seems questionable to “the rest of us” just on the basis of “evidence”).  Mitt Romney (whatever you think of his policies and of the securities industry in which he succeeded) certainly went on to do very well in life, while always tithing and, in personal ways, giving back on what had become for him, a faith – even most of the rest of us don’t believe it. If a young man believes something strongly enough, maybe spreading the word is part of his action -- as long as he also meets some real needs in the process. 

I’m reminded of a comment by social conservative Phillip Longman, with his 2004 book “The Empty Cradle” (Books blog, March 28, 2006), that today many adults have become too “self-absorbed” to have and raise children, or for marriage itself. That's a more fundamental "problem", perhaps, than failing to support the kids one has already sired. It's a kind of lethargy, diffidence, indifference, aloofness. 

Without a “belief” of some kind, there is a tendency to get lazy about one’s karma, and to think that virtue is already out there in other people, to be found already matured, rather than to be nurtured.  There is a tendency to think that just to respond to a need, from someone else who may be much less than perfect, doesn’t accomplish much.  It seems that only a belief that a shared purpose really matters can get someone (me at least) out of that sort of funk.  


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