Faith is not only part of life in my books—both for the good guys and the not-so-good guys—it’s also the foundation of my life.
But faith is complicated: it can be a force for good, but it isn’t always.
We should all know what we are choosing to believe and how those beliefs impact how we think and act.
The idea that faith is not an unmitigated good makes many of us uncomfortable. We like to associate faith with what is moral and principled. All the world’s major religions teach some form of loving others and treating our fellow human beings as we’d like to be treated.
Yet, we all know that for every faith tradition that helps us be kind, honest, hopeful, and compassionate, there are variants of those same faiths that inspire hatred, deception, fear, and cruelty. People of faith must face this truth, even if it means leaving the comfort of certainty.
We must test our beliefs to make sure that the faiths we are supporting—with time, money, political and social engagement—are the faiths that bring out our best selves, not our basest human weaknesses.
So, I’m going to suggest something bold: let’s test our faith.
Do my beliefs help me understand other points of view?
No matter how well-educated, well-traveled, and well-intentioned we are, all of us inhabit but one body with one unique set of experiences.
I want to believe I’m always right as much as the next person, but sometimes I’m not. I’ll never know what it’s like to be born in Syria and live through a brutal civil war, just as I’ll never know what it’s like to be born into a royal family.
If we want to change and make this world a better place, we need to be open to understanding other people’s experiences.
If our faith makes us feel judgmental or superior, we can’t engage with compassion and wisdom.
Does my faith help me be more kind to others?
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
This is one of my favorite quotes because it reminds me that compassionate intent is always the better path.
Whether I’m getting annoyed behind someone in the express line at the grocery store or feeling irked by a sharply-worded email, my faith in the power of kindness reminds me that this situation probably has little to do with me, and a kind response on my part will do no harm and, perhaps, can do some good.
Our faith should help us overcome unkind tendencies, not justify them.
Does my faith help me be more kind to myself?
I’ve watched three dear friends grieve the loss of a child to suicide. I can’t imagine; I won’t pretend to. I do, however, feel anger that we lost these promising lives to what must have been unbearable pain.
What kind of judgment did these young people internalize that left them in such agony? Faith communities are the places we turn to when life is at its darkest, its most challenging.
Does my faith comfort or does it judge? If it’s the latter, we must take steps to make it the former.
Does my faith support me to understand the complicated nuances of life?
Life is difficult. As far as I can tell, that’s not about to change any time soon. If our faith provides comfort by glossing over hardship, that really isn’t helpful.
Faith must help us serve the higher principles of love, kindness, and fairness even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. Faith must not ask that we ignore dark nights of the soul, it should help us transcend challenges with honesty, forgiveness, and compassion.
Is this faith or willful blindness?
If we can apply reason and fact, we must choose the path of knowledge and understanding. If our faith demands we ignore reality it’s not faith, it’s willful blindness. There may be loud voices shouting in our ears, but we’re all capable of distinguishing between the roar of lies and the quiet of truth.
We’re facing complicated problems on this planet, and we need calm and knowledgeable experts who understand those complexities, not influencers screaming on television, radio, and social media. Our faith must foster educated awareness.
It may be difficult to stand up for what is right, but that’s nothing new. People of faith, everywhere, must take a hard look at what we choose to believe.
I, for one, have faith that we can overcome the ugliness that has taken over much of our world by choosing to believe in—and act from a place of—kindness and compassion for the entire human family sharing this small, blue planet.
Let us all take the brave step to put our own faith to the test. It’s not for the faint of heart, but what is truly good never is.