Searching for tenderness. Uncovering tyranny.

Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, September 21, 2014
Dr John Abbate

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“No personal God need be worshipped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation. No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realize, one fine day, that we do, in fact, love our neighbours, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere be given the opportunity to flourish.” —Sam Harris, The End of Faith

 

What is Faith?

Sam Harris writes books about the irrationality of faith. In The End of Faith he wrote, “The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil’s masterpiece.” While Dr Macnab admires Sam Harris’s work, everything changes, he says, when we embrace a different understanding of faith.

Sam Harris only sees one side of faith. Dr Macnab highlights eight aspects of faith that form the other side of the coin:

  1. Faith is part of what it means to be a human being.
  2. Faith is a way of adapting and responding to the realities of life.
  3. Faith is an inner energy to rise above these realities and to believe in future possibilities.
  4. As an inner energy, faith combines with external influences to help us live with the heavier realities of life and find meaning in that process.
  5. Our faith transfers energy to others — “I have faith in that person, that community, that idea.”
  6. Faith gives strength to the human personality, to the self. “I have faith in myself, my commitments, my decisions.”
  7. Faith is an important component in our relationships, in how we behave with each another.
  8. Faith is a continuing component in some higher power: faith in imagination, creativity, the processes of healing, the inspirations of art and human goodness.

Certainly, faith has been used to manipulate others to believe the most horrendous madness. But when Jesus of Nazareth spoke of the “kingdom”, he exhorted people to believe in a kingdom of goodness, co-existence and enhancing human behaviour. “Is that a pathological belief?” Dr Macnab asks.

 

The Old Faith

What is wrong with the old faith as it is usually transmitted in mainstream religious institutions? Dr Macnab faults the old faith in three areas:

  1. It tends to hold people in an infantile and fixated state; it falters in its contribution to a person’s fullest humanity, fullest potential and fullest enjoyment.
  2. It holds onto a view of God that is a long way from the average person’s experience of an inspiring presence; a quiet, strengthening presence in their life.

It relies too heavily on the image and the person of Jesus.
This third weakness is even shared by some progressive religious scholars who, Dr Macnab believes, falter when they fixate on an impossible search for the historical Jesus. When it comes to Jesus of Nazareth, there is very little to go on. Even the words attributed to him are widely contested by scholars.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

—Isaac Watts

 

The New Faith

What is the value of the New Faith? Dr Macnab lists four defining qualities of the New Faith that answer this question:

The New Faith elevates the ideal and the search for the “beautiful personality” as the likely carrier of good values and enhancing behaviour.
While recognising the realities of destruction and death, it elevates goodness and glory, contentment and kindness.
The New Faith does will not dwell on the unknown aspects of Jesus, but studies carefully his pointing finger and what it was pointing to: the celebration of every step that leads to better human beings and societies.
It speaks of joining the human mind and spirit in the constant search for human wholeness. It is not another religious option or set of beliefs. It is, rather, an experience of wholeness in the flow of life and the ongoing discovery of its fulfilment.

Watch Dr Macnab’s complete address:

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