Taylor: Irreverence won’t hurt God

Being able to entertain doubts…means that one’s faith is strong enough to withstand uncertainty and inconsistency.

A few years ago, I wrote a satirical ditty to the familiar sea shanty whose chorus goes, “Way, hey and up she rises.” Only I connected it to Easter: “Way, hey, and up He rises… early Easter morning.”

The first verse asked, “What shall we do with a risen saviour…?” The rest of the verses were, umm, a shade more irreverent:

“Stick him on the dashboard as a good luck mascot…”

“Lock him in the Bible where he can’t disturb us…”

I showed my song only to a limited selection of people (until now). Perhaps I was afraid of stepping on hyper-sensitive toes.

Interestingly, secularists or non-religious humanists didn’t find it funny. If anything, they felt uneasy. The joke belonged to a different culture.

The people who laughed had a faith strong enough not to be threatened by satire. Laughter wasn’t going to alienate them from God.

Inevitably, though, a few devout Christians felt quite offended. Their faith mattered deeply to them. They didn’t like making fun of any element of it. But I got a sense that they had a brittle faith. They couldn’t risk taking it any way but seriously. Levity might create cracks in their commitment.

Psychologists, I understand, define this attitude as authoritarianism—the conviction that any weakness imperils the entire structure. Like a pyramid of soup cans in the supermarket, removing one can creates chaos.

But soup cans are not the only possible metaphor. In the game called Jenga, you can pull out an astonishing number of sticks without causing the whole tower to tumble.

I’ve heard it said that doubt is not the opposite of faith; fear is.

Fear reflects a phobia about nothingness. You fear that if a rigidly held faith weakens, there will be nothing left. The whole thing will collapse into a cosmic black hole from which nothing ever emerges.

Our son’s death, over 30 years ago now, created one of those black holes for me. Until then, I had taken for granted traditional views of God as a supernatural judge who watched us from a distance and dealt out rewards and punishments. By this view, death was the wages of sin. But I could see no reason why our son deserved death by a genetic illness that was not, and could not have been, his fault.

During the months after our son’s death, a minister friend asked what the experience was doing to my faith. I remember saying, “All I have right now is faith that I will have faith again.”

I was right. I did have faith again. Having my existing concepts battered did not mean that all I had left was nothing.

Today, I see doubt as a proof of faith. Being able to entertain doubts, being able to see humour in the sometimes ludicrous, sometimes wrong-headed things that humans do in the name of religion, means that one’s faith is strong enough to withstand uncertainty and inconsistency.

Your faith will not come crashing down like a house of cards just because one element of your faith is not what you once thought it was.

God is bigger than any doctrines. Or any heresies. Or any silly song.

 

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