In a recent reading of Erich Fromm’s To Have or to Be, I’ve once again confronted an identity crisis. Am I a Christian or have I merely had faith? Christianity’s Eastern roots would demand the prior, but the American Christian world at large bellows the latter in 3D Dolby Digital surround sound. Fromm’s emphasis upon two modes of existence epitomizes all that I love and hate about twenty-first century Christianity. I love the possibility of a new way being. I hate the current possession of faith.
My childhood roots have saturated my brain with the mantra, “Have faith in Christ.” Believing was mine to do — to muster. But as I grow and become a Christian man, I wrestle with a fundamental question of Frommian proportion. Am I the one having the faith or is the faith having me?
Being a Christian entails so much more than merely having faith. Semantics for sure, but Fromm’s distinction in modes of existence is telling. I’m exhausted with the possessive, commercial, entertainment-driven organization that permeates the TV, radio and Internet. It has many labels and leaders, but all of it is nauseating to me. Having faith in Christ is a rather ugly state of being these days.
As the new millennium proceeds, the state of American Christianity has turned my attention eastward to Buddhism. I teach world religions as a component of the humanities, but this one in particular arrests my attention. But why? Siddhartha Gautama is so foreign to me, to my familial faith, to America. And then it appeared in front of me in Fromm’s succinct manner:
Heraclitus’ and Hegel’s radical concept of life as a process and not as a substance is paralleled in the Eastern world by the philosophy of the Buddha. There is no room in Buddhist thought for any enduring permanent substance, neither things nor the self. Nothing is real but processes. (p. 22)
Buddha’s focus upon the process of being enlightened stripped his religious worldview from the perils of possession. And so, I am a Buddhist at heart after all. One whose over-consumption of American Christianity provoked an Eastern turn.
Paradoxically, or maybe naturally, I am a Christian, too. I just wear a tattered, temporal facade that makes me look rather odd compared to the well dressed Americans lining up to fill warehouse sized churches each Sunday. Let me be clear, I have lost my faith, but I’ve gained a deeper sense of being. I see that I am Christ’s which makes me his to possess. I can rest in the eternal absorption of myself into His care. Being in Christ is a process like Buddhism that is real and lasting. I become real in this state. I learn to cultivate and to proceed in a Christ like manner, which happens to look a lot like Buddha’s enlightened being. It will not be an instantaneous product I can buy, possess, and store in the house of my soul. The only having is Christ’s, not mine.
It is a subtlety and a semantic reassurance that despite my solitary state in the American Christian wilderness of southern California, despite the shows that pack houses each Sunday, despite “Christian” products shoved down our throats, the process of becoming like Christ is far more powerful and world changing.
My senses deceive me. My lack of community robs me. Regardless, I know that it is God who has me.