Faith in the Fog: Love as our Compass

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This is Part 4 of my ‘Faith In The Fog’ series on my experiences with doubt, skepticism, mental health and forging a different kind of faith.

< Part 3: Making Peace with the Messiness of the Bible

Part 5: On Losing Beliefs and Finding God >


Deconstruction‘ is a bit of a buzzword at the moment in some Christian circles. For various reasons, many of us have found ourselves dismantling our belief systems and questioning long-held assumptions.

For some people, the deconstruction experience can be overwhelmingly positive and freeing. They are able to see things from refreshing new perspectives and discard aspects of their belief system that were oppressive or harmful.

For others, faith deconstruction can be like losing a parent. Utterly devastating and disorientating.

My experience has been a bit of both. Sometimes, deconstructing feels great. It feels like I’m standing on the edge of a whole new world of possibilities. My faith is renewed and I am filled with hope, content to revel in the mystery and wonder of it all.

Other times I feel like I’m stumbling around in a dense fog, desperately grasping for something to help me find my way, something to give meaning and assurance. (I plan to address the emotional and mental health issues surrounding faith deconstruction later in this series.)

I used to find meaning and assurance in my firm beliefs, based on the solid foundation of the Bible. My belief system was the anchor of my faith, and offered a neat, static framework within which to understand the world.

As my belief system crumbled and my view of the Bible changed, I was left searching for something to anchor my faith to. I had to be sure about something, or what was the point? How could I call myself a Christian if I wasn’t sure what I believed?


Love is all you need

I know, it’s the ultimate cliché.

It took me a long time to come to terms with this, but for me, right now, love is what it’s all about. It’s the whole point.

You see, my faith deconstruction has gradually revealed to me how little we can ever really know. Any ideas or theories we have about God and the meaning of existence are bound to be hopelessly inadequate. And you know what? That’s OK. I don’t think we are supposed to have an intellectual grasp on those sorts of things, they go beyond intellect and reason.

I still have beliefs and hopes about things like Jesus and the Holy Spirit and prayer and the Kingdom of God. But they are no longer set in stone.

I have stopped searching for an anchor; a solid, static set of beliefs I can cling to. Instead, love is my compass and my guiding light for life, here and now. That’s the foundation on which I’m reconstructing my faith. My beliefs will probably change, but love remains.


Love is not the easy option

The conservative evangelical voice in my head still occasionally wonders if this is wishful thinking. An attempt to soften the Truth, to make it all sound nicer and more palatable.

It sounds suspiciously like wishy-washy, fluffy, hippy nonsense doesn’t it?

Well, that depends on how you define love. The Biblical accounts of the life and death of Jesus are still, for me, the ultimate definition of love.

Sacrificial. Radically inclusive. Painful. Dirty.

Real love can bring life in all its fullness, but it is far from easy.

You know what is easy? Signing a doctrinal statement to show that you’re a real Christian. Asserting an intellectual belief in a particular theory of the afterlife. Those things aren’t exactly difficult.

But reorienting your entire life towards radical, sacrificial, Earth-transforming love – now that takes some commitment.


Christ is bigger than Christianity

Jesus demonstrated a radical way of being in the world that undermined and transcended the human need for separation, hierarchy and systems of control.

I can choose to see Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God, whilst acknowledging that the power and influence of his message is not limited to those who adhere to the Christian religion.

Of course we naturally want to create “in groups”. Of course we think everyone would be better off if they were like us. That’s human nature. The human nature that Jesus and the New Testament writers challenged relentlessly.


Why bother with religion at all?

I think that some people reach a point where the healthiest and most life-giving thing to do is to disassociate themselves from religion and faith altogether, at least for a time.

Religion can be toxic. And to be honest, it seems to me that humanists are often far more on Jesus’ wavelength than many Christians.

But. 

I don’t entirely buy the atheist argument that we don’t need God to be moral. I’m sure biology, sociology, psychology and neuroscience have a lot to say about how we have evolved to live in relationship and, in general day-to-day life, refrain from killing one another.

But I don’t believe that the kind of love demonstrated by Jesus comes naturally. Love our enemies? That goes completely against our human instincts, our ‘worldly wisdom’, and when truly lived out, can have life-transforming and world-changing effects. It interrupts the status quo and creates something entirely new.


Following Jesus was never supposed to be about having a static set of beliefs.

To have faith in Jesus is to embrace a new way of being in the world; a way of upside-down priorities, counter-cultural inclusion, radical forgiveness and ultimate sacrifice.

And the best word we have for that is love.


Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)


< Part 3: Making Peace with the Messiness of the Bible

Part 5: On Losing Beliefs and Finding God >

Read the entire series here.

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  • What Is God Really Like?

    Love this series Emma. Very thought provoking. I think you have a voice to those interested in spirituality without religion.

  • http://livingliminal.blogspot.com.au/ Living Liminal

    “I still have beliefs and hopes about things like Jesus and the Holy Spirit and prayer and the Kingdom of God. But they are no longer set in stone.

    …love is my compass and my guiding light for life, here and now. That’s the foundation on which I’m reconstructing my faith.”

    I believe there are many of us on a similar path. The old certainties have failed for one reason or another, and when the dust has settled, we find ourselves in this place where love is more than enough for us. After all, if we have not love…

  • http://livingliminal.blogspot.com.au/ livingliminal

    “I still have beliefs and hopes about things like Jesus and the Holy Spirit and prayer and the Kingdom of God. But they are no longer set in stone.

    I have stopped searching for an anchor; a solid, static set of beliefs I can cling to. Instead, love is my compass and my guiding light for life, here and now.”

    I believe there are many of us on the same path. The old certainties have failed for one reason or another, and after the dust has settled, we find ourselves in the place where love is enough for us. After all, if we have not love…

  • Beau Quilter

    You don’t appear to understand “the atheist argument that we don’t need God to be moral”. In this article you seem to equate the “atheist argument” for morality with evolution and what is natural.

    No. Altruism is certainly possible through evolution (as biologists continually demonstrate), but it is, of course, not a given in the natural world. Morality is a human construct, based rationally on the principle of reciprocity with emotional support from our natural tendencies toward altruism (admittedly in conflict at times with our natural tendencies toward competition). The clear rationality of the principle of reciprocity (the Golden Rule) is evident in the fact that it can be ubiquitously found in many ancient and modern religions and philosophies, many of which long predate Christianity.

    Atheism is not a system of beliefs, but those atheists who are humanists promote morality because it is good for humanity. But not just any morality. Random, ancient proscriptions against homosexual behavior, permitting slavery, banning certain foods or associations, and demonizing other religions have nothing to do with real morality. Humanists promote morality based on a universal application of the principle of reciprocity, thus espousing the equality of all humanity. This is not a dry, loveless morality, either. Humanism recognizes that human relationships are the key source of our well-being; human flourishing depends on our care and concern for each other.

    I don’t entirely buy the Christian argument that we need God to be moral. In fact, I don’t buy it at all. Supposedly inspired Christian texts support slavery, the subjugation of women, the demonization of other religions, and a host of other precepts completely contrary to a humanist understanding of morality. Good precepts can be found in the Bible as well, but depending on faulty ancient texts, or competing religious leaders for moral principles is arbitrary and demonstrably leads to historic failures of morality. I’m sure you might argue that such textual readings or religious leaders don’t always reflect what is the “true” morality of God. If that is so, then God has failed to give humanity a clear, unmistakable teaching about what morality actually entails.

    As it happens, I have a live and let live approach to religion. I don’t mind someone having a religion as long as he or she lives by the Golden Rule. I only take notice of articles such as yours when they make poor and patronizing arguments against my own position.

  • http://musicineverysound.wordpress.com Emma Higgs

    Hi Beau, thanks for picking me up on this – this particular argument was hyperbole and a somewhat clumsy overstatement. If you read the surrounding text I hope you will see that I essentially agree with you. I do, however, see a difference between the selfless, sacrificial way of living that Jesus promoted, and humanist morality. It seems to go a step further and have a wider perspective, and that continues to intrigue me – this is what I was attempting to articulate.

  • Beau Quilter

    Your notion that humanist morality does not involve selflessness only tells me that you do not understand humanism.

    Do you really believe that Christianity is the only ideology that promotes self-sacrifice?

  • http://musicineverysound.wordpress.com Emma Higgs

    Correct – my understanding of humanism is very limited. But my intention here was not to claim Christianity as the one true path. My “I don’t buy the atheist argument comment” was a reaction against comments I have had from atheists (and/or antitheists) who would seek to actively discredit and even eliminate the Christian faith tradition altogether, using arguments such as “we don’t need God to be moral” to argue that religion is worthless and harmful. For me, the Christian faith still holds value – that’s not to say that humanism does not.

  • Beau Quilter

    Whatever your intention, the only “difference” you’ve noted between humanist morality and Christianity is selflessness. That is simply not a difference. Selfless living is inherent in humanism, and there are deep and convicting reasons this is true.

    I don’t know of many atheists seeking to “eliminate” the Christian faith altogether, except through simple reason. (Unless you’re talking about cold-war era communists, but I don’t think there are any of those commenting on your site).

    Is there such a thing as a “bad” atheist argument? Sure. There are also a plethora of bad Christian arguments, which I know do not represent you. But it helps neither side to strawman the position of the other. Quite the contrary, arguing against a strawman version of atheism or Christianity, simply makes your own argumentation weaker.

  • Craig Anderson

    Another great post. Thanks. I quibble a bit, though, with the accuracy of the paragraph in which you write that “signing a doctrinal statement . . . asserting an intellectual belief in a particular theory of the afterlife. Those things aren’t exactly difficult.” In fact you have very aptly explained that those things are indeed very difficult, impossible even, for you to do while being true to yourself. I get your intent, I think, and concur, but think this one part should be worded differently.