Of course there’s a war on faith, Rick Perry. There has been a war on faith for about a century now. But it’s not President Obama who is waging this war. Nor is it liberals who are attacking faith in this country.
In a touch of irony, it is a number of the very people at whom your ad is no doubt targeted who are waging an all-out war on faith. The war on faith is being waged by literalists who have, for a 100 years, been attempting to destroy faith with hammers of certainty. Literalists have replaced the unwieldy, animating questions of faith with leaden, formulaic answers, parsed to an almost scientific precision. Of course, nothing is wrong with that in and of itself. Literalists are still Christians, and as such, are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Still, the literalist project, barely 100 years old, concerns me deeply. In fact, I would argue literalist don’t have faith at all. Faith, as a number of thinkers and theologians have said, implies doubt and uncertainty. The notion that a person of faith can say, “God said, I believe it, that settles it,” is internally inconsistent for faith is never settled. Faith, by its very nature, is unsettling, dynamic, alive. Faith never reduces the spiritual life to simple statements of belief, understood as fact, and never closes the door on God by saying “that settles it.”
So, in a way, Mr. Perry, I agree with you. There is a war on faith in this country. It’s being waged by rationalist offshoot of Christianity that puts its faith in certainty rather than in God.
But I also agree with you that faith can make America strong again. It’s just not the kind of regressive and bigoted certainty — masquerading as “faith” — that sees a person’s sexual orientation as a matter of national debate, or even a concern. It is not the kind of reductionistic belief-as-fact that sees prayer in schools as the kind of thing that will make America strong again.
Rather it is the animated, challenging, questioning, doubting, open and affirming faith that can make America strong. And that kind of faith is not necessarily limited to Christians, or even theists. The kind of faith that will make America strong is the faith that can question the status quo, envision a bold future and then begin the slow process of bringing it to life. The kind of faith that will make America strong again is the kind that lets go of certainty and the succor of the way-things-are and begins to chase after a better, more just world. The kind of faith that will make America strong again belongs to those that toil against the odds for economic, racial, gender and LGBT justice. The kind of faith that will make America strong again is a faith that will question authority and tradition, speak out of turn at inconvenient times and march in the streets to let freedom and justice ring.
It is the kind of faith that abides, that occupies.
David Henson is a writer who lives in Augusta, Georgia, and is currently working on a novel. He received his Master of Arts from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. His meditations on scripture have appeared in Ready the Way: A Walk through Advent (2009), theChristian Century web site, and numerous other blogs. He authors the blogs Unorthodoxology. Find him on Twitter or Facebook.