Quaker Universalist Conversations

Native Religion: Richard Beck & Wendell Berry

In “Renewing Our Native Religion,” the most recent post on Experimental Theology, his beautiful blog, Richard Beck shares the following quotation from Wendell Berry:

Wendell Berry

[T]here are an enormous number of people—and I am one of them—whose native religion, for better or worse, is Christianity. We were born to it; we began to learn about it before we became conscious; it is, whatever we think of it, an intimate belonging of our being; it informs our consciousness, our language, and our dreams.

We can turn away from it or against it, but that will only bind us tightly to a reduced version of it. A better possibility is that this, our native religion, should survive and renew itself so that it may become as largely and truly instructive as we need it to be.

Beck then continues his own commentary:

I think many of us are in an in between place with Christianity. Something needs to give. Should we stay or go? Obviously, everyone has to make their own choices. For my part, I’ve found wisdom in what Berry is saying here.

A lot of people who have decided to leave the faith are still, for lack of a better word, shadow Christians, still haunted by God. In the words of Flannery O’Connor, Jesus remains for many this wild, ragged figure moving from tree to tree in the back their minds.

But for others the “better possibility” has been for us to intentionally step out of the liminal space, away from the cognitive dissonance, to invest in, cultivate, and renew our native religion.

As I argue it in The Authenticity of Faith, I think the cultivation of doubt is ethically important. Doubt creates an openness of heart which is a prerequisite of love. But that openness only creates a potentiality, it is not enough to pull you forward into greater love, mercy, gentleness, grace, peace and joy.

From doubt you either move away from the faith or toward renewal. This is the choice facing many progressive Christians today.

Beck is worth following, and both he and Berry speak to my condition.

Mike Shell

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