Brian McLaren says there’s a good reason your beliefs stopped working

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“Faith After Doubt,” released Jan. 5, 2021 from St. Martin’s Press.

Brian McLaren’s new book “Faith after Doubt: Why and What to Do About Your BeliefsIs released today. This is the book that I’m going to start recommending to anyone who writes to me in desperation because their old faith seems to be fading away, and the loss makes them feel angry and scared.

Brian also went through this process years ago as a pastor. Its main message is that there is faith after doubt, and it is not something to be feared. Doubt is a catalyst in a natural evolution towards something beautiful.

Brian Reached me last week by phone from his home in Florida, where his grandchildren are staying for the winter and attending distance school. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. –JKR

What made you want to write about faith after doubt?

Over the past 20 years, the volume of discontent among many people of faith has grown steadily. I don’t think a week goes by without receiving an email or a social media post from people who are losing their faith, including many of the clergy. That feeling that something isn’t working, that things are falling apart for people, just seems to rush.

Please guide us through the four stages of faith and doubt as you describe them in the book, starting with step 1.

I think we’re all inducted into stage 1, or simplicity, in our childhood. This is the stage of simple dualisms: us / them, in / out, true / false, strange / familiar, safe / dangerous. Because we are kids and there is a lot we don’t know, we need authority figures to tell us what’s safe. It is a natural and healthy step for us as children.

Unfortunately, many of our religious communities tell us that we are never allowed to go beyond it, at least not in the realm of faith. But more and more religious communities are giving a pass to enter stage 2, the complexity, the stage of pragmatism. We realize that we are players in a number of different games, each with a different set of rules. We master complex information and a whole set of skills to become autonomous.

You could say that if Simplicity [Stage 1] is the stage of addiction, Complexity [Stage 2] is the stage of independence. In stage 2 religion, we read books, attend lectures, and listen to podcasts. We are looking for religious leaders who are coaches and can help us be successful in our lives. The mega-church phenomenon really fits that mindset.

So what is going on?

Many adults stay in stage 2. But some – and more and more, it happens to younger people at an earlier age – are graduates of stage 2. There are very few religious communities that give them any affirmation for this. enter stage 3, the stage of counter-dependence that I call Perplexity. We must criticize both authority figures and the coaches.

What is so difficult for religious people is the self-criticism of step 3, and especially the criticism of one’s own religion. So people get the message “you are not wanted here” from their religion.

Author and speaker Brian McLaren. Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.

In this work and with the book II am working now, I meet a lot of people from stage 3 who are angry with organized religion and maydo not overcome this anger. What would you tell them?

It’s not an easy conversation to have with people. Some people are hurt and even traumatized by their experiences with religion. They need time to be angry, deeply angry, and to deal with that anger. The first thing to do is to tell them that they have every right to be angry.

But the time is finally coming when you can ask, “What will become of you now and what do you want to do?” How are you going to make sense of even this negative experience? One of the dangers we face in Step 3 is that our meaning comes from the alienation or vilification of those who have hurt us. It’s an understandable reaction, but it can be quite destructive, especially for those of us who are parents. What our children need from us is a constructive view of the meaning of life. If all we can give them is resentment and disappointment, they will heal the wounds that we have created in them.

Stage 3 perplexity has a lot in common with adolescence. We are hurt because we no longer adapt, which shows that we still wish that we could fit in. We always have a need to belong. So an opportunity for people at this point is simply to give them a community that they can belong to regardless of what they currently believe, and to give them the opportunity to observe people who have found greater meaning. than the one they rejected.

You make a useful distinction between belief and faith. How are they different?

Beliefs are propositions or statements that we say to be true. It was the definition of faith that I grew up with: it was the development and management of correct beliefs, and a little more. It means that you can be orthodox and also racist or tyrant of your family.

That does not make any sense. Jesus did not say, “By your beliefs you will know them.

Rather, I would define faith as the way in which we orient ourselves towards meaning and mystery. When we expand the faith, there is still room for a solid discussion of beliefs, but we are able to see that beliefs in themselves are not the issue. This brings us to step 4, Harmony, where we start to see that love is the point. I’m using Paul’s verse in Galatians – which we should all know by heart – where he says that all that matters is faith expressed in love.

Expand to step 4. How would you describe it?

Stage 4 is integration, where we try to integrate the three stages and move beyond dualism, pragmatism and skepticism. We don’t lose them, but we are not limited by them. There are things you are able to see, understand, and do in step 4, and paradoxes that you can live and hold on to, and issues that you are able to address that you couldn’t before. .

You notice that theres an element of step 4 thatis beyond our control. People in the early stages will experience moments of grace that are not requested, but there are times whenis not like we can put Complete the integration of step 4! ” on a to-do list and force it to happen. Then how Is it happens?

For many of us, the only place we find companions for this is in the books. Very often it is the mystics who bring us there — St. Thérèse d’Avila, or Saint Francis. Or for Muslims it could be the discovery of the great Sufi poets, or for Jews it could be Abraham Joshua Heschel. And they say, “Oh, there’s another way to be Jewish, or Muslim, or Mormon. Maybe there is still a place for me.

For me, the first idea was through a poem by William Wordsworth. I think other people have experienced it through CS Lewis. In Pure christianity, he has this rational and logical approach to faith, but in the Chronicles of Narnia, Where Until we have faces, there is that mystical dimension of Lewis, where some of the greatest truths can only be obtained by the imagination.

Step 4 is to see the big picture and start to see ourselves and others as connected. Rather than trying to separate ourselves or our group from others, like we would in step 1, or manipulate people into believing or behaving a certain way in step 2, or seeing through them in step 3, we try to see things as interconnected. . People feel such respect and humility about this way of seeing that they have to use words like “spiritual experience” to describe it.

You see a deep tension between religious organizations, which often promote a step 1 or step 2 approach to faith, and individuals who move on. How does this conflict manifest itself?

Looking back at what has happened in my life, we’ve seen a lot of people venture beyond Steps 1 and 2 — some down to 3 and some even into 4. One of the problems, however, is , is that they haven’t found a way to talk to people about steps 1 and 2 to help them where they are and also help them move forward. What happens is that the people in stages 3 and 4 are just creating their own little sub-communities around the margins.

What also tends to happen is that periodically these people in stages 3 and 4 are purged by people in stages 1 and 2 who feel threatened by their opinions.

What is your hope?

As I say at the end of the book, I think we need a critical mass of people to move on to step 4. Our survival depends on it. Faith communities could play such an important role in helping to make this happen or in preventing it from happening.

My deep hope for the book is that it will help people not to lose faith, and also not to be trapped in unhealthy faith, but to develop and expand and grow their faith in the kind we desperately need. .


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