We talk about faith. We talk about religion. We talk about Church. But when you and I talk we are on different plains. I usually speak of religion, even Christianity, in general terms. You have a commitment to a particular church and their doctrine. You and I represent the fundamental debate of faith – is it general or is it particular?
General religion addresses life with a broad stroke of the brush. How does religion, I ask, contribute to civil discourse? How does faith lend itself to a civil society? My views are often couched in secular terms, and represent a secular understanding of the value of religion. I strike the canvas with my charcoal and then brush it with the nub of my thumb to alleviate the harsh edges, hoping to find compromise in the shading.
Particular religion looks to specifics. When we think of particular religion then the broad stroke of Christianity or Islam are not enough to delineate doctrine. Within the same faith, some sprinkle and some dunk. Some approve of gay union, some hate the sacrilege of hate crime legislation. Some sing and dance, some are stoic and reserved. Some build great temples with coffee shops and book stores, some like the humility of the white clapboard church nestled in the shade of old oak trees.
Particular religion is visible – it shouts from the tree tops, “Hey, look, we have found THE way, and the way is good.” General religion looks across the landscape of humanity at the amber waves of social progress.
Particular religion, steadfast in belief, seeks to evangelize, to spread the Good News. This is an admirable quality of character. Having found a particular faith that is personally rewarding and uplifting, the convert merely wishes to share their great joy. I get into trouble when I suggest the early convert is on their “Honeymoon with Jesus.”
There is no right or wrong in religious understanding. There is only perspective. Evangelicals of particular faiths knock at my door. Two young Mormon boys knock, I invite them in for a glass of water. I invite them because I respect their efforts – if not their particular faith. A Jehovah’s Witness father and daughter knock at the door, seeking only to share their faith and hope. I accept their Bible Tract with graciousness. When they are on their way to the next house I dutifully read the tract – in an attempt to honor their effort.
I find right and wrong to be more discernible and useful in general religion. The problem with this view is ultimately the religion is reduced to maintaining a civil society. The faith itself becomes infused with law, the written word of man. The original concept of civility is lost, overshadowed by strict interpretation, reduced again to particulars.