Although I have no scientific evidence to back me up, I’d say a good number of religious people, as engaged and compassionate as they may be, live in a bubble. I should know. I’m one of them.
This bubble is enormous. So enormous, in fact, that I’m able to do just about anything I want – pursue a career, spend time with friends and family, travel the world, get a haircut – all without having to leave my comfort zone; that is, without having to divulge my deeply held religious interests.
Some would say this is probably a good thing, the thought being that once the cat’s out of the bag, there’s no telling what might happen: Either I’ll be put in a position of having to justify my faith, or my presumably nonreligious audience will think that I’m trying to convert them.
(I say “presumably nonreligious” given the growing number of people who no longer identify with a particular set of beliefs.)
The problem with bubbles, though, is that they tend to isolate us, perpetuating rather than preventing that underlying sense of fear and mistrust that all too frequently leads to a breakdown in community. It can even lead to war. The incentive, then, to break out is obvious.
Looking at my own reluctance in this regard, it’s hard to avoid the fact that I happen to belong to a church with more than its fair share of public misconceptions. It’s one thing to say that I’m a Christian; quite another to admit that I’m a Christian Scientist.
The specific nature of these misconceptions aside, I will say that on those occasions when I have felt comfortable enough to step outside my bubble and share bits and pieces of my beliefs, the response I’ve received, although not always warm, is often surprisingly receptive. If I had to guess, I’d say this has something to do with my focus on what my religion is rather than what it is not.
If someone asks, whether directly or indirectly, I’ll usually tell them that my religion permeates every aspect of my life. Although its teachings are rooted in scripture thousands of years old, it continues to inform and expand my understanding of God, eliminate my fears, and provide untold spiritual, emotional, and physical healing.
This is true for other religions, of course. Even so, as a recent editorial in The Economist notes, “increasing numbers of people in Western societies do live without faith, or, if they practise a faith, reserve it for a fenced-off segment of their lives.”
Does this mean the motivation behind my sharing is to church the unchurched, to save the sinner? Not necessarily. For me it’s more about reducing ignorance and thereby solidifying our God-given, God-maintained bond with one another – a bond that, to the extent it’s acknowledged and defended, bolsters our communities and inevitably leads to healing. Assuming “nonreligious” doesn’t always mean “without faith,” I trust that this is a desire shared by the vast majority of us.
As for ending war, is this something that can be achieved simply through a willingness to share our spiritual convictions with one another? Maybe. All I know is that it certainly can’t hurt.