The topic of beliefs and values is enormously important. One the one hand, it would seem that Christian spirituality ought to be very simple -- love God and love neighbor -- and so it is! We all know what it means to love, don't we? And what could be simpler than "just-loving?" Why bother with all this head stuff about beliefs, doctrines, values, and so forth?
All I can say in response is "go for it." See how far you get without needing your reason to inform your will. Love, it would seem, is mostly a matter of the will, but the will needs the direction of reason to help it move in accordance with truth. Love without concern for the truth can turn into something destructive -- like codependent enabling and enmeshment, for example. There are also times when the will seems to just "go flat," and one must rely on the light of reason to stimulate the will unto loving again.
What we are noting again and again is that awareness, reason and will are different activities of our spiritual consciousness, but they work together as an integrated whole. The human spirit is one, undivided unity.
Right Beliefs and Values
This subtitle will surely sound offensive to anyone who has the least bit of Post-Modern sensitivity. And yet I am very intentional in using it, but not in the manner to which a PMer might object. What I mean to say, here, is that how we think and believe about God, human nature, and ethical values makes a difference. In Christian spirituality, we are working within a tradition of revelation, where we believe that God has communicated to us something vital concerning God's own nature and the meaning of life. Hence, there is a "content" to revelation, and this can be formulated and studied as a discipline in and of itself. At this point, the term "orthodoxy" needs to be introduced, for it pertains to beliefs that are "correct," or "in-accord-with" what God has revealed. "Heterodoxy," on the other hand, refers to beliefs and teachings that are incongruent to some degree with what God has revealed. So "right beliefs," here, really means orthodox Christian teaching and beliefs.
Why is this important?
Because, as we noted above, there is this interplay between reason and the will in such a manner that reason "in-forms" the movement of the will. So if we want the will to move in the direction of love to which God calls us, our reason must also be properly formed. That's why bible study, spiritual reading, theological reflection and so forth are necessary disciplines in the practice of Christian spirituality. Granted, we are not all called to be professional theologians, but we all should strive to understand with our minds the meaning of God's revelation as communicated to us through the millennia by the Church.
Chapters 11 and 12 of Pathways to Serenity discuss practices relevant to developing orthodox beliefs and values in great depth, so I'll not be going into that in this session. Read them over and see what you think. Share your comments on the forum, if you'd like.
Phil asks, "And what could be simpler than just loving? Why bother with all this head stuff about beliefs, doctrines, values and so forth?" Good questions. And in my life one area where all these "and so forths" come into play is in the very area of loving. I find that for the most part I have a very self-centered beginning when it comes to understanding what love looks like. I beleive that God is love but in this world living out that love becomes tricky. I know there is a lot of effort from the culture of the world to reframe what love should look like. And I'm tempted in many ways to just say "why not?" But if God truly is love and God got this whole experiment on earth rolling in the first place, then I need to go to God for some notion of what love looks like. There actually seems to be quite a bit of time spent in the scriptures looking at life from this very angle. One could even say that scripture, for instance the Ten Commandments, is always trying to help us know what is loving and what is not from God's point of view. And if scripture itself were not enough, certainly Jesus' life helps me get a grasp on what is right and orthodox when it comes to love. Otherwise, I'm just left to guess, or worse yet, do what I want to and call it loving.
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