Religion

Voices of Faith: Can there be an ‘idolatry’ of certainty among believers?

Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: Can there be an ‘idolatry’ of certainty among believers?

Enemy of peace

The Rev. Holly McKissick, pastor of Peace Christian Church UCC: Yep, there can be an idolatry of certainty among the religious and nonreligious alike.

And the older I get, the less attractive “certainty” becomes.

In our worship service, we have a time for a personal testimony. It’s not so common in open, progressive churches like ours. But people love it. The topic might be forgiveness or hope or generosity. Among the most well received have been “What I know for sure” testimonies.

Often the person opens with something like, “When Holly first asked me to share ‘what I know for sure,’ I replied, ‘Well, that will only take a nanosecond.’ ” And then inevitably the person shares a nugget of wisdom in such a humble, profound way that folks are moved and amazed.

It’s the very folks who are uncertain about what to do with a toddler who won’t eat, or a teenager who sneaks out, or the conflict in Syria, whose counsel you seek.

I think of my friend and yoga teacher. She doesn’t go to church. She doesn’t profess any particular doctrine. She just lives by grace and acceptance, simply and openly.

So does my friend who has been a pastor for 30 years. Both have raised three kids. Both are beautiful and bruised. Both know life is anything but sure.

Both know “certain” is the enemy of peace, on a personal and global level.

Beware of absolutes

Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy: Idolatry reflects more than merely worshiping statues. Any devotion that replaces fealty to the Creator is idolatrous.

In the film “The Ruling Class,” the protagonist portrayed by Peter O’Toole is suffering delusions. He thinks he’s God. When asked how he arrived at this conclusion, he answers, “I realized that when I prayed I was talking to myself.”

This is the idolatry of our age. The adulation of self, and the absolute belief that one point of view invalidates all others, reflects the arrogance that threatens purity of heart, faith and purpose.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Hanina states, “Everything is in the hands of heaven, except for fear of heaven.” Fear of heaven is a prerequisite for any commitment to a religious system.

Embodied in this perspective is a kind of insecurity that should make one reflect on all actions great and small. Leaders especially need to be mindful of Rabbi Hanina’s statement.

“The Torah is like the sun,” said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. “It makes some vessels flourish, but others it rots.”

Essential goodness exists outside of the rule book. Moral systems can make a good person better, but when manipulated and exploited, they make a bad person worse.

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