I’ve had more than my share of occasions to write and speak about faith, but it’s generally been about others’ faiths, not my own. Summarizing one’s own can be tricky, at least if one prefers to deal with substance and not with labels. The term itself is slippery: is it intended to cover beliefs about the universe (metaphysics, cosmology), principles and guidelines for action (ethics), or the practices by which those beliefs and principles are inculcated into daily life, either collectively (religion) or individually (spirituality)? Is it some combination of all of these?
Some years ago, inspired by the This I Believe public radio series, I decided to sit down and write up a creed I could sign my name to. Having come across it again recently, I’m happy to see that it still seems sensible to me, so I thought I would share it here. The analyst in me feels like treating it as a found object, unpacking it for the ‘isms’ and ‘ologies’ it covers, even speculating about the person who wrote it. But the point of the exercise is really quite different: it’s to express in everyday terms, pithily and pointedly, the orienting concepts that guide you, without reference to schools of thought or faith traditions or other kinds of things that divide us and pose barriers to dialogue.
Here they are, a few years old but more or less congruent with what I still believe.
I believe the human condition is capable of tremendous richness of experience — experience of beauty and of horror — and that our inborn capacity for feeling and empathy, when appropriately cultivated, makes it possible for each of us to contribute to the flourishing of others, but through the reduction of others’ capacities to also contribute to the reduction of their being. This gives us choice, freedom, and responsibility.
I believe the quality of our freedom increases with the quality of our relations and of our kindness toward others, both human and nonhuman. I believe the results of our actions imprint themselves on us and on others, consciously or unconsciously, and that these imprints remain to be worked out and resolved, if not in this generation, then in those to come.
I believe our capacity for being is nourished by deep reserves of empathy and energy on which we can draw and which we can cultivate, through our culture of perception, of insight, and of wisdom passed from one generation to the next and rediscovered as necessary.
I believe the world today presents us with immense challenges — social, political, ecological and ethical challenges on a scale rarely seen before — but that putting our minds together and choosing the search for conciliatory solutions over that for short-term comfort and personal gain, and remaining open to the calls of that world upon us, we can meet those challenges with dignity and honor. This I believe, and to this end I dedicate myself.
Then, again, I could say it all differently, but the basic idea is that we’re all in this together, we’re part of a tremendous process (a process taking place at its greatest intensity, at least for our purposes, right here on this Earth), and the more that you know and feel that, the more it’s incumbent upon you to help others know and feel it. Our deities, our truths, our ideals, our discoveries, are all part of that picture. How we choose to participate in it is up to us.