Belief: John Mayer and the Shape of Belief

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What do we believe? What do we believe in? What are the ways in which we believe? For me, John Mayer in his song Belief is challenging us with these questions. Have a look here:

Perhaps John Mayer is advocating that we not believe at all… ‘Oh, everyone believes in how they think it oughta be. Oh, everyone believes and they’re not going easily.’ If so, is this the answer? Is belief the cancer of the soul?

If we accept that the attitude and action of belief is something that the human psyche is wired for, (and there are spiritual, psychological, and evolutionary descriptions for this), then to believe in nothing would not be at all helpful for us – unless of course we make it our belief to believe in nothing, making non-believe itself something to believe in.

It does seem that John Mayer is railing against ideology and dogmatism, particularly the violent expression of idealised, dogmatised belief systems… ‘What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand? Belief can, belief can. What puts the folded flag inside his mother’s hand? Belief can, belief can.’

What could it be that dogmatises religious belief to the point of ideological rigidity? What is it that causes people to follow rigidly the letter of the law, rather than allow the possibility that wisdom is about discerning the spirit of the law?

Christianity is not, at its essence, a religion. And it is certainly not about expressing belief in rigid, dogmatised ways. Christianity is a relationship in communion, and a communion in relationship. This communion and this relationship is divine Love and is with divine Love. We know of this love and experience it, are a part of it as Christians because of Jesus. Our discipleship to him opens our body, mind, spirit, and human life to him and to the life of God which he is and is a part of.

As we allow this divine life of love to affect us, having the courage and faith to do so, we begin to experience the spirit of doctrine. Doctrine is not something to hurl at another, nor is it a ‘golden ticket’, assuring membership to a club. For the Christian it is meant to be a description of, and a support to, our experience of God. It is meant to serve this experience and be shaped by it anew. When doctrine is followed without enough of the experience of Love, doctrine can become dogmatism.

Christian spirituality is about non-violence. It is about belief rooted in relational faith. It invites compassionate and loving relationship, with self, others, creation, God. It values vulnerability and other-centredness – to the point of death and beyond. It is not about the survival of egoism, dogmatism, and fear..  ‘Is there anyone who can remember ever surrender[ing] with their life on the line?’ (album version of Belief). Jesus did this and he models a life of compassion for us.

A practice like Christian meditation offers a way into the experience of divine Love free of the influence of word, concept, and image. In this experience we then discover the inspiration for Christian word, concept, and image, and these things come alive for us in new ways.