Even before entering a second career some 16 years ago, in which observing and interpreting religious faith and practice became a job description, I paid close attention to such matters.
So I couldn’t help but notice that the social-networking site Facebook provides an opportunity for one to identify his or her “religious views” along with other personal details. Some of my “friends” and I simply skipped over that one — which in itself raises the good question of “why?”
There are several possible responses, but I doubt any of my friends did so because they are not religious. Maybe, like me, they fear any label would be too limiting or lead to assumptions we would rather not have assumed about us.
But I do enjoy seeing how people self-identify religiously. For many, it’s very simple and straightforward, like: “Christian.” Others add a denominational tradition like Presbyterian, United Methodist or Catholic. And I’ve noticed the more conservative Episcopalians are using Anglican now.
Like any Georgia town in 1960, my cyberspace community of friends is dominated by Baptists. And like any gathering of Baptists, there is variety.
Several friends, in response to the Facebook inquiry about “religious views,” use the hyphenated “Christian-Baptist”. Others get more specific and note a connection with a particular denominational group such as Southern Baptists. (I was one of those for a long time.)
One pastor friend listed his religious views as “CBF – the fun Baptists.” (He was referring to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that emerged nearly 20 years ago when the SBC took a hard turn to the right.)
A theology professor friend identifies himself as “Baptist of the ecumenical sort.” A campus minister friend in the Midwest says she is a “Baptist-flavored Christian, more like Jimmy Carter than Jerry Falwell.”
Some friends pass up listing a faith tradition and get philosophical with responses like: “Always seeking, always learning, always growing” or “Find a path that feeds the soul.”
Some say they are: “Spiritual, not religious.” That response always makes me want to dig under the surface and see exactly where and when the pain inflicted by a church or other form of institutional religion occurred.
Among my favorite responses from Facebook friends to “religious views” are: “I have them,” “evolving” and “I’m full of it.” All three of those apply to most of us.
Often I encounter people who have never taken a serious look at the religious faith they inherited and continue to practice. It is simply accepted — like having mom’s complexion or dad’s nose.
At other times, however, nothing is more enjoyable than to engage in conversation with someone digging into an understanding of ultimate truth and the way one’s belief and faith practices have been shaped through the years.
On one level, religious faith is very individualistic and private. On another level, faith has its public expressions. For some reason, all of that fascinates me whether I’m reading about it in a book, overhearing a conversation about doctrinal beliefs in a restaurant or seeing how my online friends express their religious viewpoints.