I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead, a television show that follows a group of people living in a zombie apocalypse. It is fascinating to watch. All the assumptions have been taken away from these characters, and they are left with the task of figuring out what it means to be human without any social normatives. Who do you trust? How do you survive? How do you retain your humanity when “survival of the fittest” has become the new norm? The show does a great job of examining the different ways people navigate life under constant duress. I find myself wondering how I would do in this kind of situation. What would I do in the chaos? Would I be able to maintain my humanity? If so, how?
Thankfully we do not currently live in a zombie apocalypse. Instead we live with plenty of assumptions. You know the saying – assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. And yet we all have them. Lots of them. It’s not that assumptions are inherently bad. But assumptions can prevent us from learning, growing, and moving forward. We assume that we know what is best. We assume that what we believe is true. We assume that we know people’s stories. We assume that our “normal” is everyone’s “normal”. We assume that what we want is what we should have. It is easy to spot someone else’s assumptions. But it takes a lot of work to discover your own assumptions. They are so ingrained into your thinking that they seem normal, right, and true.
My faith is full of assumptions. And I built my faith on many of these assumptions. For example, I assume that the bible teaches me about God, so I read it with the assumption that the bible is helpful and good. God has yet to confirm this with me directly, and yet I still utilize the bible as a resource for my faith. My assumptions didn’t come from out of thin air. They came about as I spent time reading the bible and learning what others had to say about it. But they were still assumptions. When I encounter someone who doesn’t view the bible in the same way, instead of seeing myself as “knowing” what that person hasn’t yet realized, I recognize that this person simply doesn’t hold the same assumptions that I do. If I focus on the assumption of what the bible is, I miss the opportunity to talk about what the bible has meant to me. And I miss the opportunity to learn what the other person thinks.
I think this is a critical point for a life of faith in the 21st century. We used to have the luxury in western civilization of believing that we were the epicenter of truth, that we had somehow uncovered the right questions to ask and reached the answers to those questions. We saw our responsibility then to share our knowledge with the rest of the world, or at least wait for everyone to catch up. But science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and even religion are exposing that we, westerners, are shaped and impacted by our power structures and social normatives just like everyone else. We cannot be entirely objective. Our perspectives, beliefs, and convictions are all filled with assumptions. When we are not aware of them, we are prone to arrogance.
We are seeing a crisis of the Christian faith in the 21st century. Churches are closing. Society is changing. Morality is increasingly fluid. And truth seems to be relative. I talk with a lot of Christians who find these times to be scary and daunting. But I disagree. This an opportunity to shift one’s faith from a foundation of assumptions to a foundation of hope. We are invited to become less focused on what we think we know, and more in tune to what we hope for through faith. We recognize that to a large extent God is beyond all of our understanding and perhaps we might be able to learn from each other regardless of the assumptions we have. And whereas knowledge is limited, hope is immeasurable.
Think about the characters of The Walking Dead. They are struggling to stay safe, to find food and water, to learn a new way of living. They know virtually nothing. They are disconnected from everyone, except those they encounter along the way. They don’t know if they’ll live another day. They don’t know who to trust outside of their own group. Assumptions are exposed with every episode. What seems to keep the group going is not any knowledge that tomorrow will be better, but a hope that it might be. It is a tough fight to keep that hope, but without it they know they will never do more than just survive. And merely surviving, particularly as loved ones are lost and life gets harder, does not inspire the group onward. But hope does.
For those of us who profess some kind of faith, shouldn’t it be similar? Shouldn’t our faith exist for the purpose of bringing hope? Not to prove that we are right or better or “in” with God, but to offer hope for a better day, hope that God cares, hope that the sun will rise again? I have had many assumptions exposed, disproven, replaced by better assumptions. And if I continued to build my faith on any of these assumptions, I’m not sure if I would have much faith left. With hope as my reason for faith, I am compelled to carry on. I still have my assumptions and always will. But they fail me from time to time. With hope, I am able to face the dark days, the tough questions, the irreconcilable issues. With hope, I can leave behind fear and anxiety. With hope, I can find a reason to smile and laugh. With hope, faith matters.