Jul 152011

Machu Picchu from the Guard House

Photo by Alex E. Proimos

A little over a month ago, I introduced the idea that there are three distinct approaches to faith.

The first is the response approach, which I detailed in “This Mythos Called ‘Life.’” It is about being presented with a question or premise by the faith and living your life in response, with no predetermined way of responding.

The second is the challenge approach, described in “The Gauntlet Is Thrown.” This one is about focusing on a specific challenge to overcome, focusing all of your energies on this thing until you have overcome it (which you may or may not do, depending on how well you approach the challenge).

The third and final approach is the experience approach, which I’ll be describing here. This approach is about wanting a specific experience from a faith and putting all your effort into experiencing that particular thing.

Experience Above All

Understanding and articulating this approach has taken a longer process for me than doing so took with the other two approaches. That’s why, if you look at my summary explanations of the three approaches in the response and challenge Thoughts, you’ll see different explanations for this approach than you’ll see here. For whatever reason, until recently there was some kind of disconnect for me between seeing it in action and being able to describe it.

And one more time, for good measure: those with a primarily experience-focused approach to faith still respond to questions and premises and still overcome challenges. Like I have said before, though, in the experience approach these are secondary at best.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to understand this approach is in contrast with the other two. With the experience approach, you are not typically given major dilemmas with only your own choices defining how to respond to them. That kind of focus on the beginning of the struggle belongs to the response approach. However, you’re also not usually given specific challenges to overcome (or to fail in trying to do so). This kind of focus on the end of the struggle belongs to the challenge approach. With the experience approach, what you are given is a set of rules, principles, or doctrines to live by, and you have a certain experience simply by virtue of living by those principles or rules. It is a focus on the journey in the middle, and simply living it out to the full.

The type of experience given through the faith is varied among faith systems. Anything from the experience of being a specific type of person, the experience of perceiving the world a certain way, or the experience of a particular theme of life are all fulfilled in the different faiths focused on experience. What is important is that this particular experience itself is simply lived out to the fullest. Yes, there will be times to question the experience, but while you’re engaging in the faith, all of the focus must be on the experience itself. Everything else, including questioning, is there only to support that experience.

And there is something about this which is simply liberating.

Roman Catholicism

“FATHER, . . . this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” than the name of Jesus.

- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Prologue

One of my favorite religions of all time to practice is Roman Catholicism. I have an absolute love for the rich symbolism and meaning imbued into each action during every prayer, every mass, and every sacrament. All of the masses that I have attended during my adulthood have, without exception, been literally awe-inspiring, regardless of being held in a tiny sanctuary or in a grand cathedral. I wasn’t raised as a Catholic, so I have no ill feelings towards it from being forced into its practice. I also don’t have the typical ill will towards it from being raised as a Protestant, even though I was almost explicitly taught to dislike the Catholic approach to faith. But what is that approach?

The overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic faith is experience-focused, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church supports and encourages this kind of approach very clearly and very coherently. I’ve recently reread portions of the Catechism (especially the Prologue) and am absolutely amazed at the clarity of vision held by the writers and editors. It is a work of art in and of itself as a pinnacle of faith design, but the true beauty lies in the faith produced by those who put the Catechism into practice. I said that this type of faith is focused on experience, but it’s not just any experience. It’s a particular experience, summed up in the Catechism‘s opening phrase:

To know and love God.

While Catholicism doesn’t ask you, “How do you know and love God?” and let you respond however you deem appropriate, and while it doesn’t present specific challenges which, upon completing them, would define you as “knowing and loving God,” what Catholicism does do, and does beautifully, is say, “You want to know and love God? Here’s how to do it.” There are no moments of crises that the religion itself creates for you to solve, and there is no way to fail in the faith as long as you are actually practicing it. It is about living through the experience of knowing and loving God, living it to the fullest extent possible, and throwing yourself completely into the beliefs and practices of the faith.

By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, ‘the obedience of faith.’

- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, Chapter Three

The Heroic Life

To live the Heroic Life means taking action, living for high ideals, charging fearlessly into new and grand plans, building a name around your art or skill, and using your life to change the way the world works.

- Drew Jacob, “The Heroic Life”

By far the most succinct and effective example of the experience focused approach to faith I have come across in independently designed faiths is “The Heroic Life.” Designed by Drew Jacob, author of Walk Like a God (another experience-focused faith written to supplement the Heroic Life), the Heroic Life was inspired by the heroes of mythology and adventure stories. Instead of just reading the myths and adventures, however, Drew decided that it would be better to live them. And that’s how the Heroic Life was born.

Where Joseph Campbell’s work outlines a basic structure that one must go through to be considered a hero (which he called the “monomyth” or the “Hero’s Journey”), Drew instead outlines a set of principles to live by in order to be a maximize your chances of heroism in everyday life. It isn’t about earning or achieving heroism; it is about truly being a hero in everything you do. It is about filling every moment of every day with a sense of adventure and grandeur, and it is about changing the world.

Drew’s writing, though not always poetic, is always genuine and evocative. He speaks from the passion of living what he is teaching and loving every minute of it, and it shows in everything he writes. “The Heroic Life” and Walk Like a God, both good in and of themselves, are only two out of his first three attempts at faith design. Based on what he’s put out so far, I think it’s safe to say that we can look forward to many more provocative faiths from this “Rogue Priest” in the future.

More than that, the heroic life is meant to change the world. Your goal might be wealth, love, fame, or something else. Those are fine goals. As long as you live your life by high ideals your successes will benefit those around you as much as they benefit you.

That’s why it’s called the heroic life.

- Drew Jacob, “The Heroic Life”

The Discordian Society

If you want in on the Discordian Soceity
then declare yourself what you wish
do what you like
and tell us about it
if you prefer

- Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia

Probably the most fun religion I’ve ever come across is also focused on a particular experience. Billed as the “most disorganized of all religions” Discordianism is detailed in Principia Discordia, a book authored by Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley. The entire focus of the faith is to experience chaos and discord as fully as possible throughout one’s life, and every inch of the text is crafted to support that experience.

Even just reading through Principia Discordia will begin to give you a feel of the chaos that the faith pursues. It constantly contradicts itself, giving absolute commands in the text while also making claims that “Discordians are never to believe what they read.” With things like this sprinkled throughout the Principia (such as the title from the fourth edition: Principia Discordia or How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything) you see that the faith is constantly making cracks at itself, and you almost get the feeling that the entire thing is a joke.

However, at the end of the Principia will find this admonishment:

If you think the PRINCIPIA is just a ha-ha, then go read it again.

The faith overall seems to be a commentary on an art form that tends to take itself too seriously, and honestly it feels like a breath of fresh air in that regards. The result of Discrodianism is a fun and even meaningful experience, even if the chaos of it all makes it difficult to commit to continuous practice at any length.

GREATER POOP: Is Eris true?
MAL-2: Everything is true.
GP: Even false things?
M2: Even false things are true.
GP: How can that be?
M2: I don’t know, man, I didn’t do it.

- an excerpt from an interview with Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia

What is your experience?

The experience approach to faith is extremely meaningful and liberating when fully committed to. As I mentioned before, Roman Catholicism is one of my favorite religions to practice for this very reason. The freedom to simply be, with no pressure to figure out a personal response and no need to strategize to overcome challenges, is one of the most amazing things that faith can give.

And that’s only encountered through the experience approach.

Updated 11/7/11:

Though I had originally classified the Heroic Life as an experience-focused faith, through talks with Drew I’ve seen that it’s actually response-focused. The experience is still important (after all, everything begins and ends with experience), but it’s not the focus of this particular faith at an existential level.

So what is the Heroic Life really about? It’s about realizing that the world needs heroes, and then having to make uncomfortable decisions in response to that realization.

C Luke Mula

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Google+

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