I heard the word “infidel” used in a news story this morning and it got me thinking. Here’s how Webster’s defines it: “disbelieving Christianity or whatever may be the religion of the user of the word.” Another way to put it: we’re all infidels. No matter what we believe, we’re all infidels to someone else. We are all unfaithful to someone else’s God, by definition, if we believe in another God (and I suppose that’s especially true if you don’t believe in God at all). No way around it; you are an infidel, I am an infidel, and most importantly, they are infidels.
Some have tried philosophically to get around this uncomfortable truth by pointing out that God might not actually care which religious institution we identify with. After all, we are not God and, in just about every religious system, at least one of God’s attributes is love. So if God loves humanity, perhaps that love will outweigh whatever errors of belief we might have.
But as nice as that sounds, it unfortunately doesn’t change a thing; you are still an infidel. You are an infidel because I have The Truth: I am a follower of Jesus; you know, “The way, the truth, and the life.” I have this specific news about how to be in good standing with God and it doesn’t overtly say anything about “other paths.” I may hope that God’s love is unconditional and universal, but I would truly be an infidel if I neglected God’s plan for salvation as I have received it.
So infidels we remain. As long as we each have The Truth and our Truths disagree with each other, at least one of us is going to be an infidel.
But here’s my thought for the day: the notion of “infidel” is inherently ungodly. It’s ungodly in two senses of the word: first, it’s ungodly in that we are not God. When we declare someone else to be an infidel, we are doing so from a limited, human perspective. Although we have an obligation to God to live our lives and worship practices in a way we know is pleasing to God, we don’t actually know that the practices of others are not, in fact, pleasing to God.
But also, the notion of “infidel” is ungodly because it results in our turning our attention away from a godly life: a life lived in relationship with God. When we identify another as an infidel, it is their faith, lifestyle, and worship practices we are concerned with, not ours. Now obviously there are those who violently disagree with my thinking here, but I believe that the whole point of religion is to encourage the believer toward a deeper relationship with God. It has to do with helping each individual follower grow and sustain that relationship; concerning ourselves with how others are “not doing it right,” does not help us to be any closer to God.
Of course, even though it may be ungodly for me to concern myself with the faith practices of someone else, I am still called by God to care for that person. This is especially true if I believe I have The Truth that someone else does not have. But the question then becomes, how am I to share this Truth? Obviously, calling them an infidel has not historically been effective. No, I believe the only godly response is fidelity. We all, regardless of our religious beliefs, must remain as faithful to God as God enables us. There must not be disconnection between our lives and the God we speak about. Live what you believe with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and let God be God.
But then, what do I know? I’m just an infidel.