I Believe in God: Assessing the Value of Creeds

Yesterday, I co-presented a mid-day reflection at the University of St. Thomas Law School titled I Believe in God: Assessing the Value of Creeds. The idea for the gathering grew from conversations I have been having with my colleague Mark Osler, who comes out of an Anabaptist tradition, which is non-credal. I think it is fair to say that Mark and I each grow from our conversations on various topics (I consider his joining the St. Thomas faculty this past fall one of the great blessings in my life here) and we thought this one would be a good conversation to invite others into.

Each of us spoke for about ten minutes about our view of creeds and whether they possessed value, indivudually and communally. Then we had some dialogue between the two of us before opening it up to the group for some really terrific discussion.

As I said during my talk today, under my understanding of a creed, I don’t understand what it means to be non-credal. As I understand creed, it is neither a list of factual statements to which one gives intellectual assent nor a catalogue of the doctrines of one’s faith.

The Latin term from which we derive the Englihs word creed, credo, is composed of two Latin terms: cor, which means “heart,” and do which means “I give.” Literally then, the term means “I give my heart.” If one takes that understanding, it seems impossible not to see the value in articulating for oneself what it is that one gives one’s heart to. Of giving voice to what it is that I totally trust to the depth of my being…what I would stake my life on…what I would be willign to die for. If creed is about what I stake my life on, what orients my life, than everyone ought to be able to articulate what that is for themselves. (Mark doesn’t disagree with this much; as his talk reveals, it is not so much that he is non-credal as that he has difficulties with the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed.)

The communal dimensions of creed are much trickier. While I think there is value in a community of believers affirming what are their common beliefs, there is a real question whether, in actual fact, a community’s creed serves to unify or to divide. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that there is value with a community grappling with what is their shared understanding of their creed. (Lamentably, I fear that many of the people who recite a creed each week at Mass have not given a whole lot of thought about what they are actually affirming.)

I recorded only the part of the program during which Mark or I were speaking, turning the recorder off before we invited others into the converstaion. You can access the reocrding of that portion of the program here. (The recording runs for 26:54).