Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Religion and Faith

I recently read a novel that consisted entirely of letters between the characters in the story. It is a device used effectively by other writers. C. S. Lewis framed at least two of his books this way. Done well it makes the characters come to life, each speaking in his own way. It makes the story personal.

After reading the book, I realized that I haven’t written or read a real letter for years. I mean a personal letter that takes time to read and even more time to write. I still get mail of course, but most of it includes the phrase “Payment due.” The rest is bulk mailing to thousands of people. It reveals nothing about the sender or the reader.

I get messages, but a lot of them come in shorts gasps of glyphs and abbreviations, crammed into Twitter’s 140 character rule. Text messages are short because hunting and pecking one letter at a time exhausts our patience. Facebook allows a little more space, but not much. Besides, how much do you want displayed for everyone to see?

The closest thing to actual feelings in email is the emoticon, those smiley or frowning faces composed from abused type symbols. The main message of an emoticon is “See how cute I am.” Real letters don’t do cute.

The result of our brevity is that most of our correspondence is flat, unappealing. Our communication is like an exhausted marathon runner, gasping to get out a few words. If I have anything important to say, this isn’t the way I want to say it.

A personal letter sounds like the person who wrote it. It hasn’t been proof-read and polished and buffed into boring perfection. It isn’t afraid to waste words. It may meander, impulsively wandering into thoughts that are later abandoned. It is half a conversation, not a recital.

The difference between religion and faith is like the difference between Facebook and a personal letter. Facebook is a message to whoever is browsing by. A letter involves two people: one writer and one reader. Religion is a topic anyone can study. Faith is a relationship between God and one person.

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