Faith Matters: Sometimes it might be a good idea to pretend we are in the dentist's chair - and listen

Listen: What we hear can teach us much about how we and others live our lives.
Listen: What we hear can teach us much about how we and others live our lives.

A while ago my dentist gave me a book to read.

When a dentist fills your mouth with drills, sucking machines (that is not the technical name), probes and fingers, conversation is somewhat garbled and a book seems a better option than speech.

I have often thought I would love to be a dentist working on the teeth of someone who wants to speak and can’t. Imagine if spouses were each other’s dentist.

That would ensure that in every marriage, at least at some of the time, you would have to listen to one another without speaking.

I imagine a lot of relationships would be helped where a person had to listen without speaking. I imagine strong anaesthetics may be needed to manage the pain.

Perhaps this article is a bit like sitting in the dentist’s chair.

The blessing for you is that you can read it with cake or coffee in your mouth rather than drills, probes or fingers. The blessing for me is I write and you can do little but read with a listening ear. 

A powerful force

In my dentist-given book, Lord Alton of Liverpool, member of the House of Lords wrote: “Religious illiteracy leaves us badly prepared for a world in which billions believe in and ‘do’ God - and where religion can be used as a powerful force for good or ill.”

I like the quote for a number of reasons. It acknowledges that you can’t live in this world without being confronted by religious world views.

It also admits that religion reflects the human dilemma that is our capacity for both good and evil.

As such, to become illiterate in matters religious is to lose our capacity to respond to the good or ill of it in any intelligent way. In terms of the good, the outcome might be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In terms of the ill, it might mean the babies are left to drown.

Worse it would seem, is that such illiteracy keeps us from understanding the enigma that is our humanity and perhaps also from an answer that could just save humanity.

I have had my own teeth since 1958 and while dental care has been good, never have I felt that I could lose my teeth to those who would want God removed from the marketplace of ideas until recently.

A place for wisdom

Growing up, my grandparents would say that religion is a private thing but they would never have said that speaking about God is a taboo thing. They were much smarter than that. They had the wisdom to understand that to hear was to know what people were saying and thinking.

They’d learnt the value of that through successive wars and the danger of lunatic leaders who would burn books and shut down free speech. 

Wisdom teaches us to listen and assess. If what is said offers truth and legitimate warning,  then salvation follows. If what is said is false or foolish, we can do business with it so as to spare people from dreadful consequences.

Religion of the self

In this regard, I have been listening for some time to the religion that promotes self as god.

I wouldn’t want to silence this religion for fear of what it might do if it went underground and we had no capacity to address it.

I have noticed how this religion tries to speak over and through all things, declaring its striking commitment to not listen to anything that challenges the self’s adoration of the selfish.

God’s place in the public arena

The danger of this religion is that it plays to our passions.

The “I” of humanity has never left the public arena and that is why God must never be pushed from the public arena.

In fact it has long been the Christian religion that has listened to and addressed the religion of self and brought change that delivered the consideration of another’s needs before our own.

It is the Christian religion that has even brought a willingness to lay down one’s life for the sake of another.

These are great gifts which we crucify to our peril.

So don’t choke on your cake and coffee, be thankful for dentists and consider increasing your religious literacy.