- Jared Ayers
If you read this blog post hoping for material on the 90’s rock band Creed, I am sorry- both for your taste in music, and to now disappoint you. This piece begins a series on the Creed of the Apostles’ variety, not the worst-of-90’s-top-40-radio variety.
This, and every, Sunday, many of the world’s 2.8 billion Christians will rise to their feet and declare “I believe…” In favellas in Brazil, cathedrals in Europe, and ramshackle storefronts in Los Angeles, followers of Jesus will say the Creed. It’s been handed on from candidates for baptism in caves, to Roman noblewomen, to African chieftans, to union dry-wallers on Long Island. This fall, our church will be exploring the affirmations of the Apostles’ Creed, and as we do so, I’ll offer some musings and provocations here as well, in an attempt to wonder at what you and I do together week by week.
To pilfer the title of Bill Bryson’s sparkling piece of prose, the Apostles’ Creed is Christianity’s Brief History of Nearly Everything. Neurologists, philosophers, and sociologists in sophisticated, elite institutions lately are unearthing what all sorts of cultures have taken for granted for millennia: we are story-shaped creatures. All of us live by some sort of story, some narrative that makes sense of the big questions: Where did we come from? What are we for? What’s a flourishing life? What’s wrong? Where is life headed? As the late David Foster Wallace noticed once in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, “we need narrative like we need space-time; it’s a built-in thing.” We have an innate “need for Creed.”
Declaring a credo, having definite beliefs of any sort, is of course also profoundly unfashionable. In a now-famous TED talk he did a few years ago entitled “Atheism 2.0,” leading British intellectual Alain de Botton unfolds a popular approach to out-of-style Christian beliefs. His unfolds that, of course, religious faith generally, and Christianity specifically, isn’t true, in any God-given sense. But Western secularism, as an approach to life, is also bankrupt in all sorts of ways. So, he says, we ought to excavate the remains of religion for what’s good, beautiful, and helpful to the world- whether that be commitment to education, promotion of the arts, or validation of spiritual experience.
Here’s the trouble, though: there’s a reason why Christians have for millennia patronized and promoted the arts, prayed and marched for justice, taught children and housed the homeless. And that reason is our Credo. Our ultimate beliefs, inescapably, ultimately shape our lives.
All of us, regardless of belief or background, want to live as if it’s better to seek peace than war, better to learn to live together well with others of different races and classes. They want to think that neurological research and public education and love matter. The Christian story summed up in the Creed offers us, and the world, with our inborn “need for creed,” a Brief History of Everything that actually makes sense of these desires and says they’re not an illusion.