Creeds Need Evolution (Because Humans Do)

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By Jane Tawel

June 26, 2021

Creeds Need Evolution (Because Humans Do)

By Jane Tawel

The idea of a creed tends to bring up religious connotations and perhaps because of that, the idea of having a creed tends to imply a status quo, a static belief system, and a do-or-die pact between like-minded people who join together over ideas that determine an “in-status” and “out-status” for anyone who does not adhere to the CREED (in capital letters).

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A creed is defined as “a set of beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions”.  Sadly, to look at many of the religious or national creeds today you would have to assume that the last part of the definition has been irrevocably deleted, so that a creed is merely a “set of beliefs or aims”.  No action required.  On the other hand, many groups, communities, and religious or political entities, have creeds that imply definite action without the members of said group having any idea what those actions really and truly say about what they must believe to act in said ways.  For instance, patriots who storm the capital are, to those who do not claim to be following the same creed, foolishly and blindly or willfully and grievously, acting on a belief system that is in fact quite the opposite of patriotic beliefs in a true democracy.  Or take the example of someone who joins what is recognizably a religious cult.  While all religions have cult-like attributes, the victim of a person or personages who create creeds around themselves in order to control and manipulate the actions of others for personal or group gain reveals the “clear and present danger” of man-made creeds. Because while we may belong to a church, mosque, or rotary or mason’s club, full of a membership that sincerely believes that our creeds are inspired, divine, good for the common good of the group, beneficent, helpful, unifying, heave-bound, or even “God-breathed”– the plain truth is, every creed is simply a human-made attempt  to put into words their “beliefs and aims”. The supposed God-inspired or patriotically-sound attributes are by default, then, at risk of misuse, misinterpretation, and mistakes as all humanly-created ideas can be.  It is good when looking at religious or national creeds to keep in mind that if there is a God,  no one has ever completely understood or known the “mind” of said God. And secondly, no one, and this means No One, can take an historical creed, nationalistic or religious, or otherwise, and apply it perfectly, or even realistically and practically, throughout time and place.

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So, what is my point, you ask? What is my “aim” in this focus on the idea of creeds?  I have grown up in a world of specific groups of people, each of which group believes that we memorize and recite our creed or pledge in order to prove what we believe forever, and forever, in God we trust, America the Beautiful,  and blah,blah,blah grace, liberty, and justice for all, amen. Hands on heart, or folded before us in prayer, we worship the idea of the words, without having to follow through with the actions required by saying we believe those words are guides to our “purposes, actions, and aims”.

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Let me give you a simple reflection on two popular creeds in groups of people that I have belonged to. They come from creeds I have memorized and recited in front of groups of other people, solemnly and faithfully pronouncing the words and by doing so, implying with the rest of the people with me that I plan on living a life that adheres to the principles in that creed.  The first example, for me, would be the “Pledge of Allegiance”, which I have memorized and which I used to recite (often under the duress of group-think begun in elementary school). (Disclaimer here: I no longer choose to recite the pledge of allegiance, finding its meaning opaque and faulty. You can read elsewhere in this blog, why long ago, for religious and spiritual reasons, I began to choose to stand respectfully during the Pledge of Allegiance, but not mouth these words of allegiance to what for me, had become an icon or an idol.)

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America has some really excellent creeds, like our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, but our pledge to a flag, which is tragically for most people, the only American creed they have any real knowledge of, is not-creed worthy. And if you look closely, it more resembles a “bait and switch” than an important set of beliefs.  To simplify this thought for now, if I am pledging my loyalty to a symbol, then I should understand what that symbol stands for, because of course a symbol is a GIANT container for BIG IDEAS. Tragically, I know more than many, as someone who has tried to teach symbols, metaphors, and other mind-expanding literary devices for years, the average person, whether a high-school drop-out or a Harvard grad, have little clue about the immense importance of and very real truths inherent in symbols, word-symbols and image symbols alike. Let me put it another way, when the American Revolutionaries were fighting for what they believed to be their freedom, the symbol of a flag and a pledge to support this flag were profoundly meaningful to give credence to their actions. For soldiers in any country who are fighting for their country’s ideals, a pledge said around the symbolic icon of said country can be an incredibly important and unifying way to more deeply and subconsciously understand the meaning of the actions of war. But that brings us to a different problem – when a flag represents merely a nation’s rights at any cost to other nations or people-groups, then we have put the horse before the cart, and we are acting first, and re-forming the intentions of the creed to justify the actions. This is the opposite of what a creed is meant to do. A creed is meant to provide borders around as well as guidance for actions

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Of course, even sillier than thinking that a creed only needs to be about a piece of cloth we fly for national identification purposes, are those who have come to believe that singing a song before a sports event is creed material. And to make matters worse, most people don’t know the words to this “creed song”. And if they do in fact know the words, as I do, can they hit the high notes that are meant to soar our belief system into a heavenly realm?  As a matter of fact, what has become known as the American national anthem, is merely an historical story-song, a hind-sight perspective, of how and when and who won our independence; an event that happened way, way back when. (Although in terms of keeping an historical perspective,  compared to other nations and countries, America’s young hold on life should have given us a little more humility, but alas that has never seemed to be first and foremost among our brash, young nation’s traits.) The creed-song of our country in fact, holds no creed-worthy tenets and again, if one were led to believe that one should act on the belief system of said anthem, then once more we are reduced to believing that all Americans should care about is a piece of red, white and blue cloth and a song that we sing to worship sporting events.

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From a true perspective of belief systems, if a person really knew what they were pledging allegiance to when pledging to the flag of America or singing the song of American freedoms, they would applaud those who take a knee rather than mouth some words, and join them on their knees in a fight for the “justice for all”. After all, that is what Americans say that we have pledged to uphold. And furthermore, rather than punish protestors, if we believed our national creeds, we would prosecute anyone – ANYONE—who incited people to storm the building that is the epicenter of those flag-creed beliefs; and we would remove from office those people who pledged allegiance to grant “liberty for all”. Because creeds can only take so much self-centered, ego-driven, or greed-tainted abuse and still have any rational meaning at all. Funny, how two people can claim to believe in and uphold the very same creed, and have such different aims and actions as a result of said belief. To see this even more clearly, one must look at religious creeds, which have become so written in stone over the centuries as to become the worshipped, rather than the worshipful. One only has to look at the recent abuse of creeds in both Catholic and evangelical institutions to see that our creeds can all too easily take the place of our God. After all a dead creed is so much easier to live by and with than a living God.

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Just like everything ever written or orally transmitted to people and people groups, all communication has two important elements: Audience and Purpose. In creed-creating, one can see that one problem that is to be addressed is that an audience never remains the same. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist or linguist, a founding father or theologian to understand, that if one accepts the changing hue, temperament, needs, and make-up of the audience, then a creed needs to be either flexible, or changeable. It needs to evolve, just like people and nations and religions need to evolve. If a creed is written for one audience, like a fledgling nation made up of other nation-groups, or a young religion made of up Jews and Gentiles, or for metaphoric purposes,  let’s just say, if the audience was once a bunch of five-year olds, but now are a vast throng of twenty-somethings, or sixty-somethings, well, the creed you are asking everyone to base their beliefs and actions on, either needs to morph and transform and evolve, or you need to throw it out and start over.

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The second example of creed-following for me comes from not my national identity but my religious upbringing.  Now, take care here, because in my own beloved country of America, far, far too many people seem to have confused the nationalistic with the religious, making both the creedal tenants of a separate church and state ideologies, both tragically abused and ridiculously meaningless. But, as another example of creed-use and abuse, one  particular religious creed that I have recited in unison quite a few times in a long, long life of church going, is called The Nicene Creed. This is a religious set of beliefs that was written (and rewritten) in around the mid 300’s A.D. by the religious leaders of the Christian Church; and it has ever since been accepted by all forms of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. This creed helps not only with understanding the interplay of intended Audience with belief systems, but the dangerous power behind Purpose in writing out a set belief system intended to inform actions.

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The Nicene Creed is an excellent example of why, in order to understand the meaning of any creed or written set of beliefs, one must understand its purpose. In other words, to understand the WHAT, one must understand the WHO, but most important of all, one must understand and keep grappling with the WHY. 

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The Nicene Creed was written with the express purpose of “weeding out” and “gathering in”.  It was written 300 years after the death of the supposed leader of Christianity, Jesus Christ, in order that the now powerful arms of the ruling class of bishops and “theologians” and paid professionals of the Church, could have a yardstick by which to measure if a congregant had a correct belief system or not. While the American documents of nation formation were written as a reaction to what had come before, they were also written with a great hope in what would and would not come after. The Nicene Creed, conversely, was written, not with a “hope and a dream” for a better world, like the American Declaration of Independence was, but the Nicene Creed was written expressly as a reaction AGAINST those who were questioning what had already become the status quo of a new religion. The Nicene Creed was written, as sadly, especially religious creeds often are, to protect the people who were in powerful positions and who “liked things the way they were”, in order that nothing would change what those in power had already determined the set-in-stone tenets of this new religion would follow. The Nicene Creed was written with the aim of ammunition against the threats that had arisen to the religion that had morphed out of the life, teachings, and hope of Jesus Christ, who never wrote a single document for us to use in the future, let alone a creed.  One only has to look to the current year of 2021 to see how often we use creeds of national and religious institutions not to bring about meaningful and hopeful, productive change for all, but rather to prevent change and keep  the status quo for those who benefit from the past, not those who need a foundation in the present, or a dream for the future.

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It came as a shock for me to revisit the so-called standard bearer of creeds of the Christian religion and realize, that just like the American national anthem, The Nicene Creed, is not at all a creed – it is a written account of a group of beliefs about the history of the planet, the history of a man called Jesus, and the history of God. And like a crack over the head, I realized that all these centuries of reciting this creed and taking it as “gospel” has in fact, only led to one discernible aim and one obvious purpose – to believe this creed is to be “in”, “chosen”, part of “the correct group”;  and to veer in any part of this creed, is to be “out” , a heretic, not one of the chosen group.  And it doesn’t matter one bit, how those who recite this creed as a founding and important and even “Godly” document—it doesn’t matter at all how we act or live. We have reduced belief to intellectual assent and nothing more. We have reduced creeds to the level of secret handshakes or long-lasting party games (“party” has two meanings here). We have taken the meaning of what we call “faith” and reduced it not to a relationship with a living God or a relationship with the people we live with, but to a stagnant set of tenents, that barely effect our knowledge base, let alone affect our hearts, souls, or actions.

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A creed can imply, for some brave and intrepid souls, an aim or an action. So, let’s say I still want to cling to my religious creed as something that should influence my actions. Let’s take some of the words of The Nicene Creed for example.  If I actually believe for instance that “God is the maker of heaven and earth”, as my creed proclaims; then consequently, I should treat the earth as if it is God’s. If the whole earth, planet, people, trees, plants, animals, air, water – if all were made by a Supernatural Being that exists somewhere beyond the Earth but also within our World, and Who loves the whole planet as something She/He/They created, then how should I and my fellow creed-followers ACT? How should we, based on our creed, treat the Whole World, the created essence of Our God?  Well, if actions speak louder than words, one would have to conclude as the inspired words found in James 2:14-26 does, that “faith without works is dead”.

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To take a simplistic approach to deducing what I might mean when I say I believe in the ideas that have been written down in the Nicene Creed, let’s pretend I really did believe that when my group of fellow Nicene Creed believers recited this, we were joining together to commit to actions implied by the “beliefs or aims” presented in the words, and that by committing to the beliefs that would lead to actions we were also saying that we would hold ourselves and each other RESPONSIBLE for following through on how best to act on those beliefs and to LIVE OUT those beliefs in our community and in the world at large.  If that were the case, what would it mean for me to say with others: “I look for the life of the world to come” and how would I act in order to live into a world that I prefer to the one we are making now?

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A creed, to be any use or any good at all must be open to change, and in constant evolution, just like any group, or church, or nation, or club, or human being, should be. The ironic thing is that for a creed to be consistent, it must be open to new interpretations and new ways of living into the truths supposedly inherent in the written words.  To be not only deeply true, but critically useful, a belief system must be a kind of oxymoronic foundation, that is both bedrock and solidly based in eternal truths, and also completely and eternally changing with the deeper understanding amidst the new realities and new responsibilities of the place and time in which humans live. A creed should be as evolutionary as every living thing in the created world actually is. What a person believes should be as grounded in what a person should be as nature is grounded to the Earth. To Be-lieve is to let my Be-ing, Live.

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I have begun to look more intensely and intentionally, at the many sources of my own belief system and I have been humbled by the great writers, teachers, radicals, and most of all the “Do-ers” who have created the creeds that aim to guide us, both as citizens of the world and for some us, perhaps and hopefully, as “citizens of heaven”. And as I look and read, and reread, meditate, and grapple and struggle with these creeds, and find new creeds from other places, times, nations, and religions to wrestle with, I am trying to turn my telescope around the other way. I am trying to observe my actions, both current and past, and ask myself this:

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 What is my Purpose? What do my actions tell me and others about what I really believe?

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What do I actually do to support the nation and community I live in, to the best of my ability in my understanding of what it means to be a good citizen with care and caring, and “freedom and justice” for all?

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What do I honestly believe about my spiritual identity and the spiritual identity of my “audience”? What parts of my faith are “dead” and inactive? And how strong and true is the faith of my works? How much of what I say I believe is Alive, in connection with A Living God? Is the “Why” of who I am, leading me “further up and further in”, to bring Life and Be Life?

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So I am, in effect, as all of us are, whether we know it or not, daily writing our own creed. We are either consciously or subconsciously, allowing new creeds to help us change for something that can simply be described as “better”; or we are allowing our fears and stubborn foolishness to keep us moored to the shoals of dead creeds, useful only for self-importance or a false sense of security and power. I began a little exercise, which I may write about later, but now is just a rambling musing and jotting down of ideas that I think I could look at as “My Current (but maybe not Forever, depending on revelations to come) Life Creed”.

 I encourage you to try writing out what you think you believe to be foundational to your worldview, your creed. Then write out as many of your life’s actions that you can match-up to prove you have lived according to these beliefs.  It is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who desire a little humility with their hope today. I am finding as I meditate on this exercise more of the who of myself, more of the who and who not of my audience, and more of the Who of The One Who Is. I am also finding more of what the true connection is between my imagined purpose and my true purpose. I am finding that I really have never had much of an idea of what it all means in light of eternity, but that it is enough for me not to know some great purpose, as creeds would lead us to believe.  It is enough for my purpose to Be me and to act in a way that I would like all humans to act towards each other.  My faith can still be “the essence of things unseen but hoped for”; and my life creed can be the “peace that passes understanding”, the wholeness that means simply that I want to be active in whatever Goodness and Love are doing in the world, no matter whose creed is behind it.

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 I don’t know much, but I do seek for much more, and in that is, with a lot of grace, I believe, my salvation; for as that brilliant creed-buster, St. Paul wrote:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13).

And any creed without Love at the center is no creed worth following. And Love is always the Ultimate Creed.

© Jane Tawel June 2021

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Jane Tawel

Still not old enough to know better. I root around and explore ideas in philosophy, spirituality, poetry, Judeo-Christian Worldview, family, relationships, and art. Often torn between encouragement & self-directed chastisement, I may sputter, but I still keep trying to move forward.

7 thoughts on “Creeds Need Evolution (Because Humans Do)”

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, I have tried pretty hard in recent years to move from the idea of “fundamental” to “foundational”. Such a difference! Peace to you and yours today, Jane

      Liked by 2 people

  1. my goodness! i take that creed every sunday, not among the one day tho. the truth is i think nobody knows and it shows. live each day as tho it is your last and cast most doubts upon the tacit golden silver threaded wings, the bearer of many splendid things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yes. “nobody knows and it shows” — how much I struggle with moving from, as Rabbi Heschel would say, moving from knowledge to understanding. I love how you use your knowledge of words to dig into the depths of understanding the ineffable. Thank you for being my WP friend and shalom to you today and each day, Jane

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  2. Your insights here are all an accurate observation of what we face in this country and in our world. My creed is to follow my heart choose love no matter what and reject fear and the like because it doesn’t serve to heal but dim the light. There’s always room for improvement, keeping an open mind and definitely an open heart. I take what serves and leave the rest. In light and in shadow, always with love my dear Jane. Namaste ❤ Love and light to you🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, MariaTeresa. I didn’t know until recently that Namaste had such a powerful and profound spiritual meaning. “I bow to the divine in you”, my friend. And you as always have added something so very important — any belief based on fear is not of the ultimate truth of who we are and what the divine in the world is meant to accomplish. Only beliefs based on Love will remain. Thank you for so much love today — Jane

      Liked by 1 person

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