September 07, 2010

The Faith Delusion (MDIV 555)

To introduce this introduction, I should say this is the first of what will be twice weekly journal entries for my MDIV 555 Spiritual Formation class at UWest. They will often reference class readings. At the moment, we are working our way through Stages of Faith by James Fowler, a somewhat dated book commonly used in pastoral care curricula among monotheistic seminaries. Although it has lately fallen out of favor, it is a solid foundation from which to begin. Our professor, Victor Gabriel, has requested these journal entries be a page in length, so they may be somewhat shorter than my normal post. I have written on a few of these topics previously here in the blog, and will try to link back to them as appropriate. These first few posts are journals from the last two weeks. Enjoy!

Journal Entry for August 26, 2010

By way of introduction, I should say I have a problem with “faith,” the word and the deed. Mostly this is baggage. I was raised in the United Methodist Church, a protestant Christian tradition with a very simplistic view of faith (at least as presented to children). Either one has faith or one does not. There is no room for doubt. It is an all or nothing gamble. I was told I would feel a certain way if I had faith. When I failed to feel the “love of Jesus” permeate my being, as children do, I assumed the fault was mine and redoubled my efforts. Years later, as teenagers do, I threw up my hands in rebellion and walked away. I have never returned.

This leaves me in a quandary. On the one hand I have cast faith away as worthless rhetoric, but on the other hand, I live it every day. In the absence of mystical explanations for the universe, I could still not deny the inexplicability of phenomena. The rational mind can only account for so much. Some things are held true without reasonable explanation. I still hold two competing conceptions of faith, but the faith I do have, prevents me from panicking over it.

Firstly, faith is synonymous with delusion. (Or perhaps it should be Faith with a capital ‘F’?) Faith is our loyalty to a concept of the world as we want it to be. This is a delusion we must transcend in order to see the world as it really is. Does anyone ever have Faith in something they don’t want to be true? People believe in the devil, but only in conjunction with something greater they want to be true (i.e. God). Faith is a way of explaining the inexplicable to create a sense of comfort and surety in our lives. The explanation need not correspond to reality to have the power to do this.

“For most of us, most of the time, [faith/delusion] functions so as to screen off the abyss of mystery that surrounds us.” (Page xii of Stages of Faith.) This sounds very similar to a description of the cocoon we use to protect ourselves for groundlessness. However, Fowler also equates faith with “trust and commitment” in the very next paragraph, two ideas not so easy to exchange with delusion.

Here I fall into the trap of applying faith only to the one big belief I rejected so early – God. (That’s capital-‘F’ Faith.) With the rejection of this belief comes a rejection of the reasoning for action. From whence does morality spring if not God? Who made the world if not God? What is the goal of our lives if not to be closer to God? So I have lost Faith, but not trust or commitment. I still trust many things and many people and I have committed my life to certain goals. (Fowler also discusses Smith who points out faith is not about “faith in” certain beliefs and the creation of meaning, which brings out the existentialist in me, but that is a longer discussion for another time.)

Secondly, to say I have no faith is itself a delusion. It took time to realize other things had come to replace Faith in my lost God. I have faith in the goodness of human beings (whether it is a byproduct of a socially evolved species or placed there by God is of less importance). But mostly I have faith in my ability to figure things out … eventually.

I also have faith in much more mundane things, as Fowler points out we all have in Chapter One. I have faith that when I put my feet on the floor in the morning, it will not collapse beneath me. I have faith in the sunrise and the sunset and the rain. But always I fill this faith with caveats. That’s part of my baggage. My faith is not the absolute religious Faith I was taught faith should be. It is a “most-likely” faith, in both the big things and the small. Mostly likely the floor will not collapse. Most likely the sun will rise. Most likely I will be able to figure it out … eventually.

But I could be wrong, and I also have faith that it is okay if I am, most likely.

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