Thursday, February 18, 2010

Faith IV: The Flexibility of Believing

I think in terms of commitment as well as in terms of faith or belief, all three are bludgeons when faced with the complexities that we try to negotiate with language. I'm more moved these days by story telling than by the reduction of experience to abstraction. In Physics, supposedly simple equations such as the T-shirtable Maxwell's or Einstein's field equations rest on essential wildernesses of experiment and theory, which Physicists know by anecdote and fable as much as from books and personal experience. I think it's the same with these supposedly simple words, which need all human experience to be known intimately. In the end, however, what we give transcends what we know and what we feel, our belief and our faith.

Peter Morgan.

...Theory shares the same Latin root from which we get the word theater (or theatre). Theories then are insights, and as such, aren't true or untrue, rather they let us see into a thing. A new theory doesn't necessarily replace another one, it lets us see differently.

David Bohm; my paraphrase.

I began this foray into faith in response to commentary developing over at 13.7 in the context of science and religion, where a scientist asked, how can he a man of reason, interact with someone like me, a man of "faith"? So I began this continuing exploration of faith by getting at where I think science gets the concept wrong. Here, I'd like to approach it from where I think Christians get it wrong, by comparing faith to certainty- all awhile keeping the admonitions of our two thinkers heading this post in mind.

To begin, let me say that faith is inexorably tied to believe. So what is believe about?

Imagine yourself at home. If you're a young person- pre-family, you have the munchies; if on the other hand, you're intra-family, you need milk; in either case you gotta get in the car and drive to the store. Such a trip is so practiced, driving requires little thought, and you never question returning home safely; i.e. you never bid fond farewells to your loved ones before embarking to the Quicky Mart.

But think about it- how can you know with certainty that you will return safely, until your safety is history? You can't. Do you believe that you'll return safely? well yes- if you didn't believe it you wouldn't go. I'm stating something simply, but don't let that fool you! Such simplicity is really quite complex as it relies on infrastructure, machinery, stability, practice, and trust in other drivers: and because certainty is an impossibility in situations such as this, we wear seat belts. This is a classic situation requiring our faculty of believing: Believing is an elegant way to live into circumstances where no amount of information can solve a total amount of ignorance or fixate a probability.

Let's compare this to certainty. Grammatically speaking, certainty is innately binary; you can be certain or uncertain. If you want to approach the driving scenario within the framework of certainty, then the consistent thing to do is to leave off your seat belt: why bother with any discomfort- go "commando" and feel free and easy because it's certain you'll return safely. The very basis of believing on the other hand, has its genesis in ignorance: whether the situation is driving to the store, entering into marriage, or picking a career, each situation comes with a boat load of ignorance that we have to live our lives into. In actuality, believing is a robust capacity for living with such innate ignorance.

When it comes to God, Christians often mistake believing for certainty. Because certainty requires a fixed knowledge set, any change to a knowledge set of God, equates to a change in their God; a sense of peril ensues which typically sets off a hornet's nest in the middle of any dialog about God. (Or scientific theory or anything else that stands for turf.)

When you approach God through believing though, you begin with an acknowledged ignorance: so your trust is built on something different than what garners certainty. And without the innate rigidity of certainty- which depends on my concept remaining true, regardless of new information- believing lets God be God regardless of my theology. Believing sets me up to participate with God instead of needing to control who God is.

So when Stephen thinks about God in other terms such as Beauty or Elegance, we are invited to experience God in other ways, because through our capacity of believing, our connection is about God rather than fixed concepts.

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