Faith is the outer limit of your capacity to question. There are some things you refuse to question, and these things you accept on faith. Faith is less what you hold to be true, and more what you refuse to accept as possibly false.
I believe, for example, that God is that which embraces and transcends all reality, and that creation is to God as a wave is to the ocean: God manifest in time and space. I believe that God manifest contains both natural and moral law, and that we humans are (at this time and in this place) the way God comes to discover and use these laws.
What makes me hold to these beliefs? I could offer all kinds of abstract arguments, but the truth is that what really forces me to believe as I do is the terrible sick feeling I get when I doubt these beliefs. I believe what I do because without these beliefs life seems bleak and meaningless. I cannot question my beliefs for fear of finding them false. My faith is rooted in fear.
This is why violence is systemic to faith. When your faith is challenged you are threatened not so much by the beliefs of the challenger but by the meaninglessness that will overwhelm you if the walls of your faith are breached. To protect your faith you attack the challenger.
Is there a way out of this fear-faith-violence connection? I suspect the fear-faith connection is permanent, but I think violence is something we can overcome by admitting the true nature of faith as the outer limits of doubt.
Admitting the true nature of faith allows me to hold my beliefs lightly. They still protect me from meaninglessness, but acknowledging that I really cannot know if my beliefs are true, frees me from the need to defend them. This in turn frees me to engage another’s faith not in order to attack it but to see where the other's fear is located. Seeing the fear we all share may lead to compassion; empathy may replace enmity, and and we might learn walk our different ways with a shared humility, allowing us to bond without either of us having to bend.
Monday, January 23, 2006
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