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An important test of the authenticity of a faith is what it does with your humanity: your reason; your capacity to love, to hope and to forgive, and to engage in the life of your community. In particular, an authentic faith always deepens your ability to understand, learn and grow when serious trouble happens.

A moment of faith-reckoning is similar to that, for example, of a medical graduate faced with his first real patient. The outcome of this test—which may take days, months or even years—will leave the young doctor with either a sense of hope and gratitude or an uneasy sense that he has not done his homework and even perhaps that his teachers have seriously bungled their attempt at knowing the facts of the medical world and passing them on.

Either way, if truth and love are more important to him than his own personal comfort and security, then he will be ready to learn and to grow through the pain of a flawed education and will emerge with an inner authority that can only come from a grim determination to follow the often faint and unpredictable footprints of truth. Sooner or later he will be the doctor who's words are measured and thoughtful and who has an intrinsic authority. The one you will point to when the nurse at the medical centre asks who you want to see.

The same holds for the science of theology and faith where we (as with Socrates) must follow the evidence wherever it leads, even into places of great dread. Sometimes the jury is out for long periods, during which (if the issue is not sharply felt) we talk things over patiently with friends; argue and debate; go back over the evidence; pray and re-examine the old notebooks written by long-dead 'theological scientists' (the bible). Sometimes these notebooks are all that remains because something went terribly wrong.

In the scientific community, these leftovers-of-disaster notebooks are frequently highly valued because mistakes are 'gold' when it comes to getting closer to reality. Such mistakes are also 'gold' in the faith community, or should be. When did you last celebrate a faith mistake? It's not common to hear someone acknowledge that they made a mistake and have now moved a little closer to the solid reality of God. These mistakes recognised and learned from are some of richest gold you will mine from the dark seams of faith.

Sadly, when a faith mistake happens, we tend to completely drop our bundle of cool and careful truth investigation and take offense at God, or quickly interpret it to fit our pre-conceived theology (aka theory of God) and to keep God 'pretty'. We can even do the same to our friends and work colleagues … which they hate. But what if this so called faith mistake is a faith imbroglio (completely confused and embarrassing situation)? Or something worse?

Is that you today? Not just reading a blog, but being assaulted by some overbearing terror, which has just smacked you down and shaken your confidence. So much for cool debate. All bets are most likely off on a universe created by a God who likes you and who has some kind of 'human-liking and reasoning tendency'.

These are times where some of us wonder whether it's true, as the witch doctors assert, that we are in fact dealing with an impatient and capricious deity who does not actually like people at all and makes no allowances for honest mistakes—a cop who shoots before he asks questions and—just to keep you in your place—appoints lackeys called pastors, priests and shamans who take your money and try to pacify the god and get you a few favours. Beware the loss of nerve that comes from such conclusions, for that is how entire societies remain ruled by fear.

Imagine, for example, that a life or death quarrel started in the education industry over the truth about education, and it got to the stage where there were town inspections, school inspections and home inspections, and those found to have the wrong type of educational theory were executed. Society would then be faced with two options: either one Correct Type is accepted in society and all other competitors are refused entry; or a decree could be passed that separated the science of educational theory from all other sciences. The decree might go further in fact, saying that it has been shown that statements about education are meaningless in the world of objective science.

Both of these options (the 'Correct Type' and 'Meaninglessness') will have given us the desired outcome: that we no longer fear being executed for our beliefs about education. The first because there is only ever one option and no one speaks about alternatives, and the second because everyone supposedly knows that it's impossible to know the truth about education since it has no connection with reality. Happily for us all this means that all types of education are valid, including no education, and we are now free to believe whatever we like since all educational theories are the same. We know this is not true but we say it because it stops the disagreements, the killing and the fear.

If you lived in North Korea you would be going for the second option as the lesser of the two evils—a useful temporary measure. But once you make that move to the salvation of meaninglessness, you then find yourself under another kind of pressure: the pressure to leave the vexed and potentially lethal 'education theory' question alone. But you can't because you are curious, you can smell the fear and you think it's shameful to be dishonest.

What about you? Are you just plain curious? Can you smell the fear? The dishonesty?

We need to face the fact that this problem is deeply entrenched—even in your church or your atheist society. And thanks to a painful and bloody era in our past, we have placed enormous pressure on ourselves to pretend that all gods are the same and that there is no way of knowing the truth anyway since science (the study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world) holds all the knowing cards. But does it? NT Wright makes the comment: 'What does it mean to truly “know” something? Current thinking on “knowing” privileges science above all else, aka, “test tube epistemology”.'

Perhaps the subterfuge for us has not been as exaggerated as that in the education story, but the evidence of recklessness and even dishonesty is everywhere. Last century Aldous Huxley summed it up this way: 'I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none and without any difficulty was able to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. For myself the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.' Someone else summed it up another way: 'The easiest way through life is to either believe everything or doubt everything, because that way you don't have to think.'

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