Friday, December 08, 2006

What's So Amazing About Really Deep Thoughts?

"One can't believe impossible things," said Alice.
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," responded the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!"

The book I just finished had a chapter called "Doubt" that I keep coming back to in my mind and in my day-to-day experiences (I have found it best to listen when this happens). In this chapter the author explores the relationship between doubt and faith. "I had thought that as long as I still had doubt, I could not have faith. For all these years, I had assumed that God did not want to hear from me until I had resolved my doubts and vanquished my uncertainty (pg. 252)."

Somehow in this Age of Information, I think we have gotten hung up on the idea that we need to know everything before believing it. Most people have blamed our reliance on science, but I actually suspect that science is closer to religion than we think. For example, in both disciplines, the question is actually more pivotal than the concluding finding. Without the first, you can not have the other. In the same line of thought then, is faith the result of doubt?

Furthermore, scientific facts seem to me to be at best estimates, requiring our faith to accept them as such. For example, when scientists will tell us how much we would weigh on the sun, how can this be tested and verified? Or the distance to the "planet" Pluto? Or the communication skills of dinosaurs?

Many of the conclusions we have reached about our world are based on the accumulated knowlege we have available but could potentially change (and have changed) as time as gone on and we make new discoveries. For example, look at the changing facts in nutrition with regards to cholesterol and fatty acids. At one time, scientists considered tomatoes poisonous and now tell us wine, chocolate and coffee are actually beneficial!

Religion, like science, also changes as we make new discoveries about ourselves. I've talked at length before about how our views from the Bible have changed to adapt to our changing society. We don't practice slavery and unfortunately divorce is sometimes necessary (contrary to what is in the Bible). In our society, we now believe that women and racial minority groups should be treated equally without discrimination (contrary to what is in the Bible). Currently we are in dialogue about whether homosexuals should also included or not. Recently the Swedish Lutherans and the Conservative Jews have both said "yes" to same-sex equality in the form of unions whereas many other religious groups have said "no" or are still discussing it.

All these examples are not to make the point that everything in religion or science will eventually change. But I do think that we were given an advanced cerebrum for a reason (which would be to use it). God has this incredible sense of irony and I think at some point we'll realize how pointless all our struggles really have been.

Yes, there are many things in our lives and the world around us that make no sense. This is why we have science and religion. Not only does doubt beget faith but paradoxically faith also produces doubt, opening up further questions and contradictions.

I don't think I've ever shared before about the events that led up to my baptism. For a long time, I held off from making that decision because I wanted all my questions to be answered. By the time I was a teenager, I realized having all my doubts answered wasn't what was important at all. What mattered was the search and (because of my family and the society I was born into) I chose Christianity as my medium for that search. It's much like taking the plunge before getting engaged to be married, isn't it? You will never be able to plan for all the possible situations in the life before you nor will you ever "solve for all the unknowns" in your potential mate. But, on faith, you can chose to say, "I want accompany you (and future person you will become) on this journey."

It was Saint Augustine that said "Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand." Saint Anselm of Canterbury prayed "I yearn to understand some measure of the truth which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to have faith, but I have faith in order to understand. For I believe even this: I shall not understand unless I have faith."

1 comment:

connie said...

The older I get, the more I realize how little I really understand, but the deeper my faith has become. Your comments are very insightful,
Dan. I agree with you that God is probably perplexed, amused, frustrated and yet hopefully continues to be patient with us because of our penchant for dividing ourselves into this group or that group on so many different levels. What a waste of what little time we have in this life!