Monday, February 05, 2007

Faith Unchosen

I've been following Andrew Sullivan's "debate" with Sam Harris with great interest. Sullivan's reasonableness and moderation, his careful use of words and thoughts, are impressive. Again, I'm biased, but I think that Mr. Harris has met his match.

Today's response is entitled "Faith Unchosen." Harris had asked Sullivan what it would take to convince him that God doesn't exist. But as with most of us, Sullivan replies with a bit of bewilderment, because faith isn't really something we've chosen. It's just always been there.

I have never doubted the existence of God. Never. My acceptance of God's existence - of a force beyond everything and the source of everything - goes so far back in my consciousness and memory that I can neither recall "finding" this faith nor being taught it. So when I am asked to justify this belief, as you reasonably do, I am at a loss. At this layer of faith, the first critical layer, the layer that includes all religious people and many who call themselves spiritual rather than religious, I can offer no justification as such. I have just never experienced the ordeal of consciousness without it. It is the air I have always breathed. I meet atheists and am as baffled at their lack of faith - at this level - as you are at my attachment to it. When people ask me how I came to choose this faith, I can only say it chose me. I have no ability to stop believing. Crises in my life - death of loved ones, diagnosis with a fatal illness, emotional loss - have never shaken this faith. In fact, they have all strengthened it. I know of no "proof" that could dissuade me of this, since no "proof" ever persuaded me of it.

Now he's wrestled with the question of whether God is evil, but not God's existence. It is Jesus who has convinced him that God isn't evil, but this belief in Jesus hasn't led to an exclusivist view.

I believe what I specifically believe - but since the mystery of the divine is so much greater than our human understanding, I am not in the business of claiming exclusive truth, let alone condemning those with different views of the divine as heretics or infidels. We are all restless for the same God, for the intelligence and force greater than all of us, for that realm of being that the human mind senses but cannot achieve, longs for but cannot capture. But I've learned in that search that integral and indispensable to it is humility.

Finally, regarding the charge that religious moderates simply enable fundamentalist attitudes and actions, Sullivan writes:

I understand that this form of faith would provoke Nietzsche's contempt and James Dobson's scorn. But there is a wide expanse between nihilism and fundamentalism. I fear your legitimate concerns (which I share) about the dangers of religious certainty in politics have blinded you to the fertility of this expanse. And I think you're wrong that we religious moderates are mere enablers of fundamentalist intolerance. I think, rather, we have an important role in talking with atheists about faith and talking with fundamentalists about the political dangers of religious fanaticism, and the pride that can turn faith into absolutism.

In fact, people of faith who are not fundamentalists may be the most important allies you've got. Why don't you want us to help out?

And to this all I can say is: Amen!


DaNutz said...

I'm also enjoying this debate but I have found Sam Harris to make a better case. Maybe that is because I probably have more of an otherthan-theistic view of God and I don't adhere to belief in the interventionalist image of God or in miracles as is often understood by the ancient authors or modern fundamentalists.

I have a couple of ideas that I will formulate and post later today. Maybe we can get a cross blog dialogue/debate about this topic. It sounds like we differ on belief even if we probably agree on ideas of faith.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I would enjoy the conversation and hopefully invite others to participate in our two blogs. I think there are likely more similarities between us than differences. As Mystic Seeker responded to an earlier post, panentheism offers a view of the transcendent that I think is inherent in the Christian faith. The question comes down to where does God fit in, especially if one affirms a non-interventionist God. I'm still wrestling with this. I'm not all the way with Borg, but I find his thoughts and ideas provocative and helpful in my own journey.