SIN AND DAMNATION
Falsity, Credulity, Faith,
Superstition and Dogma
My first-time using faith
I weaponized faith for the first time yesterday. Well, maybe that is too strong a word. But that is how it felt, like weaponizing. This happened when a friend decided to challenge my ridiculous proposition that human beings have no free will; saying to me "we're doing this" as he stepped to a convenient whiteboard to lay out his case. And as he began to draw a graph-chart I remember telling myself to use faith if things do not go well, which set the stage for an easy parachute away from his argument should it prove sound. Yet, that is not what I really want... I do not want to hold on to any weak belief. I do want to be convinced otherwise if I can be shown to be wrong. I sincerely wish to see the error of my ways. And yet, something inside me was preparing a defense. I even said to him as he began to draw on the board "you know this free will thing is a matter of faith to me?" to which he countered with a wry glance.
"Here you are, the atheist, using faith to your own ends to unsettle the footing of your opponents."
The chart my friend produced included columns describing characteristics such as the qualities of our birth and the influence of our environment and our times - all of which he agreed are largely outside our personal control and thus beyond free will. The columns he laid out thus constituted about 80% of who we are, so he was largely conceding that free will is not real–up to about 80%. The remaining 20% he described as our true choices, and as the seat of our free will. It was here–in the 20% of freedom–where our liberty to choose was found. Free will, he argued, is therefore real, if only to the tune of roughly 20% of our constitution. It was a simple and clear case—seemingly sound—though I did see a hole where I might begin a counterargument. However, instead of mustering a fight, I chose instead to play my trump-card–quite prematurely.
I declared "But I take it that we have no free will as a principle of faith!"
My friend's wry look took a twist, the same twist my own expression might make whenever someone uses faith on me. "Oh, so that's what you're going to do" he said. Adding, "I know what you're up to... Here you are, the atheist, using faith to your own ends to unsettle the footing of your opponents."
That was not right. That is not what I am up to. Or is it? I countered that this is not my game, that I really BELIEVE we have no free will, and that no one can choose what they believe. Adding that I hate this belief of mine and that I wish it were not true. But yet, I believe, I honestly believe we have no free will - though I cannot demonstrate this is so. And thus, I hold this truth on faith.
The discussion ended there. Wholly unsatisfactory. Utterly incomplete. I felt like a cheater and a fraud. I wanted to sneak away and avoid my friend for the rest of the day, as I respect him and appreciate his time and the effort he made to share his rationale and reason in favor of free will. And though I saw fertile ground for a real and interesting discussion on the matter, I chose instead to avoid that high-road and jump immediately into the dark retreat of faith. I ran away instead of fighting. I hid somewhere false to console myself that my belief is true. I was–and remain–ashamed of myself. And I will seek some penance now for my sin, the sin of exercising faith.
I need to confess.
Going Alone is something our species rarely does. No wonder perhaps we then take ourselves so seriously... No wonder we sometimes sense warmth radiating from the cold.
There are campfires
All across this plain
Cold lights, warm with life
Friendship and love
Away from the darkness beyond
I understand, the darkness beyond is indeed a terrible thing. There is nothing very welcoming in deep night. There are few happy stories to bring back from very pure solitude; only close calls with danger and death and fearful tales of strange sights and noises and ideas. So, why then would anyone ever step even once away from the ring of fire that is the centerpiece of their living? Why leave the others behind for any reason other than to briefly move away in order to relieve oneself behind a bush, wondering while so doing if there are eyes in the dark looking back, and considering briefly our vulnerability out there away from the crowd. So, we then dart back quickly when our work is done and take our place again huddled close to the others with our hands held near the flame. Shouldn't this fire be warmer? Why does the flame somehow produce more light than heat? Where is the warmth? Where is the REAL warmth?
But there is talk around the fire, a seemingly incessant warm chatter. There is the heat, perhaps...it's the energy of noisy show and attention and the draw of distraction and trust and deceit and success and failure and the whole lot and production of our living that burns hot. All of this is the source of a sort of warmth we mistake for the fire, which still burns less warm than natural heat should. For should not nature offer us more? Shouldn't the natural world speak plainly of all the dear things we maintain as true: friendship, community, love, peace and forever? How can the flame which we, and our predecessors, kindled and maintain be as cold as the nighttime darkness beyond? This cannot be. I will not have it. I simply will not. I maintain otherwise and sustain my claim with the posture and attitude of certainty. And I back up my position with the substance of faith.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1
I do not understand those other things... Those things you keep bringing up about the seeming cold within the flame. Won’t you stop talking of that, please. Let us get on with the community discussion. Let's hear the day's news? And what about those Dodgers! Never mind about the flame... What of it? I told you already, I have faith. I do not need any better answer than that. Huddle close to me won't you. I'm cold.
There's this world where I live... And where others like me live. We are there together always. Such a nice place: with the things we like, and some ways to be, and to think. And we are always together in this world, even when we are apart. For the things we know and say and do are alike and these things bind us like strong arms about one another's shoulders—we understand one another, and we raise our little ones to understand, too.
Comfort before truth—
I will believe
Whatever will not upset
And our small ones come up in our ways and they too are brought in and made warm and made safe and comforted by our words and our ways and our being. We lift our clasping arm and bring them under and then grasp them at the shoulders with the same warm and reassuring clasp which makes our own world whole.
And we cannot remember ever not being so whole. Cannot recall ever being less—though we fear being less, and are afraid to be unwhole, deathly afraid. It is the worst thing possible, to become less than we are now...to no longer be one...and to lose our way, or our people, or our sense of being. What a terrible thought, to be outside. It must be death out there...or very nearly death.
But then, there are those who are outside. Those strange people from somewhere else with their other ways. And their other clothes. And their other ideas so queer and unusual. Just what do they think? And why do they act so, and what strange ideas do they believe. Those others...on the outside. And why are they here?
Don't look at them. Hopefully, they will move on and not remain. This is our place, with our people, and our ways and clothes and ideas and beliefs. We are not for them and they are certainly not for us. Those others on the outside.
Young Jimmy asked us the other day how we know that we are right and if the others are wrong. I knew that this would happen... Why did those others have to come and bring their damn questions. I never thought such—not often at least—when I was young, and I never asked anyone if I did. Jimmy spoke up because he was talking to that boy at school from the others, his friend who is not one of us. It was him who put Jimmy up to this, or at least who invited our Jimmy to question. Where to go now? What to do?
The only ways from here are in or out:
In, leads deeper into where we now are, to a more insular and contained place than our current certitude provides. We become more sure and more together and tighter in our ways, and our being, and our beliefs. We become these things by blocking out any void where the outside which we fear may come in—by clasping arms still tighter onto a shrinking nucleus of community who think like us. And there are less of us now than before—those who would not insist being gone. We may never see Jimmy again.
Out, goes away into the seeming void of what is not what we know and want and practice and share and love. Out is the setting aside of our world to try on another—or at least some part of another world—to see how the others move and live and get by so strangely adorned with foreign ideas. Out is also the going alone with few such possessions accepted of others, and making efforts to create new ways from what can be found along the way, or made up through reading, thought and conversation.
And so, we look at the others and the others see us, and we each turn away muttering "strange". But our young ones are perhaps less certain, muttering less, or with only feign conviction. And some will not stay—though most remain—and will choose out rather than in, and become others who are outside from us; their sin though being greater, because they once knew we are right.
The life of faith–
What effort is involved in holding a position of faith? The work is in the restraint needed to protect our belief from doubt. We strive to never question, or if we do question, to resist the downhill slope of asking too often if we could be wrong. Of course we are right, we just know it. And look at all the others who know as well like me—like we—like all of us who share this blessed certainty of what is true, and eternal, and the last fact we must ever know. The work is easy if we do not doubt, and just accept, and just live, surrounded by our family and the others who do also believe. Those others beyond our pale are lost—do not listen to their confused ideas. Prepare your subtle witness while they drone on. And then witness when you can. Be an example to the world. But never doubt...and if you do doubt...then simply don't.
Life then passes. Our faith perhaps gaining like the inertia of a boulder in sand. The world swirling and twisting around us like blown grains, forming dunes at our side which inch by past our unflinching resolve. The sun and moon come and go with their assaults of heat and cold and the frozen, probing wedge of ice and the twisting strain of inferno light. Yet, still we resist and withstand, holding firm to the gravity footing of what we do choose to believe for the simple sake of belief—refusing doubt, turning aside from the others who are so clearly wrong, showing them the virtue of our obstinate resolve and willingness to suffer, and maybe die even, for what we so dearly hold as True.
And thus life may pass.
And thus, may we pass life.
Notes from my muse
Always trust living conscience over deceased dogma.