Friday, 30 August 2013

Given that there are grounds for doubt, what should tip the balance between faith and unbelief?


From Lightning out of Heaven by Terryl Givens

Some people seem born with faith. And many people die with a full complement.

My own grandmother spent her last months pining for death because she was the last of her generation, she “missed her people” to an excruciating degree, and she grew more and more disconnected from a world she saw as simply irrelevant. Faith did not seem a choice for her. It descended upon her as naturally and irresistibly and encompassingly as the heavy snowfalls on her upstate New York farm.

But such a gift I have not found to be common. And it would seem that among those who are committed to the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and rational inquiry, faith is as often a casualty as it is a product.


The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart... with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and have reasonable, but not certain, grounds for believing to be true.


I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment.

The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension.


We are... always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial.

We are acted upon... by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our ego.

What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love.


That is why faith, the choice to believe, is in the final analysis an action that is positively laden with moral significance.

Men and women are confronted with a world in which there are appealing arguments for God as a childish projection...

But there is also compelling evidence that a glorious divinity presides over the cosmos...


There is something to tip the scale, however.

There is something to predispose us to a life of faith or a life of unbelief.

There is a heart that in these conditions of equilibrium and balance—and only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, ... is truly free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness.



It is possible for someone to remain in a state of agnostic balance - poised between belief and unbelief, unable or unwilling to choose - for a long time: for years, decades, until overtaken by death...

This is better than embracing the secular mainstream of hedonic nihilism, but is seriously deficient, because it is to commit to weakness - because it is to reject any possibility of spiritual progress. 

Certainty may come after choosing, but certainty does not compel choice - not in this world.

To wait for certainty before choosing faith is therefore a significant and substantial moral defect - itself a negative decision in the face of the human condition.

To fail to choose is a failure to engage the heart: it is a failure which is both self-revealing and self-defining.