Sunday, April 10, 2005

Faith and Reason

Why do I have faith? Why am I a Christian? These should be easy questions to answer, right? After all, I've been through the process. I know where I've been. I ought to know how I got here.

The thing is, the reasons that I'm a Christian today are not the reasons that I was a Christian just a few years ago. As my faith has changed, grown I hope, my reasons for being a Christian have changed and, again I hope, grown.

When I look back at some of the reasons I would have given for being a Christian a few years ago, I don't find them very compelling, but they were enough for me then. More surprisingly, it is precisely my journey of faith that has led me to ask the questions that have caused me to reject my old asnwers.

PBS's Frontline had a show on John Paul II this week that included an outstanding exploration of the nature of faith.

Germaine Greer talked about how when she was 15 a nun led her through the philosophical proofs for the existence of God, and she wasn't impressed. The proofs were too full of holes, and shortly thereafter she rejected her faith. Then she went on to describe an incident years later on visiting a church in St. Petersburg.

The huge bass bell, this baritone bell spoke, and it was just an amazing sound. And I thought, "Yes! It's the beginning of Mass." And I flew in the door, and the choir was singing the processional for the Introit.

The physicality of the sound strikes you on the face like velvet hammers, and it's just unbelievable. And I just sort of stretched my throat and just stood there paralyzed. I couldn't move. And the choir sang the full diapason of the human voice, from the darkest bass tones to really floating high sopranos. It sounded to me like the craving of the human spirit for God and the total desolation that God is not palpable to me, even worse because God is not there.
So maybe Ms. Greer doesn't consider herself a person of faith, but she really understands faith. She gets it.

Novelist Robert Stone gave this testimony:

When I was about 15 or 16, for the usual rationalist reasons, I stopped believing, at that time under the impression that belief and faith were the same thing. I since understand that they are not the same thing, but I thought they were, and I stopped believing in all this stuff. And I felt tremendously liberated. And only somewhat later, only years later, did it come to me that half of my head was missing, that I had just cut myself off from a tremendously important part of myself that was no longer available.
So on first glance it might seem that 15 is a dangerous age for faith, but to those of us who have been down this road, we might remember that this isn't really separation but growth. At the time, we think it's separation, but woe to the believer who doesn't go through some form of this.

I saw an interview with Fr. Thomas Keating once where he talked about growing in faith. He said we go through a series of transitions where we have to abandon our previous ideas about what God is like, and it feels like we are turning our back on God, but we're really just moving past a god who never existed anyway except in our minds.

Robert Stone told the story on Frontline of being on an ocean expedition and seeing the beauty and the variety of life made him think that surely there must be some Providence behind it. Then he added: "And it tempted me to faith."

A lot of people would probably find this a pretty shoddy reason to believe in God. Stone himself might think so now. But he's captured something wonderful. We don't deduce the existence of God. We don't reason our way to faith. We're tempted to faith. God calls, and we can't help but answer.

That's why I'm a Christian.


Steve Bogner said...

I remember being taught that faith was a gift from God, and we can accept or reject it. Not sure that made much of an impression on me though.

I like Keating's analysis; I have a few of his books and have enjoyed them. Personally, I don't spend much time thinking about why I have the faith that I do... but I did drift a bit in my 20's. Having kids certainly helped me rediscover faith, as did some other personal triumphs and trials the past few years.

LutheranChik said...

Tempted by faith? For me, when I didn't have any, it was more being overcome by faith...I found myself having faith despite my best efforts not to.;-) But God comes to us where we are, so maybe my attitude was such that I needed a more intense experience.