Thursday, May 31, 2007

Faith, Part 2

Lee's post today on Religious Myths has me visiting the topic of faith again. He's reading Keith Ward's book Is Religion Dangerous? and considering, among other things, how literally (or not) ancient people understood their religions. This naturally relates to the discussion from my previous post about Mormons and how their faith relates to the story of Joseph Smith.

In the PBS show on the Mormons, there was an interview with archaeologist Michael Coe, whose field of knowledge includes shamanism. According to Coe shamans generally begin their work implicitly understanding that they are "faking it" (his words) and then gradually come to believe that they are speaking to God. So Coe thinks this is what happened with Smith -- "that he didn't believe this at all, that he was out to impress, but he got caught up in the mythology that he created."

On the whole I think this is a reasonably plausible explanation. While Coe describes himself as "irreligious" he does seem to have some sense for the deeper significance of this connection that is made between the initial "faking it" and the eventual conviction, even if he thinks its a false conviction. And I think this is part of the path of faith.

In my previous post I referred to a Mormon who said he wasn't sure he believed the story about Joseph Smith and the golden plates until he went out on mission. And while on mission, he became convinced it was true. He came to faith. I don't think the timing of this is insignificant. There's nothing about a missionary journey that's going to convince you of the historical truth of the story, but there is definitely something about a missionary journey that can convince you that God is still at work in the world, and if you're a Mormon to begin with, this is likely to bolster your faith in the foundational story of Mormonism.

People simply do not come to faith, any kind of faith, from a distance. It's a hands on thing. I carry around a quote from St. Athanasius and pull it out frequently. Athanasius said that if we want to understand the writings of the holy apostles we must seek to live as they lived. On her blog today Kelly Fryer talked about where the apostles encountered God. She says, "it wasn't in small group Bible study! They met God out on the road, in the city streets, by the lakeshore, in the home of strangers, 'out there' as they were loving and serving their neighbors!"

So this is where we meet God. This is where faith develops. As a Christian, I'm not likely to stumble across any new definitive evidence for the ressurection. But it as I live the Christian life in the way it's been handed down, as I put my would-be faith into action, my would-be faith becomes deep faith as I discover that what they've told me about the blessing of serving others is true and I discover that I do meet Christ when I feed the hungry and welcome strangers.

Bonhoeffer said, "Only those who believe can obey, and only those who obey can believe." But obviously there must be a way in somewhere. I would like to suggest that the way in is that you "sort of believe" and then through active living of the faith you come to really believe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A few weeks ago, PBS ran a two-part, four-hour program on "The Mormons." I caught the first part, but my DVR erased part two before I got a chance to watch it, so I was pleased to find that I could watch the whole program on the web.

The program consisted of a narrated history of Mormonism along with interviews with various people most of whom were either current or former Mormons. One of the things that captured my attention was the nature of faith among the Latter Day Saints.

Several people talked about faith in terms of really believing the story about Joseph Smith and the golden plates. One man said that he wasn't sure he believed the story until he went on his missionary journey and then, while speaking in a Lutheran church in Germany apparently, he was moved to really believe the story.

Now I would expect a lot of people of faith to want to stand up and say, "That's not what faith is!" Faith isn't about believing that some factual proposition is true. It's about trusting in God and believing that God intends good for us. Right?

But one of the things I got out of this program on Mormonism is that the relationship between faith as trust in God and believing that the stories of our religion are true just isn't that simple. And maybe this is easier to see from the outside.

For instance, part one of the program told the story of the Mormon migration to Utah in the winter following the killing of Joseph Smith. These people suffered unimaginable hardship crossing the American west in the middle of winter just trying to find a place where they wouldn't be hated and persecuted as they had been in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. And so under the leadership of Brigham Young they loaded up their wagons and headed to Utah -- Utah! I don't think there can be any doubt that this part of the Mormon experience involved a lot of faith in the "radical trust in God" sense of the word. But at the same time, they absolutely would not have done it if they didn't believe the story about Joseph Smith and the golden plates.

Faith is a strange thing. Many people work very hard to keep faith unbound by dogma, and yet it is fairly impossible to have any depth of faith in "God-in-general". If God doesn't act, we can't have faith in God. And if God acts, faith must believe that God has acted.

But here's where things get really sticky. I am pretty certain that the story about Joseph Smith and the golden plates isn't true. At the same time, I get the sense that the faith of Mormons, anchored as it is in this story that I believe to be false, is nevertheless genuine faith of the same quality as my faith. How can this be?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Great Reading

I just found out that Kelly Fryer is reclaiming another word -- this time 'faith' and this time in the form of a blog. Check it out: Reclaiming the F Word

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I did it!

Well, it took me about 16 months to get through a one-year course, but I've finally finished working my way through Bill Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek! I figure if I was taking this as a graded class I'd have probably gotten about a C, but I feel like I'm on my way to knowing something. I've even used the Greek text for Bible study and saw some things I didn't know.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Adventures in Environmentalism

A few weeks ago my wife and I were talking about trading my car in for a Prius. As I looked into it, I found that you can get a solar roof panel that will let it go about 20 miles a day on pure sunlight. Since I only drive about three miles each way to the light rail station, I began daydreaming of having a vehicle that would get me there and back without using any fossil fuels at all.

Then I had this vision of Grandpa Pickles saying to me, "We had a thing like that in my day. We called it a bike."

So last week I bought a bike for about half what one month's payment would have been on a Prius. Funny how simple things can be. Now I just need to get in shape enough to ride it. I took it out the first day and managed to get to the top of the highest hill on my way to the MAX station, but knowing that if I kept going I'd have to go back up that hill I turned around.

I'm thinking of moving to Oklahoma. I hear they don't have hills there.