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.


Christopher said...

Sam Harris once asked if one can become enlightened without believing the Buddah was born from a lotus (or something like that) and perhaps one can not.

Andy said...

I like that a lot, Chris.