For the last decade or so of my life this question has periodically resurged. I expect it will for however many decades remain to me. Every so often the absurdity of the things I’ve staked my life on overshadows the ordinariness that belief takes on in the lived-out day-to-day. And when that happens I am forced to confront it. To stop and ask, do I really believe this stuff? Do I, really?
Sometimes this is just a flash of feeling, and sometimes it lasts for a day or so and then subsides. Madeleine L’Engle wrote of “days of disbelief.” Sometimes it lingers for a while longer. I’ve gone for long periods of time, years probably, without really knowing or daring to hazard an answer to the question, because the answer might honestly be no. I’ve known those who, finally, did have to answer no. I find it brave, even admirable, though not at all enviable.
I don’t know what “blessed are the poor in spirit” is really supposed to mean. But when I hear those words I think of those who struggle to believe, who want to believe, and just aren’t sure they can.
Does this bug anybody? That an aspiring professor of theology must admit to periods of recurrent if temporary suspended belief? Because it’s just how it is. Maybe other people don’t experience this. Perhaps some believers remain confident and unshakeable from the moment of their baptisms, or whatever marks the beginning of their certain belief, to the end of their days. I imagine George W. Bush is one of these people. Maybe some people can pass through this world, so marked by tragedy and suffering and evil, and smile serenely and continue unruffled to bet on everything coming out right in the end and assert that that’s all that matters anyway. I am not one of these people.
Quite frankly—oh, let’s just go ahead and be rude—these people really fucking bother me.
I find that I cannot respect a faith that hasn’t questioned itself. Repeatedly. Because once you face the necessity of that questioning, you see that the question is never settled with any sort of finality. At least, not on this side of death. I can’t respect a faith that doesn’t recognize the very real possibility that it could become unfaith.
Faith is not measured by intensity of fervor, or even unshakeableness of resolve. Faith is simply flinging yourself forward into life—sometimes an abyss, sometimes a mountaintop. Sometimes you don’t know why you go on. And that, even at its most unreasonable, is faith at its purest.
postscript: go read Theoblogia today too.