A Question of Faith

Mission San Xavier del BacYears ago, when I was still in the church, I was having a conversation with an atheist. “But you have faith in something,” I assured her. “Everyone believes in something.”

“Nope. Nothing.”

She was 43, a mother of one of my friends, and I was 18. Brash, confident, always ready for a debate. “But you believe the sun will rise tomorrow.” I said.

“I don’t have to believe.” She said. “I know it will.”

“How do you know?” I asked, counting on the fact she was no mathematician or astronomer. “Can you prove it? Or do you just believe it will, trust that it will, because so far it has every day of your life?”

The conversation ended there, and I guess I can’t blame her. Few working moms want the weekly carpool to become an existential interrogation. 🙂

But even then, I was suspicious of any worldview that incorporated certainty about things that couldn’t be proven. No wonder I ended up on the outside of religion.

Yet I like to think that’s not what faith is about. Faith is antithetical to certainty. Faith, in the Mormon scriptures, is a “hope for things which are not seen” (Alma 32:21). Faith is the belief in things that should be true, that may be true–but that we cannot prove as true.

And so it is a hope. Hope, that the sun will rise tomorrow.

And that basic trust that is implicit in hope and in faith is necessary for us to live out our daily lives. I believed that as a Mormon, and I believe it still as a 31-year-old secular humanist. We trust that the drivers sharing the road will not hit us when we step into the crosswalk. We trust that the man behind us in line at the bank will not pull a gun.

We hope.

In other words, we have faith.

If you have ever experienced trauma, you know what I mean. You can no longer take for granted that basic, underlying faith in the world after you have been raped or mugged or beaten. Or after your house has flooded before your eyes during Hurricane Sandy. And healing after trauma always centers on rebuilding that sense of faith that most of us take for granted every day.

Faith, I like to think, is not an absolute, quantifiable thing: you either believe or you don’t. We all believe in one thing or another, even if we don’t acknowledge that hope is how we “know” certain things. Faith is something we all have, religious or not, and I like to think that what we believe in is not a test of virtue as much as a testament to what we have survived.

The scarred and rattled refugee from a war-torn country is going to have a very different sort of faith from someone who drives a Taurus and lives comfortably in his native country, speaking his native language, and enjoys three square meals a day at a polished oak table. We all believe in what we have the strength to believe. And sometimes, for some of us, that’s as simple as tomorrow. “For tomorrow the sun will rise, and who knows what the tide will bring?”

 

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One thought on “A Question of Faith

  1. Just a side note: The statement about the sun was not an argument, just a cheap rhetorical trick, intended to fool people who do not see that simply because the same word (“believe”) is used, it doesn’t have the same quality or meaning. You tried to equate an invisible being for which no evidence has been brought forward for thousands of years to something that has been witnessed by billions of people for thousands of years every day.
    Of course, scientifically, there is no absolute certainty for anything, but one of these things is much more likely than the other. Of course most basic scientific facts can not be proven (in a scientific way) by the Average Joe, but at least, Average Joe could (theoretically) learn how to understand them – while no amount of learning theology will amount to something like a scientific evidence for god.

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