25 September 2005

More on faith and knowledge

I don't have a whole lot of readers of this blog, but damn if they aren't of remarkably high quality.

My good friend Jayce from Rochester left the following comment on my post about faith and knowledge:

Anyway, you said, "All orthodoxy demands (in my opinion) is agnosticism tempered by an optimistic confidence in God" and went on to outline several logical combinations of alternatives. So the difference between faith and non-faith is how you read a tautology. By that, I mean that God revealing Himself to you (is that the right phrasing?) may or may not happen. Faith argues, "but it may" while non-faith argues, "but it may not." Given that this "revealing" is guaranteed to happen when you die (I'm making an assumption instead of asking just to speed up the comment-response cycle) then wouldn't that aspect of faith be a claim to knowledge you cannot possess?

Like Elizabeth M.'s comment on another post in the same series, this is an excellent question. So I thought that addressing it (as with Elizabeth's comment) merited its own post. So:

Where my meaning differs from Jayce's interpretation is in his assumption that my "optimistic confidence in God" refers to revelation leading, eventually, to intellectual understanding or knowledge. But note that in the same post on orthodoxy, just after the part Jayce quotes, I wrote: "Orthodoxy is just saying you don't know for sure that they aren't true, but that you accept them as part of your tradition and trust God to reveal their truth and meaning to you if and when it suits God's purposes to do so." (The emphasis on the word "if" wasn't in the originally post, but perhaps it should have been.) My point is: it may be that it's important to our ability to serve God and our fellow creatures that we come to an intellectual understanding of some of these items. If so, then I trust that God will lead me, at some point, to such an understanding. But it's by no means certain, in my mind, that my having such an understanding is important, and therefore I have no particular faith or assurance that I'll ever understand these things, even after death. Maybe, maybe not--and I'm OK with it either way.

So Jayce's tautology and its possible interpretations are interesting on an intellectual/logical level, but in my opinion (and I'm not trying to put Jayce down--he's a rather remarkable guy whose reasoning powers I highly respect) that's far from the most important level in spiritual matters. Faith is, in my opinion, primarily a matter of the heart, a matter of relationship and commitment, like a marriage. In a marriage, it's good to have an intellectual understanding of some aspects of your partner, but I gotta tell ya, there are some things you'll never understand. You just need to accept them--but that doesn't mean you've got to create artificial intellectual/logical constructs that simulate genuine understanding of those aspects. In fact, trying to do so will generally get you into a lot of trouble.

If your mindset is primarily quote-unquote "modern," you probably think that that all sounds like sidestepping the question. I hear ya. But for those of us in the postmodern world (which in some ways is like the premodern world), it's where we're at. The logical/rational/understanding/knowledge questions are important; I'm not denying it. But are they everything? Are they the the most important? Hmm. Don't know, and don't know if I'll ever know. :-)

No comments: