There are a few letters that I’ve had ideas for from the very beginning of this project. “E” will have a post on Eris, “L” needs a rumination on light, and “W” is going to get the “Why ‘Witch?’” treatment. Similarly, “D” has always been slated to involve a discussion of doubt.
Faith is a choice. No, that’s not accurate.
Faith is a state of being entered into by the act of make a decision without certainty; without certainty in the correctness of the decision and without certainty in the outcome of it. If we take the next step and define doubt as the absence of certainty, then we could restate our definition of faith as follows:
Faith is a state of being entered into by the act of making a decision in the presence of doubt.
This is a fairly dense statement, so let’s break it apart a bit.
State of Being
When I use the term “state of being,” I’m reminded of my introductory computer science training. In comp sci, one can describe some software systems as a finite-state machine. In such a description, a problem is said to have a limited series of situations, only one of which can be occurring at any time, and a limited number of choices that determine which one is currently occurring.
Consider an elevator. It exists on one floor of a building at a time or in motion between floors. You can influence where an elevator is by pressing the call button to bring it to you or indicating a floor to which you want to go once you enter the car. And, there’s also the possibility that the elevator is off and not going anywhere. An elevator is a finite-state machine and the software that programs an elevator could also likely be described thus.
I like to think of life as a finite-state machine but I suspect that it’s not. It’s too complex and there are too many situations we find ourselves in and too many ways for others to influence us. But, I do think that it’s sometimes valuable to think of life in these terms. If, for example, I’m happy and someone comes by and punches me in the face, I’m likely to leave the state of being happy and enter the state of being confused, angry, and hurt.
So, to say that faith is a state of being means that it’s a situation created by our decisions and influenced by others.
The Act of Making a Decision
Let’s go back to our elevator. If its location in a building is its state, then the pressing of buttons are what determine what state it’s in. By extension, the making of a decision is the event that determines us to be in that state of being faithful.
But, we make a lot of decisions every day and they don’t all represent or require faith. It’s not necessary for me to be faithful regarding my choice of breakfast cereal, for example, nor do must I have faith that I’ll be at my desk and working on the average Monday morning. In other words, these are things about which I am certain.
And, to be faithful about something requires that I not be so. It requires that I have doubt.
The Presence of Doubt
We walk every day in the presence of doubt. I’d say that it’s with us when we make the majority of our decisions and it influences us in ways that we’re not fully aware of. If we were, I bet we’d be largely paralyzed, incapable of decision-making at all.
Doubt is a stalwart companion of mine. My partner and I, not 2 hours ago had something of an argument simply because I doubt my ability to make a decision for us better than she can. The occasion of this decision: what to have for dinner.
Over thinking much? Don’t mind if I do!
This is not to imply that I don’t have confidence in my abilities or in my capacity to act in the world. I just have a hang-up over making decisions that include others. I am, after all, fairly good at being alone (note: this does not mean that I am lonely), but I think I’m less skilled at acting with others, even those closest to me.
It is, therefore, the presence of doubt in a decision-making process that puts me in the state of being faithful. If I act without doubt, and I don’t think that anyone does so very often, I don’t need to be in a state of faith at that moment. Instead, I’m in a state of certainty.
Religious doubt is perhaps one of the more profound ways in which we can be in a state of faith. I think it is telling that we often use the terms “faith” and “religion” interchangeably despite the fact that they are very different things. Religion includes faith, but it also includes cosmological theories, liturgical and ceremonial techniques, and more all of which help to create a shared reality that fosters faith in those things.
But I don’t think any of us is perfectly certain in our religious beliefs; I don’t think we are 100% sure that we’ve gotten it right. There are times when we may feel more sure than others and I think there are some religions that foster more certainty than doubt; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, for example have always struck me as very, very certain in their beliefs. Even they, I suspect, have crises of faith–we all do.
I am not certain about my beliefs at all. I constantly evaluate, choose, and re-evaluate my thinking (see my earlier post on atheism). This has left me, for the last few years, feeling somewhat lost. In light of that feeling, I’ve decided to try to focus a bit more on one hearth culture, to use the ADF terminology (seriously; Google define: “hearth culture” and it’s all ADF links), and to create structure where there was only the potential for it in the past.
It’s not going well, to be honest. Too many days I neglect my practice, but the simple fact that I have not done so even on a small minority of days represents progress when compared against my past.
But, I have faith in myself. I exist in the state of being where I choose to practice, I choose to believe in that which I hold dear, despite the fact that I doubt myself in these situations.
Ask me how things went this time next year and I hope that I have a positive answer, but I fear that it may not be. To be faithful is to ignore that fear, to work through it, and to rise to the occasion.
To have faith is to overcome the doubts we create by acting in this moment, so we can move onto the next stronger, wiser, and prepared to deal with what faith requires of us when we get there.