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That Question of Faith


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics My recent Arrogance v ignorance (Faith untested is only an opinion) post got lots of interest.

I’m always surprised by what others find interesting.

One thought-provoking email exchange occurred with an English as a Second Language speaker who was confused by the use of “opinion”, much like my confusion about “affair” when I was a child.

My correspondent’s questions got me to thinking, though. He wrote:

What is then faith when tested successfully? Faith. Yes?
The new connection for me now is made: opinion is a level of faith or belief but then we arrive to the differentiation between belief and faith, the question I dissected once in the past and cannot pull up my references that easily but if I recall correctly faith requires no proof, whereas belief is subject to change based on new data.

I offered that faith successfully tested is “belief”, more accurately “acceptance” and most probably conviction. Faith untested is, at best, “hope” and as my beloved Susan once said, “Shades of gray are where Hope dwells.”

But the question “How much data do you need before faith becomes belief?” got me to remembering a discussion I had long ago with another fellow. He was, earlier in his life, a devout believer, someone of great conviction. He wasn’t a gnat (like Paul in the Arrogance v ignorance post) and would only share his faith/belief/conviction when asked or questioned and then reluctantly (he wanted to be sure you really wanted to know before taking up your time). He truly demonstrated his faith/belief/conviction via his actions. I remember hearing some friends of his describe him with phrases like “I expect him to sprout wings and fly away when he goes around a corner” and “He has the most amazing spirit” and such.

Even though his convictions had changed greatly, nobody knew it. Such was his “walk” that his expression of what he believed in — which had greatly changed — didn’t alter how he demonstrated his convictions (even though they had greatly changed).

What I noticed (and it was subtle. I knew something was different and it took me quite a while to pinpoint what I thought it was) was an minor increase in melancholy when certain things happened. A loss of innocence, it might be called. To others, a wisdom and probably one that surpassed the Apostle Paul’s “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” requirement.

But what happened to change his faith?

In his own words:

I’d been a true believer for over twenty years. I’d been practically kicked out of my parents’ home because of my faith. I believed. I mean, I believed. I wasn’t a fanatic. I had an excellent reason to belief; a miracle. A bona fide, you can’t deny it, in your face miracle that happened to me and other people witnessed and by god if that wasn’t the blood of christ working for you nothing was.

And for the last seventeen of those twenty years, every time something horrible happened in my life, I thought back to that miracle and told myself that because that miracle was true, my faith was true, and therefore my belief in god was true. I’d been beatup, shot at, lived in my car, lived on the street — I use to joke that I was homeless before it was acceptable — abandoned by my family and friends, … oh, I gave it all up for christ because I had that miracle to hold onto.

You need to know the miracle to understand. All I had at one point was my car. One day I’m putting things in my car — I always had it locked — and I see a plain brown bag in the backseat. I open it and there’s a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia, still in its wrapper, but no pricestickers on it, no sales slip, nothing.

This is incredible to me because I’d been reading the series book by book through a friend of three years who’d let me camp out on his living room floor and happened to mention that I’d been praying God would get me my own copies so I could mark them up and make notes.

Whenver I questioned my faith I went back to that simple thing just because it was so simple a thing and also because it was so personal a thing. It was such a direct answer to a prayer that it had to be proof, simple proof. Simple and undeniable, that’s how much it meant to me. I was a kid, understand, just twenty years old and the first time out of my parents’ house.

And there they are in the backseat the next morning. I ran back to my friend’s apartment and showed him the unopened set. I couldn’t believe it. I exclaimed that it was a miracle, an answer to my prayer, and that there was no way somebody else could have put them in my car because I always had the keys with me and who would break into a car to leave me a gift, anyway?

And he smiled and nodded and the other folks in the apartment smiled and nodded and we all rejoiced and prayed and thanked god for that miracle.

Flash forward eighteen years. I have gone through…hell…for my faith. I mean, hell. Things that only happen to missionaries in old movie type things. Things Tarzan, Superman and The Hulk together couldn’t get me out of, and I survived. That was another thing I use to tell people who were amazed at what I’d been through for my faith (he laughed here); I survive. When all others fail, quit or die, I survive. You can read my back like a roadmap from the beatings I took for my faith.

Because of that one…fucking…miracle.

Now eighteen years have passed and that friend and I are in my house. He knows what I’ve gone through. He’d seen some of it, he definitely heard about the rest of it and there were times he held me while I cried about it.

Now he’s looking at my bookshelf, at that same set of The Chronicles of Narnia, and I start up again about that miracle.

And my best friend of eighteen years says, “I put them in your car.”

“What?” I asked. I didn’t exclaim it. I didn’t yell it. I asked it. But now there’s a wee small throb starting at the back of my skull and I’m starting to feel sick.

“I put them in your car. You were asleep on the floor in your sleeping bag and I knew you weren’t going to wake up for a while so I went to the bookstore, asked for a set that was still unmarked, got your keys off the coffee table where you left them and put the books in your car.”

I’m really feeling sick now. “What?”

“I knew you wanted them and it seemed like a great gift to keep you going on your walk.”

I fell into a chair and I mean fell. “But when I asked you…”

He shrugged. “I didn’t want to spoil it for you.”

And I thought, “You let me believe in a lie for the past eighteen years? You let me get fucked over time and time again for the past eighteen years because you didn’t want to spoil it for me? You let me leave my wife and son because I thought my vision was true and she couldn’t accept it and because of that fucking miracle that really wasn’t, I thought everything else that happened was what god wanted so rather than fight for them I just rolled over and you didn’t say a thing? You couldn’t tell me the truth and let me decide, each time, if my faith was worth it?”

“And nobody ever told me? This is your testimony in Christ? Let somebody believe in a lie rather than allow them the right to make an informed decision?”

He shrugged again.

So my faith was based on a lie. Everything I did “in Christ” was a lie. The last eighteen years of my life had been a lie.

My faith had been tested and proven but it was all a lie. And god or christ or whatever had never tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, Phil, we need to talk about this.” Everybody I’d told the story to thought it was great and people converted and now I realized their faith, if based on my testimony, was also a lie.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

The real shame was that my friend took off. I haven’t seen him since. I don’t blame him. I’m not sure I could look a friend in the face if I’d been lying to him for their entire relationship. Imagine the shame he’d been carrying, allowing me to live that lie and knowing he’d allowed it? What a conflict of faith that must have been for him. It must have destroyed his faith, too.

But you want to know what was really funny? I forgave him. Yeah, it knocked the shit out of me for a few minutes and every once in a while I still laugh about it, but I realized that what really kept me going all those years wasn’t faith in some god or higher being, it was a faith in something inside of me that I called God or Christ or something because I didn’t have other words for it.

I think my forgiving him really destroyed his faith. I think he needed me to be ripshit with him and beat the shit out of him, but why bother? Who was the bigger fool? The one who believed or the one who lied? At least when I learned the truth I picked myself back up and continued on. That’s that “survival” thing, I guess. Yeah, I survive. Anything. Even discovering that what I believed in was a lie all along.

What I believed in was a lie but my faith never shook a leaf. I still believe in myself, just like I always did. People come to me for help now and instead of saying “Let’s pray over it” I say “Let’s get busy”.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Oliver Carter permalink
    2013/10/20 9:38 pm

    Interesting discussive point put forward here. While I have missed the earlier entry, and would probably be far to late to make any valuable contribution at all, I will have to go back and catch that. As it is, I too wonder about just how we can pin these various terms discussed above, into a more meaningful, less overlapped, manner of language usage on the practical, day-to-day getting along with the living process. I have my position and arguments–as most all will–but have not fully settled that issue to the very end.

    Setting all theist-involved religious belief system doctrines aside, does one ‘think’ that the tsunami warnings are being overstated (like the cry out of loneliness of a wolf), or do they rather ‘believe’ that they are? Do they ‘think’ that their house will be okay, or do they ‘believe’ that, or ‘have faith’ that it will? As we would probably be better off in taking their opinion to simply be that express of whatever mental activity results are involved, at that level of analysis, I would simply tend to suggest that we would not be talking about the process involved in arriving at either a ‘thought out’ matter such as either a ‘belief’ or ‘item of faith.’ If I have missed something, I apologize. If this is a bit off topic, please do forgive me. I ‘believe’ I have said enough here… I only hope, in good ‘faith,’ that it will do some good, in some way. Thanks.

  2. 2013/10/23 9:15 am

    Mr. Carter,
    Thanks for your comment. Deciding what is belief versus faith versus know versus … is a question that individuals can only answer for themselves, me thinks. I may know something is true or exists, yet believe it doesn’t apply to me hence have no faith in it. Religiosity is where conundrum most often dwells. I know “The Church” exists yet believe its rules/beliefs/canons don’t apply to me hence have no faith in it as a means of bettering my life or insuring my salvation.

  3. Oliver permalink
    2013/10/26 2:43 am

    Thank you for your reply. If it is considered proper enough (for this platform of discussion), please feel free to use my first name; I am not such a formal person at all. Having read over the previous entry about ‘Paul hanging out the window,’ I guess I should see this as being a bit more narrow in scope. It is my concern to help out publicly with this matter of terminology since I see it so loosely and less-accurately used so much of the time–and often towards simply creating further confusion.

    In keeping within the scope of theist-involved religious belief system doctrine, therefore, I personally do not find it to be as prudent to leave the matter of distinguishing a conceptual difference between knowledge (the accumulation of knowing empirically) and believing (holding a matter to be the case without actual first, or second-hand empirical knowledge of it) up to each and every individual. The reason I hold to that line of thinking is because in by far most practical and realistic circumstances, surety lies in the domain of knowledge, and the domain of knowledge is that which is to be used to test what is believed to be the case.

    I would be interested in discussing this on out more fully here, if I have your permission. I am presently of the understanding that the terms are not being used as carefully as we should probably want to have them be used for better overall results. I will await reply.

  4. 2013/10/30 4:02 pm

    Hello again, Oliver,
    As you note, the devil’s in the details. Or for our purposes, the devil’s in the terminology.
    I disagree with “”…surety lies in the domain of knowledge, and the domain of knowledge is that which is to be used to test what is believed to be the case.” Six hundred years ago knowledge dictated that the earth was flat and sailing far from any coast meant falling over the edge, and that the earth was the center of the universe. These were two examples of untested belief based on common knowledge.
    My next post, How Anthony Simcoe Taught Me the Difference Between Wisdom and Knowledge will, I hope, tie a few things together.

  5. Oliver permalink
    2013/10/30 8:56 pm

    Yes, I fully agree that a prime matter will require the expansion of, and shifting through, details; even in the matter of terminology. And, speaking of that, I understand your disagreement, and do apologize for not having worded things better. I may have been able to avoid that disagreement.

    Not a problem. Details will always be details, and it is a mark of genius to pay attention to them.

    For example, the examples you have offered I do not determine to fall under the better applied sense range of the term ‘knowledge.’ Knowledge puts the earth as being a bulging spherical body in a sun system out on the edge of a galaxy somewhere relatively moving in the known universe. The thought that the planet earth had been flat had been recieved from imagination which extended from knowledge, but that was not what those who posited such knew, rather, what they imagined to be the case, or believed to be the case. This holds for the other point as well.

    I disagree, Oliver. The flat-earth, etc., were based on the best knowledge of the day. A modern equivalent might be electricity. We use it routinely and without thinking, yet the basic nature of electricity is conjectured, not definitively understood. Yet we rely on our conjectures because those conjectures are valid at the level that we use them. Another example of this (and borrowing from a recent paper we published) explains fasifiability, “if a theory B comes along which describes all existing phenomena of a particular type as well as the currently accepted theory A, yet also makes predictions which contradict those of A and later prove to be correct, then theory A should be abandoned and theory B put in its place. Theory A, if it is simpler, can still be retained for the purpose of doing calculations in restricted circumstances, but it must always be borne in mind that it is no longer the accepted model. Gravitation is the classic example of this; Newton’s law is replaced by relativity, but is still Ok for working out space probe trajectories.”

    I look forward to reading your next post, and, of course, will do so eagerly. It may have to wait until next week, though, I am afraid. In the meantime, I do hope to work this out some… if I have your permission. (I mean, as we know, blogs are even more of a ‘personal zone’ concept than even a discussion board forum. They are usually much more one-directional in flow, but perhaps can be fertile ground for good, involved and serious discussion. [I least I hold that to be so.])

    I would hope good, involved and serious discussion happens. Again, my apologies for taking so long to cycle back to this.

  6. 2013/11/08 10:12 am

    Hello Oliver,
    Thanks for continuing to read our blog.
    You wrote “The thought that the planet earth had been flat had been recieved from imagination which extended from knowledge, but that was not what those who posited such knew, rather, what they imagined to be the case, or believed to be the case.” and I disagree that this was something they imagined (in the sense that they had no data on which to base their thinking). The concept of a flat earth was based on the best scientific evidence of the day, and that last part, “of the day” is what everything else hangs on.
    Science is yet another belief system that tells its acolytes “We have data and logic on which to base our beleifs”, all well and good provided the acolytes remember that the “best science of the day” has been proven incorrect or inadequate as new information (data) becomes available.

    I look forward to your next comment.
    Always enjoy a good discussion.

  7. Oliver permalink
    2013/11/08 11:54 pm

    First of all, Joseph (if I may here), allow me to express my thanks for allowing me to continue in the discussion–at least for the moment. (I realize that such could stretch far beyond any practical scope, and thus I say ‘for the moment.’)

    My pleasure, Oliver

    Referring back to the ‘devil’s being in the detail’ as it relates to terminology, I have come to find that many folks throw out a number of words such as science, religion, God, love, faith, fact, without being as careful about how the words are handled, as they could be.


    It may be that we are slightly talking past each other, and I would hope to avoid that. The following is hopes of helping out in that regards.

    As often as contextual setting will allow, I personally avoid the word ‘science.’ The reason for that is because such a neublous, uncountable, collective noun misses the mark of the detailed thought processing which has led to that academic/professional field, which discipline is identified by that particular title.

    I agree to a point. I won’t quote “science” and will quote specific disciplines by name as a point of clarification.

    ‘Scientific method,’ on the other hand, in the broadest pragmatic sense, is better held (I argue) as simply the matter of cognitively acknowledging items of knowledge.

    I know that this particular substance called sugar will most always result in the sensory sensation most commonly called sweet; and in my case it always does. I know not to throw water on an oil fire in the kitchen. I know that fine ashes from certain material will work about as good as cold water in cleaning up my plate after dinner. I also know that a fixed amount of good beer will have a very different cognitive and physical result if drunk at an elevation of around 3,200 meters above sea level, than on the beach.

    I didn’t recognize your last until I read it. Something for me to test on my travels.

    The list would go on and on, but the point should be clear, I would think. In the broadest sense (not the precision technical sense alone), scientific method is simply that method of coming to know of or about a certain thing in a practical and pragmatic setting firstly, and then up from there. It is that basic ‘observe, act, think, act, conclude’ trial and error process that especially we H. sapiens do from birth upward. This is what I hold.

    A testing method. Agreed, recognizing that any test will only be as valid as the ability to test is valid. Poor technique, equipment, etc., will always play a role. Also, it is very difficult to test for what one can’t imagine. That’s a severe limitation to most scientific methodlogies.

    ‘Knowledge,’ then, amounts to a cognitively acknowledged collection of items of knowledge. It is this collection by which scientific method in the broadest sense is developed, and through which it expands, and yet it includes knowledge of a thought which may be mere imagination, as well. (For example, I know what a fairy is by definition, thus know what a fairy is, yet know that it is an imaginary (thus internally existing in neural tissue alone) item.)

    That last is quite dangerous (according to some disciplines); anything perfectly imagined is real.

    For that reason, then (and to get back ‘on course?’), we know that it is secure enough an understanding that Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the planet to a fairly accurate number of stades, sometime around the 3rd century BCE. Count is a very practical, sound and valid manner of modeling things, and his desire and drive to make such calculation, was surely based on some basic knowledge–mere observation which is scientific method in the broadest sense.

    I wish to ask, in following through on your most recent post, on what scientific method do you find those who held that the earth was a flatened plane, to have arrived at that conclusion directly?

    They arrived at that conclusion through an erroneous understanding of their observations (something that is also true in modern scientific methodology, at times); they knew they could only see in straight lines, therefore if they could see some distance on the earth, the earth had to be on a straight line for them to see that distance.

    I still say it was imagination, because as far as I know (and could be mistaken, of course) they made a jump to that conclusion which did not soundly, nor so logically correct, follow from what they had more likely observed with their naked sensory capacities. (However, as nuanced from my ‘talking past each other’ note above, I think you are essentially saying the same thing I am in your previous post… so not actually disagreeing with me, but looking at it from a different level of anaysis.)

    I think we agree, we just use different wordations to agreement.

  8. 2014/01/03 5:54 pm

    Oliver, first my apologies for taking so long to get to this. We got busy at year’s end and there was little time for pleasure.
    That noted…
    I’m going to comment intra-commentally (I’m going to put my responses directly into your comment for easier reading.

  9. 2014/01/10 12:53 pm

    Hello again, Oliver. Once again, I’ll respond to your comment intra-commentally with italics. See you in your comment.

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