Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Regarding faith

I found this article to be a bit bothersome. It talks about how Mother Theresa had doubts, and didn't feel certain about the existence of God and had torments about her beliefs. I've done some deep thinking about faith, and two other virtues that are similar: love and courage. All three of them are, in my opinion, best viewed as bulwark virtues, virtues whose purpose is to stand against troubles.

Courage is not the absence of fear; it's foolish to be unafraid when there's something to be afraid of. Truly "fearless" people, people who don't ever feel afraid, tend to be dangerous, to themselves and to others. Courage is what lets us decide that there is something more important than fear, and act properly and bravely despite how we feel.

I think some folks get confused by this because there are changes in how we respond to fear. For example, a new soldier might panic the first time under fire; the realization that there are unfriendly folks who really do want to kill you is a brand new feeling for most people. Later on, a soldier who panicked the first time is likely to be able to respond to fire appropriately, but this doesn't reflect a lessening of the fear so much as a recognition of it. The fear might be the same, but this time, he's ready for it.

Similarly, love is not always the absence of apathy, indifference, or dislike. Love is the willingness to do right by people even when you don't really want to, when you'd rather blow it off, ignore it, or even watch the other person suffer. It's not that you feel all warm and fuzzy and happy to do things; sometimes it's that you feel cold and prickly and it's a pain in the butt! Love is what keeps you from standing by when loving action is called for.

(There are, of course, many definitions of the word "love". Referencing Lewis Carrol's Humpty Dumpty, "love" deserves a great deal of overtime pay. In this instance, I'm referring to the type of love C.S. Lewis called "agape".)

And faith... so many people think of faith as the absence of doubt, the presence of belief, but if you look at its origins, you see that there's something else going on. Faith originally referred to the kind of faith we think of when talking of a "faithful servant", one who is true to that which is served. Faith isn't supposed to be about belief; faith is how you hold to your principles, even when you are shaken by doubts. That Mother Theresa labored hard when filled with doubts shows that she was extremely strong in her faith!

That this could be confusing is one of the reasons that Christianity is facing such huge problems today. There are a great many people who try to look faithful, and who think that faith is certainty, and hence, they act ever more certain of their correctness in the eyes of God. This has the side effect of making them more willing to follow their own path, and their own beliefs, rather than God's. But true faith would lead them to hold the the teachings of Jesus, even when they feel that those gentler teachings might not be sufficient.

If the loudest Christians of today had faith, they would be calling for help for the poor, the hungry, the sick; they would be working for justice for all. They would oppose public displays of piety and faith; Jesus told them not to do these things, that those who try to show off their faith are seeking the rewards of people, not God. Instead, the loudest Christians are shouting about other people having sex (and occasionally needing abortions, or, *gasp* having sex with members of the same sex), and they're demanding the right to show off their faith in the public square. They might claim to have strong belief, but they don't seem to be all that "faithful" a servant to Jesus' message and mission.

That is the example they should draw from Mother Theresa. Do what's right; help the sick, the poor, and otherwise needy. Have faith that helping others is all that matters, even if you're not sure about how things will work out. In the end, though Mother Theresa may not always have been secure in her beliefs, it seems that she was always rock solid in her faith.

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