Friday, January 8, 2010

Holding onto Faith

I don't know how anyone else holds onto faith; I just know how it works and how I want it to work for me.

Some who "lose their faith" remain in the Church; others leave. Some reconcile the dissonance and find a measure of peace; others don't and remain miserable. For the first group, the peace and community and family are more important than complete confidence and total lack of doubt, so they "put their issues on a shelf" and walk away from them for a time; for the second group, perfect understanding now takes first priority and overshadows everything else. Frankly, I think that points more to how each of us defines "faith" than it does about how we define "truth".

If by "faith" we mean "certainty about our religious beliefs", I agree that losing it might not be a conscious choice - that events and exposure to difficult concepts can rob people of certainty. That seems to be what many do - defining "faith" as "testimony" or "certainty" or "lack of doubt". If, however, we mean the "substance of things hoped for", I think many who are no longer active participants in The Church have not lost that hope and, therefore, have not lost their faith. In the face of what they have described, I think that's spiritual "evidence of things not seen" producing a conscious choice to not give up - to "endure to the end" in faith, without certainty.

I think the "problem" is that too many of us teach the universal possibility of personal certainty - in direct contradiction of our own scriptures that extol "simple faith" and assert that not all can "know". Without those unrealistic expectations, I believe much of the "dissonance" would disappear, since it would be ok simply to exercise faith and maintain hope in the face of uncertainty.

I also think that there are some people who simply lack "the faith gene" - who simply must understand something perfectly before they can accept it. I would argue that these people never possessed "faith" in the first place, so they can't lose it. Finally, I don't believe someone can "choose" to lose something they didn't "choose" to obtain or find. The challenge for such people to is accept the need for faith and quit demanding certainty.


Andrew S said...

I don't think most people (even most people who leave) define faith as "certainty" or "lack of doubt." Rather, even if we use your "substance of things hoped for," I think that people who allegedly lose their faith or who never have it or whatever else can still fit this.

Because, you don't choose to hope just as much as you don't choose to lack doubt or to be certain. Just as, at some point, your sense of certainty can (and perhaps should) be stripped away and broken down, the same can happen to your hope, and the substance that fueled it. When an individual personally loses the wherewithal that allowed him to hope that some thing was, is, or could be, then that is that. He has lost that wherewithal. There is nothing with which to hope.

I mean, I don't think it's so clear-cut. It's not "peace and community and family" on one side and "complete comfort and lack of doubt on the other."

Rather, things are more muddled. Often, community and family come with it a cutting sense of the annihilation of self, a lack of self integrity, and so on. It comes with it an acute sense of inner war, not peace. And it turns out that the community and family don't even turn out to be all they were cracked up to be...because even though you think you have a community around you, they seem alien or illusory, because you know they don't understand what you are going through -- and if they did, they would treat you very differently.

I think it is these people who, because of their unfaithfulness to themselves (I guess that's a turnaround on the use of faith), who fail to confront the dissonance and remain miserable. When they walk away from their issues, they are walking away from themselves, under the idea that it is they who have it wrong (e.g., THEY are wrong to want "certainty," so to speak. THEY are wrong to "doubt," so to speak. THEY are wrong to want people to understand and accept them.)

I think this is one of the most terrible things I have ever seen.

Nathan said...

Good post, and it is always so interesting to see how faith works in the lives of those seeking truth.

Faith really can fill the gaps that so many stumble upon, and the scripture you mentioned is such a sweet, simple declaration of that potential.

Papa D said...

I agree, Andrew - and I said so in the post. *grin* Thank you for such a thoughtful reply.

Remember, I said that some who walk away do so without having lost their faith in a way - but I think it's often because they didn't have a faith of their own that was carved out personally. (Notice, I use qualifiers a lot, since I don't feel I can speak universally about very much - especially about why others do what they do.) Others walk away because the faith and hope they've created simply can't fit within the group paramenters at that time. (Homosexual members are a leading example of this, unfortunately.)

Many people take the "faith of their fathers" and live off that "borrowed light" - and it can be very difficult to distinguish between that borrowed light and light that has been kindled individually. I'm not sure I have a good grasp on it with myself, even, after all these years - but I've done enough soul searching and contemplation to be comfortable that I have chosen a faith of my own. I can say that largely because it contains elements of the faith of my fathers AND elements that are unique and not "orthodox" to my "fathers".

"No man is an island" has implications far beyond what many consider, and the extreme is a self-annihilation similar to what you describe. The other extreme, however, is to try to become an island - and the desolation of self in the exclusive focus on self is just as sad as losing self within a community.

Finally, I thought it was ironic that you used the word "muddled" - since I've often said that I generally find the greatest joy and growth in the "muddle in the middle".

Thank you, Nathan. I believe faith really is the first principle of the Gospel - and I think it is SO misunderstood by SO many, regardless of specific denomination or religion.

Paul said...

I know you didn't intend to define the only two scenarios possible, and I agree with your first commenter. Some people leave because they don't want their family to be taught to believe mindlessly, or to inherit group prejudice from the community, or to base life decisions upon things that are, from the parent's perspective, more likely to damage self esteem than lead a child to salvation. For some people, leaving has more to do with their responsibility as a parent than most believing Mormons could fathom.

Andrew S said...

Papa D,

Just to address one of the last comments you had made, I think there is plenty of growth in the "middle of the muddle," so to speak, but I think that joy isn't necessarily from being in the muddle or being out of the muddle. It requires a personal clarity staked out that can make sense of what the individual stands for despite the situations he is in.

E.g., someone who wants to work out is committed to working out. He knows that no pain = no gain, so even though building muscle is quite literally caused by sacrifice and a kind of muscular "muddle" away from the comfort zone, he is personally centered on his goal.

If one is *personally* muddled, then the events in their lives control, abuse, and steamroll them. I guess it's like having a house built on sand, instead of on rock -- the rains and floods are coming.

Papa D said...

Paul, I agree - and that falls into the category of those whose personal faith falls outside the parameters of the community. I find great joy and peace and growth in the LDS community, but I understand totally that many others don't. That's why I believe it is important to "hold onto faith" no matter how that manifests itself ("let them worship how, when or what they may").

Andrew, I agree. When I say "muddle in the middle" I am referring to the gray area between extremes where I am forced to "work out" my own personal belief or perspective. I mean more the avoidance of extremes and the continual openness to change than confusion and blindness (muddling in the middle of "mists of darkness").

Patty said...

We had a leadership meeting last night with Elder Cook and he brought up a very good point, that I think somewhat relates to faith and how some think that it needs to be "perfect." He gave us five reasons NOT to focus on perfection:
1. We don't know what perfection is
2. You are bound to fail if you focus on perfection because you won't achieve it in this life
3. You might think you're succeeding
4. Perfection is eternal, not earthly
5. People who strive to be perfect make themselves the focus of attention and put themselves at the center of things.

If we're not worried about our faith or ourselves being "perfect" then we can take some things on faith (believing in something we can't see or prove) or even just let them sit at the back of our minds and move on anyways.

Papa D said...

Patty, I like that - especially the wording of not FOCUSING on perfection or "being" perfect now. I have written a lot about focusing on the little steps of becoming more Christlike and moving TOWARD perfection (completion, wholeness, full development), so I really like the focus to be on patiently becoming rather than being - of enduring to the end that will not be in this life.