I believe in facts; verifiable, indisputable, precise, truths. The sun rises in the East, at dawn, after the night. This is factual. I cannot disbelieve this truth. I can verify this with tools. Even on days when it is cold and rainy and I cannot see the sun, I know that it is true that it rose in the East, at dawn, after the night. I believe this because I have evidence.
I have faith in the idea that there is something bigger than us mere mortal humans. Some call this by name: God, Spirit of the Universe, Great Spirit, Allah, Elohim, Shén, Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus, Shàngdì, Creator, Holy Spirit, Hu or Huwa, Krishna, Bhagavan, and Akal Purakh are all names for this unverifiable being or thing.
I cannot prove that this something exists. I cannot verify that it is out there. I do not know that it is benevolent, nor do I know that it is malicious. I have faith that it is good, but just as I cannot prove its existence, I cannot prove that to be true. Some people claim that they can prove the existence of a benevolent being, but, for me, the proof always hinges on something that really is unknowable. As an example, some people will say that what I might term a bizarre coincidence is proof of this god thing.
When we sit down to watch a movie, or to read a work of fiction, we engage in something called the willing suspension of disbelief. While we objectively know that what we are watching or reading is indeed fictional (i.e., made up to use the words my son uses), we suspend our mind’s disbelief and willingly believe that it is real for the time being. If we failed to do this, we would not enjoy the movie or the book because we’d be constantly questioning how our protagonist was able to do something that a mere mortal could not.
In some ways, faith is similar. When we have faith, we are essentially willingly suspending our disbelief. We are saying, yes, I know that i can’t prove this, but I believe it anyway.
I have a confession to make. I am closing in on two years sober, I attend 12 step meetings, and I have not completed the 12 steps. In fact, I not convinced the steps actually keep people sober. I’ve written about my struggles with the wording of the 2nd and 3rd steps in the past. By many people’s judgement, I’d be a Dry Drunk. Some would say that my chances are slim, or less than average. Some would say that the definition of insanity is, “attending 12 step meetings without working the steps.”
But I don’t see it that way. See, I am a person who wrestles with words. I listen intently at meetings. Sometimes I hear things that resonate, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I hear things that really piss me off. Sometimes I get pissed at the person who said those things. And then sometimes I find out that the person who said those things is actually really cool, once I get to know them.
I recall a man in a meeting talking about the difference between faith and belief. He spoke of how Mother Teresa wrote letters to God and often questioned the existence of God in those very letters. I’ve been wrestling with this for a a long time.
I have long seen faith as the dictionary defines it: complete trust or confidence in someone or something. And I’ve rejected this because this kind faith seems dangerous. Complete trust in someone or something leads to people following false prophets or worse, demagogues. Complete confidence in something unknowable leads to binary thinking; a type of thinking where things are black and white, right or wrong and there is no room for debate. This is Blind Faith. This is Televangelist Faith. This is dangerous and has lead to centuries of conflict.
And still, still there is this nagging idea that yes, there is something to this concept of a higher power. Yes, there quite possibly is something that out there that others call God — and it’s not little green men from Mars.
Last year I read Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. I cannot express how relieved I was to find another human being who claims to have known all along that there is this something but who also questions it and uses the F-Bomb, just like me. At this point, what I can say is that it is startling how similar my faith story is to Anne Lamott’s — They are not mirror images, but there are certainly reflections.
So I’ve been thinking about faith, and reading, and here’s what I’ve come to — Faith is the willingness to believe that something is true without tangible evidence.
When I’m not hearing how grateful everyone is or how acceptance is the answer to all our problems, I hear a lot about willingness in the rooms. I never fully understood what was so key about willingness before. I knew that I needed to be willing to address my short comings. I knew that I needed to be willing to stop drinking. But I didn’t make the connection between willingness and faith until recently. One cannot have faith without being willing to suspend disbelief.
Willingness goes a long way.