June 11, 2012
What faith is
It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them–and then they leap. –Yann Martel (Life of Pi)
There is a common conception of what faith is, even among the religious faithful, that has always really bothered me: That to have faith is to believe in something irrational, without evidence, just because you’ve been asked to, or taught from a young age that you should, nevermind any subsequent experience or reasoning to the contrary. That to have faith is to choose to believe against any logic or evidence, to refuse any rational questions about what you say you believe because it falls under the title of “faith,” that you reap some kind of reward or approval for the purity of thought with which you uphold a logically indefensible position.
I don’t believe that’s what faith is anymore.
Because when I saw this picture, I thought, “that’s what faith feels like,” and I knew that feeling.
It was exactly like this.
I am alone, under the open sky, on a footbridge across the ocean. I have no supplies, no shelter, no map, no help, no possible escape to one side or the other, and only the vaguest idea that the home I’ve never seen could, improbably, exist at the other end of this, if there even is an other end of this.
Faith is not irrational certainty; faith is pursuit in the face of utterly rational uncertainty when you have no remaining acceptable choices. When knowing what you now know, having seen what you’ve seen, you can’t do otherwise anymore, even in the face of overwhelmingly probable failure.
Faith is closely related to hope, but also to exile, and exhaustion, and desperation.
There is nothing behind you.
There is no way back.
There is nothing there you’d go back for even if you could. And you can’t, really.
So you go forward. Because there might be something that you barely even know how to dream of.
Faith is not deliberate ignorance or irrationality. Faith is just what you do when you can’t do anything else anymore.
Faith is when survival means giving up on everything you thought you knew.
And I think to call on faith this way is an ability that most humans possess, regardless of any belief system that we do or don’t claim.