Thursday, 11 May 2017

Innocent faith

Clever atheists sometimes mock the faith of the faithful. I used to do the same. But there is an obtuseness about the mocking.

If I may plead in my own defence, it was because I was looking for the door and no-one seemed able to show me the door. The myths by which religions live were opaque to me. The myths are the door, but without the key the door is a wall.

Some denied there was a door at all let alone a key. Specifically, in my youth I would ask, 'what is the meaning of life?' and I was told that the question was naive. Probably I'd grow out of it. At the same time I didn't see how the Virgin Birth or even Hanuman and his army of monkeys could help me. Are these not stories for children?

Again, some of the faithful claim that their version of the truth is the only correct one, the only path to Paradise. How should one choose? Choosing on the basis of ones parents' belief seemed to me rather arbitrary. Surely one should choose what is right, not necessarily what is habitual? Given that my revered primary school teacher was a Spiritualist (who believed her dog was the reincarnation of her previous dog, but had the clarity of mind to explain to us children that not everyone believes as she does, and that there are other points of view), my father flit between the Quakers, the Roman Catholic Church and some kind of misunderstanding of Buddhism, and my mother became a born-again atheist, I did not have a clear route to follow.

I cannot resist putting in a little anecdote told to me by a Bahá'í: someone was travelling through some part of the USA and passed a sign saying The Church of God. A little further down the road was another sign, reading The One True Church of God. Later they passed a third sign reading The One and Only True Church of God. Now clearly they cannot all be the only true church, and the philosopher Bertrand Russell would have pointed out that asserting that something is true does not add one iota to its truth value ('P is true' means exactly the same as 'P', where P is a proposition).

There is a problem with belief and it is this: a clever atheist can always come along and point out that parthenogenesis is recorded among some animals but not among humans, or that a reporter from the Daily Mail was not present at the Annunciation (not that that would have made the events any more plausible), or that no-one has ever been seen with blue skin (and I certainly mean no disrespect - dancing with all the cow-girls is one of the most delightful stories in all religion). How do we address this?

It seems to me likely that there is a door and there is a key. I cannot prove this, but without this assumption there is no point in even starting. This assumption has been made by the best minds since the dawn of history and probably before. The world is full of it and civilisations have been built on it. Correctly understood, the similarities between the faiths and the wise are there to see, although clothed in different styles and with different myths. A myth is simply a story, in this context a story that contains a truth. A truth that cannot be expressed better any other way.

Everyone needs a story to live by. Carlos Castaneda refers to 'a path with heart.' As we live and learn, perhaps the way we describe our path becomes less naive, we put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). Meanwhile, a childish faith is a path with heart.

He who mocks the infant's faith
Shall be mock'd in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.

He who respects the infant's faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child's toys and the old man's reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.

- William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence

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