Friday, May 13, 2011

certitude

A week ago I took a mini road trip to Syracuse, New York to attend the American Academy of Religion Eastern International Regional meeting. Basically, it was a bunch of religion scholars from New York, Ontario, and Quebec together presenting ideas, exchanging information, eating finger food, and drinking wine. Very nice, actually. The SUNY campus is lovely and I spent what little spare time I had wandering around a bit of it and taking pictures.

Two of the talks I attended that sparked quite a bit of discussion were ones that dealt with certitude, doubt, and struggle. It seems that in some circles, 'doubt' is the new 'faith.' One of the men presenting a paper plainly stated that certitude is our enemy. And he seemed quite certain about that! (just pointing that out). While I understand that he is reacting to a tendency to offer simplistic, pat answers which indeed are unhelpful for the most part, in my opinion he pretty much substituted one pat answer for another. And honestly, I am not looking for certitude. When it comes down to it, I don't believe many people are. I believe people are looking for faithfulness, and that's a whole different thing. As opposed to certitude, which is found in facts, faithfulness is found in a friend.

I had drinks at a local pub with a few people yesterday afternoon with the intention of talking about some of the questions that we have about God, the Bible, faith, Christianity, etc. Hard questions, questions that you are afraid to ask sometimes. As we talked (and it was interesting to hear each person's doubts and problems with Christianity), I realised that we all have different questions about God as we have perceived him, as he is portrayed by others, and what we have read about him in the Bible. I believe that our questions reveal what the real issues are in our lives, what we are really looking for. And in my opinion, it is never certitude.

Those who say they have certitude (the bible is a neat and tidy document full of proof texts) are most likely uncomfortable with mystery and often feel safest when they are in control of their environment. Some people want to know how God can smite people and destroy whole cities in the Old Testament. They are looking for a merciful society where kindness and compassion rule, but don't usually have a strong sense of the inherent repercussions that our actions carry. Perhaps they are only too aware of their own shortcomings. Some people want to know why God picked Israel and no one else. These people probably want to belong, to feel special. Some people don't like all the patriarchal language in the ancient biblical texts (where is the equality for women?). They are mindful of the underdog, the outcast, and might even feel like one themselves. Some people want to know why God does not show himself to us, speak clearly in an audible voice, or make himself easier to find. These are people who are hungry for relationship and love.

I know that is a rather simplified way of looking behind some of these questions, but you get my point. I try to listen carefully to people's questions because they reveal what is important to them and more often than not, what we are lacking. I realise that I don't ask a lot of 'why' questions. For the most part, I am not looking for the answers to life's mysteries because I enjoy the beauty of mystery and don't need it explained. What is important to me is that God is present, that I know that he is near, that he walks with me through life, and that he is trustworthy. One of my most frequent questions to God is, "Can you help me today?" And he always answers, "Yes."
The first photograph is of the Hall of Languages at Syracuse University, where the conference was held. On the lawn across the street, I found this installation of orange paper cranes in support of the tsunami victims in Japan.

5 comments:

jer said...

Well said ... double-like

Anonymous said...

"As opposed to certitude, which is found in facts, faithfulness is found in a friend."

I very much agree with this, although I would state that faith is found in the Logos which emerges between people: faith is the product of turning towards humanity with the hope of the gospel. It is radical humanism.

"Christianity and humanism are not opposites. Christians can be humanists and humanists can be Christians. We shall later show reasons why Christianity can not be understood except as radial humanism. But it is clear even now that, whenever post-Christian humanists (of liberal, Marxist or positivist provenance) have practiced a better humanism than Christians-and they did this very frequently throughout the whole of modern times-this is a challenge to those Christians who have failed, not only as humanists, but as Christians." - Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, p. 31.

Matte Downey said...

Thanks, Jer. Always nice to hear from you!

As to the comments on Christianity and humanism, I agree that these are not opposites in the way that Kung describes them, and his term, "radical humanism," is a step in the right direction. However, in my opinion, we must be careful about how we situate this humanism.

If I have understood you correctly, I would disagree with your statement that "faith is the product of turning towards humanity with the hope of the gospel." I would, instead, say it is a turning towards God who is able to give us his hope for humanity. Subtle difference, but I believe it is important.

Thanks for the interesting discussion.

Anonymous said...

"If I have understood you correctly, I would disagree with your statement that "faith is the product of turning towards humanity with the hope of the gospel." I would, instead, say it is a turning towards God who is able to give us his hope for humanity. Subtle difference, but I believe it is important."

I fully accept this 'correction' from you, but I wouldn't necessarily accept it from others.

Matte Downey said...

I didn't really mean to "correct" anyone; merely wanted to clarify what for me was a vital point: who we are turning to reveals who is the centre of our belief system. Your gracious reply was very much appreciated. :-)