Monday, April 26, 2010

Faith and straight thinking

It's usual to think of faith as an unreasonable thing, what Mark Twain called believing what you know isn't so. Lots of religious folks resent Twain for this remark and many others like them, especially if they read his Letters from the Earth, but since they agree with him that faith obeys God by defying reason, they shouldn't complain about Twain's assessment. Don't they commonly meet doubts and objections with such great advice as, "Just believe, brother!" (never mind such small details as whether or not you know it's true)?

As Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out, the notion that faith is irrational comes to us from the ancient Greeks, who held that poetry and other divine revelation came to people in a state of madness. Straight thinking and divine revelation are in different realms. But the prophets knew nothing of such nonsense, and neither did Jesus or the apostles. Faith for them is believing what is true in the spirit of a sound mind. The problem people had with Jesus is that he made sense and they couldn't refute him. You never catch Jesus, like today's Christoids, telling people what a virtue it is to believe in contrast to getting good answers. With Jesus, they'd shut up because he had good answers, so that they became afraid to even ask him a question. And faith, of course, is to ask him more questions right at that point where the religious people shut up, knowing that our irrationality is about to get challenged.

What got me thinking about this tonight was reading King Hubbert's paper on peak oil, presented to the American Petroleum Institute in 1956, in which he predicted that American production would peak about 1970, which he called just right, and in the world as a whole in 2000. He was wrong about that by about 5 years or so, due to the demand collapses caused by economic recession in the 1980's. We now seem to have peaked at 83 million barrels a day.

I was at a school board meeting in the Antelope Valley at which the Davis Demographics company presented a report on what the school district could expect over the next few years, and even 30 or more years ahead. They were figuring that eventually the population in this desert, far from Los Angeles or any other big city, could be expected to reach the limits of municipal zoning! I thought to point out that this was all based on the assumption that cheap and abundant petroleum and water would be there for ever, which is a fairy tale. Did the district actually pay money to be told such nonsense? Indeed, the US Dept of Energy's projections of supply and demand state that supply will fall short of demand in 2012 and be 10 million barrels a day short by 2015 - and the US Joint Forces Command agrees. The oil companies know they won't be pumping any more, which is why none of them are bothering to add refining capacity.

There's nothing controversial, really, about the train wreck the world economy is heading for, quite apart from what the Dow Jones averages may do this week. The remarkable thing to me is how professing Christians often greet this news.

On the one hand, they're excited about how Jesus will be returning any moment, which in fact our Bibles tell us is certainly not yet the case, just as Paul warned people not to expect right away in his own day. But faced with evidence of the sort of thing that the Bible tells us to expect before Jesus returns, they rely on the authority of people like Rush Limbaugh to blow it off. If they really think Jesus will show up any moment, why are they so sure that the "beginning of birth pangs" that Jesus spoke of won't be happening first?

That's what it looks like to be devoid of real faith. You can irrationally hold totally conflicting notions in your head at the same time, and nobody can, by patiently counting the objects in front of your face, persuade you that these 2, plus those 2, really do add up to 4 and not 5. But as James writes, the wisdom from above is pure and reasonable - or as Paul puts it, it's the spirit of a sound mind. That's what biblical faith looks like.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

its good to heat you sharing some of your thinking again. Peter, sober minded thinking at 44 is justas lonly a place as it was at 16 and 21 and 26 years old. whats going on with you today? whats got you talking about the 2+2=5 people?
judy

4/26/2010 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i guess i just feel like talking to you.
>> Don't they commonly meet doubts and objections with such great advice as,<<
here's what i think happens Peter. I think that when we have doubts and objections we are met by the "Jesus died for show a little gratitude and be happy group", But, If we are of a sincere heart when we are having the objections and doubt GOD HIMSELF is the brass over our heart that keeps those empty words from working to feed us.. But, for some reason, i think GOD set up the whole deal..for some reason the "cheer up committee" couldn't sustain me. I don't believe they sustain anybody who GOD has made hungry for answers..I don't know how this works, and I get angry and sad. But I think it is GOD who answers people. I don't think the people you are referring to have ever met GOD. I don't think they can have doubts and objections that lead to acquiring truth. Like a dog cant fly. Doubts that are attached to their lives in the way necessary to know the difference an an ANSWER and a cheerful word. What I am suggesting here, is the only reason you might not be able to do this, >>irrationally hold totally conflicting notions in your head at the same time<<, is because GOD has given you that real faith. It is a special strength. One I am sorta paranoid of not having. It has taken such pain to have this faith. to prefer the rod over the foxes hole. Isn't this what you are meaning when you say in the article, The High places and the LOW. >>It is blessing to escape the bewitchment of the proud<< You gain this escape this through suffering. By continued hunger. Hungry first in not eating the "Just believe brother" words. I refer to these folks as the neutral. Second hunger is from how telling the truth can make you sit alone. But it is what real faith causes one to do. Take the rod over the den. I'm glad you felt like writing a bit today.
judy

4/26/2010 11:21 PM  

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