Friday, June 13, 2008

694. Faith

Yesterday Chaviva wrote a thought-provoking post about faith--what does that word mean in Judaism, anyway? I've been pondering this question myself lately, although not specifically in a Jewish context. My main beef with the school of mean, vocal atheists who write books (disclaimer: I'm sure they're very nice in their private lives, love their kids, support the local A.S.P.C.A., etc., but they always seem to be yelling whenever I meet them) is that they link faith and proof. I think you can boil down their arguments thus: Since the idea of God can't be proven, believers are deluded. Proof is one side of the scale, faith the other, and it must tip in one direction. There can't be balance.

But I don't believe these words are opposites. They don't belong in the same sentence, let alone definition. I think the words "leap of" should always precede "faith," because spiritual faith is like love--like jumping off a cliff with no idea how or where you'll land, but knowing you must. Faith is a conscious choice, always on purpose. It can be comfortable once you get there, but the journey is often terrifying. Just as having proof that your partner loves you can't guarantee that you love your partner back, so does the existence of verifiable data, or lack thereof, about the reality of God have little to do with an ability to take comfort in Divine presence. To me, faith is an awareness of not being alone, ever, and an expression of awe at mysteries beyond our understanding. Religious communities are places where these feelings can be articulated (and, yes, not always to the benefit of humankind--in this I must agree with the angry atheist writers).

Since belief in God is not a prerequisite for being a Jew, I think "Jewish faith" is about trust, and awe of the beauty, in one another--in our ability to share support as communities and a people, to honor the memories of our ancestors through ritual, and to gather strength to insure our traditions will continue. Some see the face of God manifest in these ideas; others don't. Either way, they are not concepts that require scientific proof to be valid, but rather are about taking a chance and believing that we will catch each other when we fall.


Paul said...

It seems to me that proof would be knowledge rather than belief.

"Faith is a conscious choice, always on purpose."

For me, it was just the opposite. Faith found me. It came as an awesome surprise. I think it has a purpose too, but one of its own.

I agree with most of your thoughts here, just picking up on what for me are a couple major discords...

Babz Rawls Ivy said...

Just a few quotes on faith that I find illuminating...

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The Bible.

The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea.
Anne Morrow Lindberg

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
Martin Luther King Jr.

rbarenblat said...

spiritual faith is like love -- like jumping off a cliff with no idea how or where you'll land

Yes. Oh, yes. I'm right there with you.

George said...

"Since belief in God is not a prerequisite for being a Jew..."
I'm not sure that the Rambam would agree with you.

alto artist said...

All these comments--thank you!

Paul: Thank you for visiting here. Faith came as a surprise to me in many ways, as well (see But I believe I had been waiting and preparing for that moment for a long time--I wouldn't have recognized it if I hadn't been ready. When, where--that part wasn't expected. But I made the choice to let in that new awareness.

Lovebabz: So beautiful and wise, thank you. Dr. King's quote reminds me of this from the Pirkei Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers," a text by 3rd-century rabbis): "You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it."

Rachel: It's always good to be reminded that I have company! :)

George: Agreed, he would not... I know that many committed, practicing Jews do feel this way--sometimes I think that the ones who insist most vocally that God doesn't exist are really those with the most faith. Why else would they keep up the dialogue, if not for hope of an answer?