Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Faith Is Not

Pretty Lady has always understood, more or less, why a significant percentage of rational humans get all squirrelly and uncomfortable when she discusses Faith. That is because what passes for Faith in many echelons of society, up to and including, most unfortunately, the current executive administration, is a form of narcissistic magical thinking.

Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. ''I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,'' he began, ''and I was telling the president of my many concerns'' -- concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. '''Mr. President,' I finally said, 'How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?'''

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator's shoulder. ''My instincts,'' he said. ''My instincts.''

Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. ''I said, 'Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough!'''
All of this -- the ''gut'' and ''instincts,'' the certainty and religiosity -connects to a single word, ''faith,'' and faith asserts its hold ever more on debates in this country and abroad. That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge. But faith has also shaped his presidency in profound, nonreligious ways. The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness.
Pretty Lady must make it crystal clear that when she discusses Faith, this is NOT WHAT SHE MEANS. This is NOT IT. At all. Ever. This sort of 'faith' is nothing but childish, abusive stupidity. It is the rantings of an Alpha ape who believes that he should be in charge, not merely because he happens to find himself in charge, but because God ordained it.

No no no no no.

Faith, in the way Pretty Lady means it, is an anchor with an infinitely long rope. That is all. It does not dismiss or reject the notion of Facts. It is strong enough, not to override the Facts, but to look the worst of them in the eye unblinking and accept them, integrate them, and move forward, encompassing them.

Because if one is to assume that God created all, that means that he created Facts as well. He created the Shiites, and the Sunnis, and rational thinking. When a person purports to trust God for 'protection' against God's creation, that person is not faithful, that person is insane. This person is purporting to accept God as he simultaneously rejects Him, which is, of course, impossible.

True faith then requires an exceptionally strong mind, and an exceptionally strong stomach. True faith is not pretty, nor is it simple.

That very issue is what Jim Wallis wishes he could sit and talk about with George W. Bush. That's impossible now, he says. He is no longer invited to the White House.

''Faith can cut in so many ways,'' he said. ''If you're penitent and not triumphal, it can move us to repentance and accountability and help us reach for something higher than ourselves. That can be a powerful thing, a thing that moves us beyond politics as usual, like Martin Luther King did. But when it's designed to certify our righteousness -- that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There's no reflection.

''Where people often get lost is on this very point,'' he said after a moment of thought. ''Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want.''

And what is that?

''Easy certainty.''

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