Thursday, November 4, 2010

Disagreements of faith

So my wife and I found ourselves in our inevitable "discussion" mode last night. I always want to engage in the discussion because I keep holding out hope that she will see things my way at some point. Of course, to my continual surprise (and high blood pressure), she never does. However, I think I was able to gain some insight into the way she thinks, if only just a little.

While discussing the issue of faith, my mind was drawn to something I read concerning the warping of the definition of the word faith from something innocent to something relied upon without seeking for understanding. Let me elaborate. Faith is a word that simply means proposing an explanation for the way things are until you can actually prove that they are the way you think they are. Scientists use faith all the time when they come up with a hypothesis. They suspect that something is true based on some thought experiment or observation. This suspicion is then articulated, and experiments are formulated and attempted to try and discover "proof" of the correctness of the hypothesis. Until the experiments can be devised and carried out, the scientist is motivated by faith to continue on in the face of the unknown. The scientist is driven by hope that what he thinks is true may actually be so.

So it is with the traditional understanding of faith. Faith is the substance (action in the form of experiments) of things hoped for (as determined by the hypothesis) and the evidence of things not seen or currently known.

The problem with the current religious definition of faith is that it has morphed into something a little different. Faith, in the religious context, now stands for continuing belief in something that cannot be proven even in the face of evidence that stands in contradiction of it. When I ask religious people what they have faith in, the answers come very easily. However, when I ask them why they have faith in those things, the answers don't come so quickly. I think faith is a stepping stone to knowledge and is only useful until the knowledge can be obtained. If the knowledge cannot be obtained, faith in that idea should be discarded in favor of something that knowledge can be obtained in. That is my opinion any way.

For example, to illustrate the ultimate effect of having faith in God, I ask myself the following; If there are two people in heaven standing before God (which I apparently still feel the need to capitalize out of deference or respect to the 95% of Americans that supposedly still believe in His/Her/Its existence - then again that statistic may be outdated and come from religious sources). One person did not believe in God and the other had faith that God did exist while they were living on Earth. Which one is better off? When presented before God, the non-believer simply says, "Oh, OK, I guess you do exist, God. I'm so glad to know that now, so where do we go from here? (and they're thinking what was THAT all about anyway???)". The one that had faith in God's existence says, "Wow! I was right all along! I'm cool. So, now that we're here together what do we do now?"

I really can't see how one is better off than the other. Unless, of course, God is a sadist and delights in making people miserable if they didn't believe in him all along...which, I suppose, he could be, but I certainly would not choose to hang my hat on belief in that sort of being.

Needless to say, when I try to make that argument I get angry because my wife starts bearing her testimony to me in some fashion.

Well, I wanted to come up with an analogy that would address our particular situation and not result in the changing of the subject due to the overwhelming cognitive dissonance by my wife. So here is my analogy I decided to share with her;

Let's say I was an Amish man living in my Amish community with my Amish wife in my traditional Amish home without electricity. Let's say as an Amish man, I became exposed to the wonders and ultimate convenience of modern living with electricity and all of its associated appliances. So one day I come home to my Amish wife and say, "Honey, I'm tired of living without electricity...tell me why we don't have it again?" She says, "Well, the Amish good book or good leader tells us it is because it is what God wants." So I say, "That's not good enough anymore. I don't see how having electricity is really harming anyone out there in the majority of the world and unless you have a better reason I think I might just have to get our house wired with electricity." If I insist, apparently an argument ensues which I cannot win. If I raise my voice, I am full of the spirit of contention and am of the devil and am only serving to prove to my wife that I am possessed. If she yields then she must also "suffer" because she believes she would be displeasing God even though she might learn to actually enjoy not doing laundry and dishes by hand any more.

So my wife actually responds with, "If I were that Amish woman, I would say too're not getting electricity in my house as long as I live here!" Because to her, the belief trumps the convenience and all the evidence. Unfortunately, if I want to stay married to this woman, I have to continue to go without electricity as it were. She has faith that not having electricity is better than having it and she continues to follow that faith in the face of (at least I would say as a beneficiary of electricity) overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Of course, she would never consider actually going without electricity...which I hope only serves to make the cognitive dissonance more severe.

Of course, no real Amish people were hurt in my example here, but the point is that there has got to be some point where people say, "You know what, you're right, electricity may not be bad and maybe we could get it for just a little while and see how it goes." This would be the scientific approach. However, as I composed that last response, I think I realize what my wife is saying that remained unsaid. I think she may have gone on to say we can't do it because 1. Too much fear that the authorities may be right and God does actually somehow punish those that have electricity 2. Too much worry about how the Amish community would label us and possibly even ostracize us or cast us out.

I really think fear comes from the unknown and there are lots of people who fear leaving the church. So much so that it will not even be considered. Of course, the assumption of those that continue to believe in the face of such evidence to the contrary is that they are doing the right thing. My issue is, who is defining the "right" thing and how do they know that it is right for everyone? Unless there is some way to independently verify that something is, in fact, right, that we can all buy into, we will never cease to have disagreement and conflict about what is right.

The scientific method of asking questions and then attempting to find verifiable explanations, in the face of extreme fear that one may be wrong, is much more noble to me than not attempting to even ask the questions in the first place. But then again, that just may be where I am at and I am not showing enough compassion to those that feel differently. I guess I am still angry.


  1. I feel your pain... My wife and I were like this for a couple of years. If I could offer some things I learned from that experience...

    1 - Nothing you can say will convince her that the Church is wrong. In most cases it will simply cause her to dig in more. She may come around eventually, and when that happens you just need to be there to catch her when she falls.

    2 - She's still with you which means, she's an AWESOME companion. Too many couples split when one spouse leaves and the other stays.

    3 - My wife eventually came around, and while she still has a ways to go, the journey has begun. Our journeys are different though, but communicating about our journeys openly has made our relationship stronger.

    Sounds like you're on the right track though, and I loved the Amish example!

  2. Thanks for the insight Koda! I do see that my wife is yielding on some points. I do also understand that there is much time needed to digest everything and come around. I really do wonder what I would be like if the roles were reversed. Would I be the same way or would I be open to what my spouse was telling me? The sad thing is, I'm not sure I can confidently answer that question the way I would like to think...