Faith separate from Belief; Faith as Choice
A few article ago, I wrote about faith as loyalty, commitment, or an attitudinal stance. I mentioned that what I found intriguing about this world of approaches is that it separates beliefs from faith.
Today, someone linked me to an article on Exploring Sainthood provocatively titled A True-Believing Atheist Mormon.
The first thought that went into my head when I saw that title was — how could any atheist claim to be a true believing Mormon?
But the author, Mike B, quickly explains that his approach is to separate belief from faith, and he brings in thoughts from Adam Miller’s Letter to a Young Mormon in support of this:
For you, the existence of God is so unlikely and runs so counter to common sense that even an earnest kind of wishful thinking is more than you can credibly muster. God is just not given to you as part of how things are. . . . Though this common sense godlessness can make things harder, it too can open a path to faith. – Adam Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon
The interesting part of the article is to illustrate that the choice of faith can be like the choice of mathematical axioms. As he writes:
Mathematical systems are built on a handful of what are called axioms, i.e. unproved assumptions that provide the starting point for reasoning. Most mathematical truths (e.g. 2+2=4) are not axioms, but the logically implied results of the founding axioms. A common misunderstanding is the idea that axioms must be self-evident. While many axioms happen to be self-evident (e.g. x=x), some aren’t. A statement becomes an axiom simply by our arbitrarily choosing it as such. No proof or self-evidence is required.
For illustration, let’s consider the continuum hypothesis. If you tried enumerating all the counting numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) you would of course never finish because the set of counting numbers is infinite. The set of real numbers, which includes the counting numbers and other things like the square root of two, isn’t just infinite; it’s infinitely larger than the already infinitely large set of counting numbers; there are bigger infinities still. The continuum hypothesis speculates that while there are many infinities bigger than the real numbers, there is none smaller, except the counting numbers. There’s nothing between the two.
What’s interesting is mathematicians have discovered that the continuum hypothesis is both impossible to prove and to disprove, given our current axioms. The consequence—and what proved so relevant to my posture within Mormonism—is that we are left with a pure choice. With no compelling reason to declare the continuum hypothesis true or false, the question is what mathematicians call undecidable. But it is precisely this undecidability that allows us to make a pure, insupportable, axiomatic decision. The continuum hypothesis will be true, or won’t be, as we choose, and neither choice will be inconsistent with current axioms. At present, the mathematics community is still split on this decision.
This was an intriguing analogy, and I think you should read the rest of the article.
That being said, I had concerns about many of his points, and I wrote about them in a comment on the site. I’m not going to repaste here, so again, read the post! But I will address a few thoughts.
As I’ve mentioned on earlier posts, I think that even separating faith from belief raises questions. The question to me is: even if faith is a choice, why should I (or anyone else) make that choice?
Mike B starts very early in his article by saying that he was raised in a white, middle-class, active family. From the name, I am supposing that Mike is a cis-male, and I am just guessing that Mike is heterosexual.
In the article Mike talks about belief as being an “irrational affect,” which cannot hold up as evidence, and certainly not as proof. I agree that belief is not objective, but where he emphasis the objective “undecidability” as offering a choice, I think that he underestimates the subjective aspects at play. Ever if beliefs are subjective (and may be irrational), they are more important to us practically than what is objective. Even if I believe something that is objectively wrong, I will act in accordance to that subjective belief over objective reality. (If I genuinely believe I cannot be harmed by bullets, this won’t end well for me if I try to test that belief, but I will think and believe that it will end well for me.)
So, even if we separate beliefs about, say, God, or beliefs about, say, the Book of Mormon from the choice of faith, the question is…what are the other subjective aspects at play here?
If Mike were not white, were not middle-class, were not from an active family…if he were gay, transgender, or any number of other states, would his subjective experience of Mormonism differ? Would it be as desirable for him to “choose” to stick with Mormonism?
I am totally open to people having the choice to stay in Mormonism, even when they don’t believe. I am totally for people advocating that as a valid possibility within Mormonism (countering those who would insist that Mormonism is only for those who believe.) However, it seems to me that as Mormonism currently is, it’s not a safe, or helpful, or positive, or constructive place for many types of folks. I think about how the church is treating women seeking equality, and I am not optimistic. I think about the church’s approach and treatment of LGBT issues, and ask: why should anyone continue to try to strive here?
I understand that for those who have spiritual experiences or other subjective (in the sense that one’s spiritual experience cannot be exported to another) elements in their lives, then new avenues become open that might justify these things, but not everyone has these things. Not everyone has the privilege to make Mormonism work out for them.