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Love as Irrational as Faith; Faith as Self-destructive as Love

May 1, 2015

I was reading two blog posts by a Facebook friend of mine whom I regard as crazy smart and yet pretty at odds in the spiritual and theological dimension (which is typically bound to be the case when contrasting a believing Mormon with an atheist of Mormon upbringing.)

The first one I want to discuss is his post on — as he himself puts it — his “irrational” faith. He begins by writing:

I know that my redeemer lives. This knowledge is born of my faith, and my faith comes from my personal spiritual experiences. My experiences are repeatable for myself: therefore, to me, they are scientific proof. To anyone else, they will mean nothing unless that anyone else has his own corresponding spiritual experiences.

Whoever searches for a reason for faith in external proofs is a fool that does not understand faith. What, would such a searcher have the same demands for evidence were someone to profess love for that person? Is not the unspeakable bond of the heart sufficient? If not, love can never be in the life of that person. And, since faith is love, so goes faith.

But open a heart to love, and it opens to faith. There are things about love for which I have no reasons, but only trust, and that trust is sufficient even if irrational. When I allow this irrational, unproven faith into my life, I find that my heart fills and then spills over with joy and love. When this faith guides my heart and my actions, I seek to do good and to serve others. Would I subject such goodness and service to withering doubts to drain my desire to do them? Or would I be better for it if I kept my faith, nurtured it, purified myself that my faith would become more perfect?

I find much to agree with here (although not so much with what is written afterward by not quoted here. Then again, maybe that’s precisely what a faithless sociopathic murderer-lying-in-wait would say). Even as a nonbeliever, I find myself preoccupied with subjectivity, unlike so many other nonbelievers I know who are so preoccupied with the external proofs of objectivity. To me, I value my experiences — experiences are the closest thing to me. I live with my experiences.

I understand that many people dislike the analogy of faith to love, but I don’t really want to go there. I just think that this analogy is still interesting if we run with it.

Our predilection and ability to love is influenced by biological factors. Not everyone finds the same things lovely or praiseworthy — and that’s OK. A man’s wife may be the most beautiful woman in the world to him, but she doesn’t have to be the most beautiful woman in the world to every other man (nor to every woman).

That’s just something to think about.

If I grant that there’s something irrational about love (and so I will — I won’t try in this piece to argue that it is just chemicals in the brain or whatever…notwithstanding my previous paragraph about its biological influences…because I think that what’s more important is the subjectivity and the phenomenology…the qualia of love), then I do recognize its value in shaping a person, in motivating the heart to vulnerability, but also joy. I recognize this motivation to strive to be a better, strive not simply to live for oneself (or not live much at all), but to be more expansive, more charitable, and giving.

So, I can see how one could say the same thing about faith, even if I do not personally share the same sentiments about faith that this friend does.

But getting back to the thing to think about…doesn’t that raise up a very good point?

If love is irrational, and faith is like love, then surely, we wouldn’t expect everyone to fall in love or fall into faith for the same thing. We wouldn’t expect everyone to even find the same things to be lovely, praiseworthy, or of good report. There lies objectivity and rationality impinging on a subjective, irrational domain.

And if so, we either have to recognize that love and faith will be found — and must be valued — in several forms of expressions, or we have to recognize that love and faith are not in and of themselves lovely and praiseworthy things. That there is something else by which the love or the faith must be judged.

This brings me to the second post I was reading: A Grander View. From this post:

…Birth is not a beginning and death is not an end. There is no end to existence, though it may pass through phases, times, and seasons. I watched as this world came into being, and I shall exist long after its passing. My life here has a purpose, but it is for an end beyond this life. And of this beyond, what proof do I have? I have enough for my own purposes, and I had to fight and struggle for that proof born of faith. I confess a tired impatience when others speak of that faith as a secondary concern, or of it being no concern at all. It is the same tired impatience I experienced when an ignorant young wag would try to debunk my geographic knowledge by virtue of the fact that I had not yet been to every place in the world. I had been to enough of it to know that it was there and to trust in the tales of honest travelers who had been to other places in the great, wide world.

By that same token, I have been to spiritual places in number enough to trust in what is told to me by honest men that have seen more of that realm. That knowledge informs a view I hold that looks beyond the limits of mortality. I see my ultimate end as being one with God, as part of His family, engaged in the work and glory of bringing to pass the eternal life of mankind.

Why are people born the way they are? Jesus said it wasn’t because of anyone’s sins: it just happens. Pick any condition in the “born this way” category, and it just happens. Each of us faces a string of burdens in life, unique to our own existence. We can choose to be guided by pride and demand that we are right, damn anyone that dares to disagree. In the process, we can destroy goodness around us and blind ourselves to truth. Or, we can choose instead to be guided by humility and accept that we have much to learn and, in the process, open our eyes to truth as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, care and precision.

So how can I, a person who claims to be a just, enlightened, unbigoted intellect, be against the idea of same-sex marriage?….Well, I shall explain.

…We are here to prepare to be part of an Eternal Family. That is no euphemism. I was a spirit child before I was a mortal child, and as a spirit child, I was the product of a loving union in the realm from which I came and to which I hope to return. Gender was important to the creation of my spirit. Important? No, it was vital. Gender is vital to the continuance of that work, for there is more of it to come. I cannot live alongside my Heavenly Father and do the things which He would have me do without an Eternal Companion of the necessary opposite gender. Biology for the continuation of the species is not limited to the time between birth and death in this mortal existence. It is Eternal. Marriage between a man and a woman can continue for eternity, should it be sealed upon earth by the proper authority and in the proper place. Any other sort of union cannot.

I recognize that zzzptm is indeed a well-traveled dude, so I tread carefully lest I appear as the “ignorant young wag” who “would try to debunk [his] geographic knowledge by virtue of the fact that [he has] not yet been to every place in the world.” (But it’s probably too late.)

But it seems to me that zzzptm’s appeal to faith, and the appeal to faith as akin to love from his previous post, raises some questions about the conclusions he wants to make from faith.

Using the truths he has earned and learned from his faith, he wants to make the case that some kinds of love — and some unions formed of those loves — are not eternal, cannot be vital, and even cannot abide beside God. He may be right, but to call into question some kinds of love will destabilize some kinds of faith (but wouldn’t most religious folks agree? — faith isn’t as important as having faith in the right things). With this destabilization, I can say that he may be right in his conclusions, but he needs another grounding for his faith than the experiencing of it (because, analogously, under his system, one would need more grounding for love than the experiencing of it.)

In other words, if his defense of his irrational faith is an appeal to the goodness and the nobility of the irrationality of love, then his attack of the love that others know of immediately alienates them from his sense of faith.

Then again, this is probably just smooth talk from a ignorant young faithless murderous sociopathic wag.

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  1. I think subjective things have a place in understanding the real world. Mental states may be subjective things — but at bottom mental state are still physical phenomena, circumscribed by the laws of physics.

    The problem arises when people conclude too broadly based on their mental states (which is what I think applies to faith and love). I don’t doubt that while meditating or on psychedelics, people can feel a “mystic experience” of oneness with the universe — it’s just that that doesn’t mean human brains are actually physically linked through quantum effects to the rest of the universe. Or I don’t doubt what people with Near-Death Experiences claim to have experienced — but I think it’s more likely that when the brain almost dies it hallucinates interesting things.

    These are interesting physical experiences the human brain is capable of having and are worthy of scientific study (and may have interesting applications for fostering human well-being) — but that doesn’t make them applicable to the physical world or to the laws of physics and biochemistry.

    So, with faith, it’d be fine if religious people left it at “faith is like love” — because no one tells me that I’m (by nature) a bad person or that I will experience suffering for all eternity if I don’t love their wife (or love jazz, or love whatever else).

  2. Justin,

    While I am inclined to agree that mental states have physical phenomena “at the bottom,” I recognize that a lot of people bristle at that kind of materialism…and I think that it doesn’t really matter…the experiencing is more important than the causes or mechanics, IMO.

    I also think that people often overreach in their explaining of subjective I wouldn’t disagree on the psychedelics, meditation, and NDE examples…but I think what’s more important is that these people have experienced experiences of such strength that they do think they are objective, universal, etc., things. Like, even if I am not persuaded (because I do not share those experiences), I recognize a particular power that having those experience is so powerful that people are motivated to describe them as they do.

    But I agree (with a qualification) with your last paragraph– I would appreciate it more if the religious aspect took the love analogy more similarly. However, the qualification is that even if people don’t tell me that I’m bad nature if I don’t love their wife, some people nevertheless say I’m a bad person if I don’t love *some woman as a wife*. (e.g., LDS social values against not just homosexuality but also the stigma against being single.)

  3. And the reason they do that (tell you, at minimum, that you have to love *some woman as a wife*) is because they’ve ascribed too much weight to what their subjective experience means for the broader physical world (as I said with NDEs referring to the hallucinations of an almost dead brain vesus being about a physical place our consciousness will all go live at after physical death). That’s what I think needs to be opposed when it’s encountered (drawing too universal of a conclusion), not the value/merit in subjective experiences. They can’t have their cake and eat it too — keeping their experiences off-limits to the natural sciences, but making physical claims about the universe with them (taking an NDE and saying that there’s a mechanism for conscious experience to persist after bodily death).

    I agree that experiences are more than the causes and mechanics of experiencing (I’m not a complete reductionist, there’s some room for emergent properties there) — but subjective experiences still are caused and have mechanisms to them. They are, at bottom, a state of affairs happening inside your head — and they might not be reducible to just the laws of physics, but they are going to be compatible with them.

    I think people “bristle” at this kind of materialism because they imagine it somehow cheapens the value of subjective things, as though if something is “just happening in your head” then that makes it somehow “not real” or not worth studying/paying attention to.

    I wouldn’t want to cheapen the feeling of mystical oneness with the universe that many people experience or the calming effect that NDEs have on people as their brain is almost dying. There is a genuine physical phenomenon happening inside their brains that, if we fully understood it, could help us foster more general contentment and well-being among humans. What I challenge is taking that experience and making claims about quantum physics or biology based on them.

    Yes, contentment and well-being are “just” subjective feelings inside people’s heads — but I couldn’t imagine a more important thing we should be working to maximize. But to really do so requires that we admit that facts about conscious experiences are circumscribed by and accessible to scientific inquiry — and not keep them in the magical “off-limits zone” of supernaturalism.

  4. well, I can’t say I disagree with those points….

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