Nathaniel — faith v. psychic’s disease
Thursday, February 8, 2018
6:30 a.m. Seems like I keep saying this, but – faith hope and charity, this morning, or something else?
That will do as a topic. And then we may go on to other things for a while. You have been doing this for a while now.
In discussing the three virtues the Christians added to the classic four, we are less interested in what may have been understood by them historically than in their relevance for today and tomorrow. For, after all, in one sense nothing permanent ever changes, but in another sense everything permanent seems to change – reveals other facets – as the point of view of the observers around them changes. (Yes, “all is one” ultimately, but in discussing anything short of the ultimate, we end by discussing parts as if they were independent or partly independent units.) So how might you usefully incorporate these virtues in the lives you lead from now?
Faith. Faith implies faith in something, if only in the integrity of the universe, or in justice, or goodness. It need not extend to belief that the way one understands the universe is correct. That is, it need not be a credo in the sense that organized religions use it. It may, if that helps you, if it matches your disposition and meets your needs; but it need not.
Non-Muslims are not aided by the fact that Muslims believe certain things to be true; neither are they themselves harmed by the fact that they [themselves] do not, or do not in the same manner. Similarly, non-Christians are no more affected by their own non-belief in the Apostle’s Creed, say, than Protestants and Catholics are affected by their own inability to believe their opposite numbers’ specific creeds.
In short, faith has nothing to do with being right. It has nothing to do with anything that can be “scientifically” proved. Faith is not opinion.
This, despite the fact that opinion, and supposed fact, and correctness (i.e. the assumption that one is correct) will shelter behind the word. The fact remains, faith is not a matter of fact or opinion in the sense in which the word is so often misused to support.
Faith is – what you know it to be, from experience. It is a steadfast unreasoning and perhaps unreasonable belief that something is true, that motivates your action (or perhaps your in-action, sometimes) against all contrary evidence.
As I was writing that, I thought of Shackleton’s men, stranded in the Antarctic, waiting for months for rescue, forming up every day because “this may be the day he returns.” Amazing story, and on the one hand it shows his remarkable character that inspired such faith, and of course on the other, shows the remarkable character of his men who refused to consider that he might be unable to fulfill his word.
Plenty of examples throughout history, if you care to set them out.
But not here. To be sure, there are. I don’t know why that particular example came to mind, unless it was because their faith was so unreasoning, even though they knew the perils that might easily have destroyed their leader in his attempt to bring them their salvation.
Even if he had failed, and the men had all died, the fact of their faith throughout their long vigil would have remained, even though the world never heard of it. The second-tier experience would have returned them full dividends quite regardless of first-tier results.
In a sense, faith is following guidance, an unseen presence that is trustworthy, benevolent, and personal. It manifests in convictions that you do not doubt, that lead you safely through fog and darkness past unsuspected dangers. It doesn’t preserve you from life – it isn’t a magic carpet or a cloak of invisibility or an assurance of invulnerability – but it preserves you throughout life, if you allow it to.
Can you make clear the difference between faith and what I call Psychic’s Disease? [That is, the certainty that because I strongly feel something is true, therefore it is true.]
It’s easy. Psychic’s Disease usually boils down to opinion. Faith is more about qualities.
I think I sort of see that, and it is a remarkable clarification. But, a little more?
That which you believe in faith, you are (in a sense, only) forced to believe. It is an overwhelming presence in your psyche. You may choose to disbelieve; you may, one might say, choose to go with doubt over faith, but it is there if you are willing to know it is. Faith is not a matter of opinion, though it may look like it superficially. Shackleton’s men were not of the opinion that he would return for them; they knew he would, even though reason would have thrown up so many reasons why he might have been prevented from doing so. Six hundred miles of open sea [800, actually] would have provided reason enough for doubt.
In their case, opinion would have been, “He’ll be here in three more weeks; he’ll get here on a Tuesday,” something like that.
In the case of Psychic’s Disease, that’s closer to your seizing on to some idea or conviction that comes floating within range and deciding that, because you grasped it, it is truth. And this is slightly more complicated than may appear.
I see. Timelines change.
Correct. So, a certainty may stem from accurate vision that refuses to take into account one’s inability to out-wrestle the universe.
As always. But we are moving a little faster than our words, so let’s drop back a bit and reconstruct the chain of realizations that have brought you here.
It is a fine line, sometimes, between faith and cocksureness. The way to distinguish between them – for yourself – is to distinguish how far desire has mingled with perception. Now, we just said it is a fine line. Shackleton’s men certainly desired that he would return bringing rescue, but it was not desire, in their case, that brought certainty. It was their shared faith in him and his leadership and ability and call it his luck, though perhaps neither he nor they would have used the word.
But supposing – to make a slightly absurd example – that among themselves they had been conducting a pool as to which day of the week he would arrive. In such case, any certainty would have been perilous (that is, untrustworthy) because no matter how certain one might be, no matter how accurate one’s non-sensory knowledge might be – in actual fact, one might wind up following some other timeline, thus falsifying the knowing.
You see? Very difficult to tell true intuition leading to foreknowledge from true intuition leading to what we might call mistaken foreknowledge. If one judges results by where one lands, that kind of thing happens all the time. It is why prophets are not inerrant. So, faith must be in things other than timeline-delineated things.
I have the concept, pretty clearly now, but I feel we haven’t really said some one thing that would make it clear.
It can be a cloudy concept, because it is a cloudy relationship. Let’s leave it at this. You can live in faith in all humility, but you can’t live in Psychic’s Disease that way. Remember always that you, yourself, are not uniquely guided in the world, and it will be easier to remember that guidance is not certainty, but always requires and repays doubt.
“Doubt”? Did I get the wrong word? That seems contradictory. Shackleton’s men never seem to have doubted that he would successfully return.
There is a fine shade of difference, concealed by language. They did not doubt his ability, his loyalty, his courage and resourcefulness. This is the basis for their faith. They knew him. But that did not blind them to the possibility that the forces of nature might overwhelm him as they had overwhelmed the expedition’s ship and its intent. They knew he might fail, but there was no percentage in pulling that future toward them (or pulling themselves toward it, however you wish to see it). Instead, they clung to their faith in their leader’s character and ability as they knew it from long experiences, and we might say used that faith to pull themselves to a future in which they were rescued.
You see the fine line? They didn’t suppress their knowledge of possibilities, they merely rested on what they knew, and lived as if it would work out, as it did.
Well, as you say, it’s a fine line, and maybe we’ll meet questions that bring us to review the subject. Meanwhile, that’s our hour. Till next time, then.
& & &
NOTE: For those interested in the remarkable story of Ernest Shackleton and his three voyages, I went poking around and found these:
https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/shackleton (“The Exhibition, which was on view from April 10 – October 11, 1999 at the American Museum of Natural History, documented one of the greatest tales of survival in expedition history: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 voyage to the Antarctic. Just one day’s sail from the continent, the ship Endurance became trapped in sea ice. Frozen fast for ten months, the ship was crushed and destroyed by ice pressure, and the crew was forced to abandon ship. After camping on the ice for five months, Shackleton made two open boat journeys, one of which–a treacherous 800-mile ocean crossing to South Georgia Island–is now considered one of the greatest boat journeys in history. Trekking across the mountains of South Georgia, Shackleton reached the island’s remote whaling station, organized a rescue team, and saved all of the men he had left behind.”)