Having a religious upbringing didn’t give me the tools to reconcile faith and fear.
Faith and fear were considered mutually exclusive.
In fact, I can recall sermons where I was told that lack of faith was sinful. I can even find the relevant scripture.
So all in all, to doubt or to be afraid was to sin.
Which creates a contradiction.
Because the opposite of fear is not faith. It’s blind faith. It’s false belief. As James Carse wrote in The Religious Case Against Belief, blind faith is actually wilful ignorance: that ability to ignore anything that might create any doubt in your own mind. Such ignorance is a basic human flaw. It is at the heart of intolerance and the failure to learn from one’s mistakes.
My problem is that blind faith or wilful ignorance has never worked for me. I’m too doubtful. I’m too curious. I struggle to be intolerant and ignorant. I make too many mistakes and need to learn from them.
It’s true that doubt for me can lead to fear. But once fear and doubt is accepted, a different path emerges. It isn’t a path of ignorance and/or intolerance. It isn’t an easy path. Yet on that path is surprise and joy. And that path is lit by an incurable curiosity. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, curiosity is the cure for boredom, but it is a graceful antidote to doubt and ignorance. And that non-easy path includes mistakes. Much like my favourite bad fortune cookie: “You always learn from your mistakes: You will learn a lot today”. Every single moment of every single day. Learn from it and resume the path.
Yet to continue that walk, I need self-acceptance, ongoing self-knowledge and true self-love. Or perhaps better put, self-faith, self-hope and true self-love (none of which is new-fangled anyway).
So how do I reconcile the contradiction of faith versus fear?
It’s true that fear and doubt can certainly overwhelm and overcome faith. I’ve learnt that.
Yet for faith to be successful, it must encompass and then accept doubt. As above.
Yet that acceptance of doubt doesn’t guarantee ultimate success. Otherwise, I would live my life relying on fortune cookies.
Many times faith doesn’t grant you what you want: it removes what you thought you wanted and replaces that with something better. And almost always at a different time and place than you expected.
You know that doubt thing: it’s not going away! It’s no easy walk. But it beats standing still.
At home I have a religious plaque on which is written:
“Understanding is the reward of faith.
Therefore seek not to understand that you may believe but believe that you may understand
Until recently, I thought it meant that I overcame challenges through faith and received understanding at the end. Hopefully instantly 🙂 Or after a period of waiting, say a month or year! Or longer! Nope!
But right now it isn’t working. And I’ve realised that it hasn’t worked for a very long time!
In essence, I have no guarantee whatsoever that faith given will receive understanding. Even if the challenge is met or not. Ever. What I must accept (with difficulty) is to have faith anyway and accept that I may not receive any understanding at all. Ever. And accept that the challenge may not be met. Ever. Ouch!
And once the challenge is overcome what I do I get? Another test. Another challenge! And that is the pattern.