152. The Reason For Faith

(I suddenly realize that I missed this week’s Fiction Friday. I blame the erratic year-end schedule)

These are difficult days to be a person of faith.

Having been raised in a very Christian home, I have been attending church and practicing the faith for as long as I can remember. As I open up to the big, big world out there and become more and more aware of the views of others, it appears that most of the world has put aside the notion of faith in favor of rational thought and science; and in doing so, the predictable

On one hand, there are those firmly planted in the world of rational thought, ridiculing those who hold on to faith for believing in fairy stories. On the other hand, there are those anchored into the bedrock of faith, refusing to relent, and referring to the rational thinkers as sinners caught in the ways of the world whose souls are doomed for eternal damnation.

(this, of course, is an oversimplification; but to fully portray the views of both camps will take time that I am not willing to spend, so just roll along with the idea that the two sides do not get along with one another)

Having been exposed to both sides, the only thing that can be said is this: rational thinking is the rational choice. But that’s like winning at a game in which you set up the rules on your own. Faith, of course, is not the rational choice – because faith is its own answer. Just like how I cannot demonstrate how to play poker with UNO cards, you cannot explain the idea of faith in rational terms.

Allow me, however, to attempt to reconcile these two ways of thinking.

I have a friend who loved the Final Fantasy series of games. As we all know, however, liking to do something doesn’t always equate to being able to do it well; and watching her play the games is kind of like following political news: depressing, painful, but you cannot help but watch and laugh.

When the internet gained popularity in the early 2000s, she found (at that point in her life) the discovery of a lifetime: game walkthroughs. An encyclopedic guide to the game, listing down every item, route, monsters, abilities, and solution to the game’s challenges. Armed with the walkthrough, she found every secret, bested every boss fight, and beat the game with great satisfaction.

All while my other gamer friend watched on in disgust. “That’s not the point of the game!” he would protest. “You’re supposed to immerse yourself into the experience – figure things out! Get caught off guard by the surprises! Discover the secrets by actually searching for it!”

To which I imagine she answered: “I have better equipments than you, noob.”

(I never actually remembered what she said in reply. It was probably something much more mundane, like “whatever”, or something similar to that. I, for one, like the version in my imagination better)

I, as a gamer, agree completely with the gamer friend… Until I get stuck for over an hour on a seemingly impossible puzzle, at which point I’ll just open up the walkthrough, so that I can get on with the rest of the game.

This former friend of mine, who attends the same church as I do, have compared the Bible to walkthroughs on more than one occasion. “The answers are all in there,” she would say, “All you need to do is to look for it, instead of trying to figure everything out on your own.”

There’s some undeniable logic going on there. But if I could make an argument for the reason for faith, using mathematics as an allegory, it would go something like this:

Life, in all its complexity, offers us a number of things to figure out – to solve. Let’s say that one of these things is to find the answer of 5 multiplied with the square root of 4. Some of you have already figured out the answer, some of you will take a little longer. Tell a little child who has no knowledge of square roots, however, and tell him that the answer is 10. He’ll believe you, and he’ll go on to tell other people that the answer is 10, no questions asked. The same thing happens whether you tell him 10, or 9, or 12. This is faith: suspending disbelief, putting trust into something or someone before the evidence is presented.

Science, you see, is in the method of discovery: determining that the square root of 4 cannot be anything but 2 (hey, it could also be -2, but let’s keep things simple for now), and that 5 multiplied by 2 cannot be anything else but 10. Evidence presented, proof irrefutable. The process of eliminating the impossible to find the infallible truth – that’s science.

But science does not disprove nor causes faith to be obsolete. Neither is faith the enemy of science. They are simply ways of seeing and interpreting the world. Ways of thought.

Back to my friend with the walkthrough and the other gamer friend. One just needs the answers quick so she can get on with the game without panicking with every new feature. The other wants to take time to discover the mechanics that governs the world he has chosen to immerse himself into. You may agree with or prefer one over the other – but who’s to say which is nobler, or better? They are both making the best out of their gaming experience.

So the same it is with faith and science. Some enjoy the process of uncovering truth. Some prefer to have the answer, no need for the steps taken to discover the answer.

So here is the main problem with faith: what if faith’s answer is wrong? What if 5 multiplied by the square root of 4 isn’t 10, but is in fact -10? Those who take faith’s answer at face value would be wrong their whole lives, but go on believing that they’re right, simply because faith said so.

In my secondary school days, I’ve always dreaded a maths problem that typically goes like this: “Prove that x=1 and y=1 in the function x^2 + 2xy + y^2 = 0”

(the smart alec in me had always wanted to write “no”; but my desire to get good grades have always overridden my desire to make snarky comments)

Because faith typically presents an answer within a premise, all that’s left is to test it out and see if it works. If the walkthrough says that there’s some secret loot in the corner of the map, the only sure way of knowing is to travel there and find out. Faith essentially presents the maths problem, except minus the bit where it asks you to prove it – only to believe it and run with it.

The only reason that I have kept the faith for so long, I think, is that I have found it to work for me. I do not know the steps in between – perhaps the premise is all wrong. Perhaps everything that I’ve experience is only the placebo effect in motion. But what I know is that through practicing this faith, I believe I have grown to be a better, more wholesome person than I would otherwise be. I have tested faith’s answer, and found that it works.

Science has debunked superstitions of faith many times before, making some very religious people feel very silly. At the same time, it has also bridged many premises and answers put forth by faith, making some very religious people feel very clever.

Rational thought, at first glance, may seem antagonistic to the notion of faith; but in time, perhaps we’ll come to realize that science can help us to discover the steps between the fundamental questions of life and faith’s answer. At the same time, perhaps faith would be useful to us – ignorant as we are – to help suspend disbelief about the fundamental truths about the world, until we either discover the steps of logic in between, or disprove faith’s answer entirely.

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