Looking out the window
All she can see
Are the dreams all made solid
All the dreams made real
All of the buildings and all of the cars
Were once just a dream in somebody's head
- From Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel
Of all the arguments emotional and intellectual for or against the existence of God, the most compelling ones that disparage both sides involve the perils of arrogance. Atheism is given a bad name by the few atheists who assume that the absence of a "God" gives them the solipsistic authority to judge any or all. Religion is given a bad name by those who assume the presence of God gives them a right to judge any or all on "his" behalf.
Frankly, I don't really care whether anyone "believes" or doesn't. I find in the course of my life that there is a spectrum of faith and reason and that wherever you fall on it there is a likelihood I have something to learn from you and something about you with which I relate.
But I admit I tend to have a sort of "reason" fetish. Give me good science and elegant logic. There is a glory in reason that is as just inspiring as any religious ritual. Bring on the smart stuff. Me luvvvves it. Prayer didn't put a man on the moon.
Or did it?
Richard Dawkins - as vocalist an atheist as they come - decries "faith" as an archaic notion that is only useful for children who have an evolutionary need to take unquestioning instruction from their parents. Once puberty hits, he explained to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, faith has outlived its usefulness and becomes dangerous.
The easy historical and contemporary examples of holy wars and religiously motivated persecution provide intuitive empirical arguments for this perspective. You have to forget charity and community and other societal benefits of religious affiliations that present another view, but the argument is often begrudgingly compelling even to people of faith who care about social justice and can see these potential pitfalls and the damages done in the name of religion.
I'm not going to argue for or against religion. Honestly, if religion or lack thereof helps you treat people better and serve your family, friends, community, country and the planet as a whole in a predominantly constructive/productive (as opposed to destructive) way then you can believe in the power - or lack thereof - of multi-colored gumballs for all I care.
But "faith", as a concept - faith as the belief in something that is not imminently provable, is - I think I can demonstrate - not without its uses post-puberty.
I refer your attention to the quote which begins this posting. It seems to me, that "acts of faith" are very often the driving forces of most - if not all - accomplishments in life. I don't think that "if you can dream it, you can do it." I can dream all I want about doing a triple axel at the Olympics, but I'm certain beyond any reasonable doubt that I can't ever do that. (fortunately I'm fine with that :-)) But I'm also pretty durn sure that if you don't dream it - you WON'T ever do it. When I look around me I see acts of "faith" virtually everywhere.
A job interview? Act of faith. Not so sure? Try going into your next interview and saying "I can't prove that I can do the job" and see how that works out for you.
I just started exercising again. MAJOR act of faith. I've never been athletic. What on earth makes me think that I'll be able to get in healthy shape? When have I ever been able to demonstrate that I can live and active and health lifestyle? Why would I try?
I believe that I want to be healthy, that it will help me be happier, more productive, more on the survive and thrive contingent than on the sit on my couch and rot in a prison of my own body contingent. Of course as I go along, it gets better, easier, more fun - you feel better, it seems more surmountable, you gain momentum, you hold on to the little proofs that add up to new realities.
I do know that this arc of triumph exists because my reason tells me that faith in the seemingly impossible has paid off before. Heck, once upon a time a dude played golf on the moon!
In my own life, I've had faith in a whole bunch of other seemingly ridiculous schemes. For example, no scheme ever seems more ridiculous than “putting on a show.” If you don't believe in miracles, then you've never been through Tech Week. No one ever told me I could make a film. CERTAINLY no one told me I should be a stand-up comedian. I don't know that anyone ever even told me that I was funny. Like ever. But I've been walking on and off of stages trying to make people laugh for...well, some time now :-) and while I can't empirically say that I'm funny, I can say that I've made some people laugh and that the more I do it, the more frequently and consistently that happens. The dirtiest little joke of every creative endeavor in the world is that you will always be unsuccessful. To someone anyway. There will always be someone who doesn't get the joke, hates the song, loathes the movie, fell asleep during the play, etc. Shakespeare is the number one employer of actors on the planet and has been nigh onto 400 years. If you don't know someone who hates Shakespeare - the single most successful playwright in history - then you might be living in a cave with bad internet reception and won't ever read this anyway. The whole kit and kaboodle of creativity is that it's 100% subjective. And there are as many opinions as there are people. Surely, we all hold on to the good review, the sincere compliment, the unprovoked applause in our hearts and heads and play it like a record on a loop on discouraging days. But we could also play the heckler, the critic, the boo-er and the eye roller on that same loop. And sometimes we do. But those of us who can't seem to walk away from doing this kind of stuff keep doing it with copious amounts of reason - and reasons - to tell us to stop. And those who do walk away have often had copious amounts of reason/reasons to tell them continue. I often wonder how many great books we'll never read, great symphonies we'll never hear, great movies we'll never see because some genius walked away from their gift because they ran out of....
It helps my faith in my ability to be healthy that there are doctors, friends, advisors, websites, magazines, athletes and all manner of examples that such a thing CAN be done. There's no evidence so far that I can do it, except that there seem to be people out there who can, and as an act of faith, I'm trying to be one of them.
Frankly, the greatest and most miraculous act of faith I've ever seen....is marriage. The most ridiculous scheme I've ever encountered is that of the healthy happy monogamous relationship. For crying out loud, the divorce rate is 50 freakin 50. People are SO different and change SO much so very quickly, it seems to me that odds of any two people finding each other and making a long-term "go" of it seem astronomical. It's ridunkulous.
I've never been married. Like anyone else, I've had moments of glorious bliss and moments of profound grief (and everything in between) that have colored the romantic road I've tread. But reason tells me that marriage as a concept is more absurd an endeavor than a Beckett play on acid.
Reason tells me that there are couples who have "made" it: my amazing parents, assorted relatives, special friends. But reason also plays the heckler just as often and our cultural obsession with celebrity gossip is no help. I do know that those who have "made" it and continue to struggle to make it - and it's quite obvious that however much it's worth it, i.e. A LOT - it remains a continuous struggle - have had the support of their own families, communities, their faith traditions, their legal and societal binds.
Reason also tells me that there are couples who have committed their lives to each other and the struggle of family and riches of love and home who have had no support at all from family, faith, community, society or the law. There are couples who commit to each other and to raising families who are not only not supported societally, but often discouraged, harassed, denied. Those couples are gay.
Reason tells me that if there were good excuses to abandon the ideals of marriage, gay people have plenty of them.
Reason also tells me that when I look for examples of commitment and love among my peers, the gay couples I've known and seen and love knock all my heckling loops out of earshot. Rather than being any sort of "threat" to marriage, it is gay couples who serve as an enduring paradigm of it. The desire of our gay friends and family to marry reminds me repeatedly of the value of it... as an institution, as a function, as an ideal and as an evolutionary necessity. Families care for each other. No human doesn't need that.
But families - are an act of faith. I still have faith that I may build my own family with some fella or other one of these days. The hetero couples in my life have given me many reasons to think about getting married one day.
But it's the gay couples who have restored my faith in it.