Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | April 13, 2010

Met. Anthony’s Taking the Measure of Doubt: God and Man

Oddly or not, it seemed inappropriate to write about doubt in the run up to Pascha, but now that Thomas Sunday has passed, y’know… it seems just fine!

Doubt is such a common part of our walk of faith that inevitably we all deal with it somewhere. For some of us, our doubts may have lifted to where the focus seems less about God and more about ourselves. We may even find that our doubts grow more specifically focused on whether there is any objective measure of the faith living within us that a far-off observer might nevertheless recognize the beating of a Christian heart.

So I found myself fascinated by the discussion laid out between Metropolitan Anthony and atheist Marghanita Laski in “God and Man”. Her interest and understanding of a faith which nevertheless remains alien to her seems to dwarf present day counter parts (Dawkins, Hitchens, Maher, et al) as she has clearly found the story of God compelling enough to invest the energy… even if she remains unconvinced. And yet unlike today’s rantors, she seems sufficiently content and even confident of her position that she feels no compulsion to profess the animosity and conceit driving many of today’s unbelievers. Indeed, there is a measure in which barring her conclusion, you almost can’t help but respect her substitution of silence for today’s more common blather.

In response, the Metropolitan offers to define faith according to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews: “Faith is certainty about things invisible”, and so he endeavors to move the ball back on course. But as she’ll have none of it, he begins a discourse praising her doubt… and acknowledging that if our faith is given to us rather than earned through direct experience, there will of course be room for doubt. Doubt is not to be disparaged, but as he points out, can be helpful in its own way:

…because I think what really matters first of all is integrity and truth and I’m certain that if God exists, which I believe He does, He’s happier about the truth of unbelief than falsified belief.

I believe not only that he’s right about this, but wonder whether in fact he’s put his finger on the trigger that starts the journey to faith from unbelief.  Anthony’s own shift from doubt to faith began with his now-familiar encounter with Christ on first reading of Mark’s gospel as a fifteen-year-old.  He makes no claims to have been looking for Him, but instead sought disproof, to read Him out as quickly as he might. And perhaps it was that burning desire and acknowledgment that in truth, he really didn’t know for certain but needed to look for himself… that may have constituted an inviting posture and engendered the right sort of knock on the door.

So what is the right sort of knock? Beyond my pay grade. But perhaps it involves a degree of synergy of the sort where we may in fact be less than totally aware of how our real disposition in fact offers an invitation, and therefore our surprise in meeting Christ must leave Him… well… certain He’s met up with another  beginner. Laski never crosses that bar, nor does Anthony fault her for it though I think he is clearly puzzled. Later in fact, he counsels that those who have been given such meetings must endeavor to share with those who have not.

And so though Laski’s disbelief remains as great as the Metropolitan’s belief, I think he persists exploring her unbelief to see whether he can in fact help her through his experience. He asks, “What do you think of the people who are sure that there is an otherness which they call God, how do you take into account their experience or what they assert? Do you think that all of them were completely mistaken in the judgment or hallucinated?

Laski responds, “You lead me to the besetting sin of the atheist which is arrogance, so I think I have to say I don’t know.

And I admire her modesty. More than that, I find her acknowledgement of gifts the faithful have given to society, and the dependence of atheists on these values for the livable societies a welcome relief from our more common Philistines – the atheists of the gut I think Anthony calls them. And yes, Laski also concedes with seeming regret that atheism lacks the ability to offer beauty, poetry, and music as so many of our religions have given us… but still, as much poorer as she holds the world would have been, she remains unconvinced. Hers is indeed a philosophic position, yet its somewhat curious at first that Anthony admits to finding little in these that would move him to faith as well.

So there is no poetry of conversion experience forthcoming here, but simply a clear view of the challenge. It’s difficult in viewing the discussion in fact to not see oneself a bit in both, to admit to one’s own wonderings, to one’s own failings at least for a time, and to be thankful for having ended on one page rather than another through the mercy of God. For it is by His mercy, and only His mercy that I was able to limp along waiting for that next knock on the door.  And I am reminded of that beautiful phrase that stays with me: “Belonging to the Church is less a matter of intellectual choice than of God gathering his people (Fr. Meletios Webber).”


Responses

  1. I like the line that atheists live comfortably in societies formed by religion. One only needs look at Communist Russia and China to see what atheism does to society, and what has happened now that they have begun to adopt more Western Judeo-Christian formed structures.


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