Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Belief Continuum and Puddleglum's Defense

I have frequently heard people at church say that you can't have faith/hope and doubt/fear at the same time. I think this idea of mutual exclusivity to be the sad progeny of an incompletely formed thought that unfortunately went viral. I make this claim on the basis of my own experience. It has not been uncommon for me to be afraid and worry and even doubt if some particular thing (moving hundreds of miles without actually having somewhere to live yet) can work out in a positive manner and yet move forward none-the-less, sometimes desperately praying for relative miracles to occur. And somehow, they do.

You'd think with something of a pattern of seeing that God has not abandoned me so far would mean that I wouldn't be so anxious each time everything gets thrown up in the air. I can only repeat the idea I have been told many times - that we often see God in the same pattern that our earthly fathers created. In my case, this is patently unfair to God, but having been raised, ultimately, to the idea that I had no right to expect anything, I still find myself caught being afraid that God will be the same way. Usually when I am most stressed out and tired. It follows, then, that this phantom would rear its ugly head when life throws the curve-balls which require the needed faith.

Instead of the idea that only one can exist in a person at a time, either faith/hope OR doubt/fear, I have always seen it as a continuum.
The more you focus on one side, the less of the other you will have. It's kind of directional. Ultimately, so long as I have acted that there was a reason to hope, I have found that things ultimately work out regardless of how anxious I've been. Also, the more I focus on having hope, faith, the less I am distracted by how much there is to fear. But when my guard falls, I have trouble seeing all the reasons there are to hope and trust because everything gets cloudy, murky.

For science-types, I see it as quite similar to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. While I am by no means a quantum physicist, I understand it enough to be able to say that the more science tries to pin down certain elements for exact study and measurement, the less they are able to monitor or even register the counter-part measurement. Location verses direction of movement. Beyond that, it kinda loses me, but do you see the relation?

For more human-study-types, consider the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy. I have heard a quote a number of times, apparently by Gandhi (though I don't know where or when he said it) that goes as follows:
Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.
Where you devote your energy and attention will determine what you give credence to. What you expect, anticipate, or hope for will direct this. If you expect nothing good can happen regardless of your efforts, you will ultimately find your willingness to devote energy to such a failed proposition to be pointless and will therefore relocate those energies. Therefore, through lack of any effort given, said proposition will ultimately prove a failure. Likewise, if you expect your energies have value, you will find the means to continue giving those energies.

In my case, no matter how hard I tried, my efforts to please my family and hopefully gain some measure of approval, if not love, really made no impact. I was not seen in that manner and what I did was simply that expected of a functioning fixture. Punishable for failure, expendable to the last drop possible, sometimes giving unexpected amusement, but of no true human value. Once I realized it wouldn't matter how hard I tried or how much I gave, or that I gave everything I could give, I had no energy left to try. I'd already given it all. But before I understood that, I literally did give everything I could to the point of giving too much. Now, because my understanding becomes my expectations, my efforts are likewise influenced.

This case study is a bit on the somber side and I would think does not express most people's norms. I do not mean it to. I merely give the example that ranks highest in my own mind. (To those of you who 'know' me, please forbear comments on it - there is much that many don't actually know.)

But what happens when the darkness of the doubts and fears hangs so heavy that you can't remember why you should hope? In this case I refer you, as I've referred myself, to C. S. Lewis' The Silver Chair, sixth book in The Chronicles of Narnia. In this book, a boy and girl have been brought to Narnia by Aslan to help rescue the old king's son. The boy has been there before and accepts the fantastical after his original, and irritating, smugly-superior disbelief. This time, the girl, new to Narnia, proves the counter-point to belief. With the children is a somewhat somber creature named Puddleglum. After a number of tangles where she starts to accept the altered reality, they find themselves in a strange underworld ruled by a seemingly magnanimous queen. They also find the prince there and he seems to be clueless to his birthright above.

Slowly, they recognize evidence of spell-work at hand but the 'queen' begins to muddy the waters. With her words and with some sort of befuddling scent in the air, she tries to convince them that they are simply being silly children imagining a world based on the simple, expanded to greater proportions in their daydreams. 'This sun is just the same idea as a lamp.' 'A lion just sounds a fancier, bigger sort of cat.' 'Anyone can be royalty in their dreams.' Between her pseudo-logic arguing away the reality they couldn't quite hold onto and the mind-numbing effects of her magic, she nearly had them convinced that everything they had thought true was not.

Enter what I call 'Puddleglum's Defense', found near the end of the twelfth chapter. After stepping in the fire, which pain and the smell of burnt skin, allowed him and them to clear their heads a bit, he gives this statement to the witch-queen.
"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for the Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
Sometimes things really do get muddled and confused and the truth that you thought you knew becomes hard to remember, to hold onto. But even if you can only 'desire to believe', that can be enough for you to hold on to until the fog burns off a bit. And if our beliefs can make such a difference, why not choose to believe in that which means more, that which ennobles and lifts and gives beautiful meaning? And when that fog clears and daylight is reached, we will find the evidence of what we fought so hard to believe, the evidence of our faith, our hope, our courage.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful post - and it carries a lot more about life and finding purpose/meaning in life than I have found elsewhere. Thanks for the post!