Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Brief Diatribe Against Sir Francis Bacon With Supplemental Comments On Faith As The Courage To Open Our Eyes

Mark Twain said “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
That’s a pretty common understanding of faith
            for both believers and non-believers.
We think faith is childish pretending unworthy of adults.
When Paul says “We walk by faith and not by sight,”
            it sounds like we are closing our eyes to the truth.

If that is what faith is about, then I want no part of it,
            and I hope you don’t either.
But real faith isn’t about closing our eyes.
It’s about opening them.

Let’s start by how we know what is so and what isn’t so.
How do we know anything?
We must be very careful in answering that question,
            because the way we know things winds up determining what we know.
If we know only by seeing, we cannot know sound.
If we know only by hearing, we cannot know sensation.
If we know only sensation, then all the truths of logic are denied to us.
How do we know anything?

Through the centuries, philosophers have offered various theories
            of knowledge.
The academic word for them is epistemologies – ways of knowing.
Some trust our five senses.
Others don’t trust our senses very much,
            but believe in logic.

Others think logic is just a neurologically walled in box that traps the mind,
           and cannot reveal the higher truths we glean from spiritual intuition.
Others believe mystical insights are the only avenue to reality.
Over the centuries there have been lots of competing theories
            about how we know what’s so and what ain’t so.

But in the 17th Century, Francis Bacon presented the scientific method
            as the only legitimate way to know anything.
Wikipedia says Bacon was “an English philosopher, scientist,
            statesman, jurist and author.”
It seems likely Bacon's descendants own stock in Wikipedia.
It might be more accurate to say he was a sycophant, a manipulator,
            a slanderer and general a scoundrel in high places.
He was a dubious philosopher, an amateur dabbler in science,
            a second rate jurist, and a corrupt bribe-collecting politician.

I mention these things – not to be unkind :-) but –
            because one way of judging a philosophy
            is to see what kind of a person it makes us.
Bacon was not a good advertisement for his philosophy.

But his book on the scientific method hit the market at just the right time,
            and captured the imagination of Western intellectuals.
By the 20th Century, philosophers like Bertrand Russel were saying that any statement
            that could not be proven or disproven by Bacon’s scientific method
            was not just an open matter for our wonderment,
                        but was in fact meaningless and should not be uttered at all.

Modern Westerners limited our ways of knowing to one.
We relegated all the teachings Socrates and Plato, Buddha and Lao Tzu,
            Moses and Jesus to the trash heap of meaninglessness
                        because they were not the sort of truths
                        you could test by Francis Bacon’s experiments in laboratories.

When someone, as an act of will, arbitrarily rejects all but one of the ways
            most of humanity has known our most treasured truths for centuries,
                        I have to ask: who is closing their eyes?
Faith is not pretending.
Faith is a way of knowing things that Francis Bacon
            could not test in his laboratory.

Faith is in fact the foundation for all the other ways of knowing.
So let’s start by getting clear on what faith is.
When we say in modern English that we believe something,
            it usually means we kind of think it might be true but we are not sure.
We don’t know. We just believe.

But when the Bible uses the word believe,
            it doesn’t mean something less than knowing.
It means something more than knowing.
When I say I believe in God I am saying a lot more
            than an opinion that God exists.
If I say to someone close to me, someone important to me,
            “I believe in you” I am not saying “I think you exist.”
I am saying I trust you -- deeply.

The word “believe” comes from the Old English “beleven”
           which is the root of our word “beloved.”
Believing isn’t an opinion in our head; it’s a trusting in our heart.
That old English word “believe” translates the Latin word “Credo.”
Quite literally, “Credo” means “I give my heart.”
When we say “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,”
            we are not expressing an opinion.
We are saying “Credo, I give my heart to God.”

It is hard to trust God without having some intuitive hint
            about whom God might be.
But a hint is all we get at first.
T. S. Eliot wrote of all the evidence, all the reasons for belief, and said:
            “These are only hints and guesses.
              Hints followed by guesses. And the rest
              Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.”

Eliot means we start with only a glimmer of hope that life might
            have some meaning, that the universe may hold some beauty.
The next step is ours and that is the step St. Paul is speaking of
            when he says “We walk by faith and not by sight.”
On the basis of some hint that the mysterious origin and destiny
            of reality may be beautiful, kind, meaningful, and good,
                        we give our heart to that possibility.

That is when and how we begin to know God.
This is not a uniquely Christian insight.
In Hinduism it is called bhakti yoga.”
It means devotion as a way of encounter and learning.
Feminist philosophers say that such feeling is an essential part of knowing.
William James, the father of modern psychology,
            argued convincingly that whether one believes or does not believe
                        is an act of will, a decision, and not a logical conclusion.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard taught that the only way
            to get off the dime or out of the starting blocks
                        – to totally hash a metaphor – is to take a leap of faith.

Knowing what’s so and what ain’t so is a process.
It’s a journey -- a lifelong journey.
And you can’t start the journey without faith
            that there is a road, the road leads somewhere,
                      and that somewhere is worth going.

Faith is not an opinion. It is the courage to set sail.
It is the courage to risk our lives on the hope that goodness counts
            and love finally wins.

This is my favorite article of faith.
The poet Louise Bogan said,
            “I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering;
            Surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy.”//
Francis Bacon could not have proven that statement;
            so Bertrand Russell would have called it meaningless
            and put a gag on Louse Bogan’s mouth to keep her from saying such things.

Faith is neither blind nor arrogant.
It does not pretend to know all the answers.
It does not claim to know all about God,
            what God likes and what God does not.
Faith does not know the precise date the world was made
            or the day the world will end.
Faith isn’t a bigoted conviction that our religion is right
            and everyone else’s religion is wrong.
Faith does not judge, condemn, or scold.
Faith does not close the eyes and it does not close the heart.

Faith dares to say, I don’t know but I am staking my life on this possibility.
And after taking that brave step, faith is not afraid of reason.
Faith is not afraid to think – to ask if the object of faith make sense.
St. Anselm, the greatest theologian of his century,
            believed that the knowledge of God begins,
            as Paul says, by stepping out in faith,
                        but faith then seeks understanding.

That is what all our theology is – “faith seeking understanding.”
I usually work later than the others in my office.
The lights in the reception area are controlled by a motion sensor.
So awhile after the others leave, the reception room goes dark.
When I leave, I step out into the darkness for a few steps.
Then the lights come on.
That’s a good metaphor of faith
            --a step into the darkness  but a step toward the light.