Stephen Law reports on a religious debate he took part in with (among others) Brian Smith, the Bishop of Edinburgh:
“In our quietest moments, he said, each one of us – yes, even a cynical atheist – is aware, deep down, of a light. It’s an awareness of something fundamentally good, of a yearning to be something better than we are. This something is... Jesus.”
His response is based on the well-documented malleable credulity that our species often displays. The Barefoot Bum offers another reply:
“Smith's position is fine, up until the very last word, which should be omitted and replaced with a question mark: ‘This something is...?’ What is this ‘light’? What is this awareness? I have my suspicions, but I don't know. Maybe it's trivial, maybe it's important. But if it really is important, we shouldn't just guess, we should know.”
And if, at the moment, we can’t know, then we should be cautiously sceptical.
This touches on something that I think is a significant part of any firmly held faith (some people’s faith, of course, is more modest and self-doubting).
The leap of faith from “This something is” to “Jesus” is really nothing more than a guess. A Buddhist monk might have a different view. So might a rabbi, an imam or a shaman. So might a neurologist or a psychologist. Some of these views might be supported in one way or another; others, less so.
To leap from a feeling – or even from an introspective reflection upon a feeling – to a theory of life, the universe and everything is completely unwarranted. It’s a guess, and an unnecessary one at that when the option of provisionally suspending belief is so readily available. But to take a leap of faith is to lose rational control over where one will land.
Is it so indisputably Jesus? Couldn’t it be a demon ingeniously disguised as Jesus? Or a moment of Bodhi? Or an idle tingling of the temporal lobe?
And what if one knows that there might be other explanations – some of which are guesses informed by some breed of received wisdom and others more open-minded attempts to investigate – but one still sticks firmly with one’s own guess? That’s when we get to the significant part of unshakeable faith.
Somebody who grows up in Italy to be a Catholic will interpret such a feeling differently from somebody who grows up in Iran to be a Shi’ite. It is to the credit or detriment of neither that they have happen to have acquired these ready-made narratives for labelling feelings. It is blind luck. And that’s what strong, undoubting faith is really in: not in this god or that one, but in oneself. The core article of such faith is that one’s own guess is right.