Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Doubt: the play - Doubt: the reason

My wife and I were privileged to see the current running through Taproot Theater, a local group here in Seattle. The play is Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley, a provocative parable having to do with how we 'know'. Both the script and acting are remarkable, so that the theme of 'doubt' becomes the viewer's experience, as they're transported alternately, between alternating perceptions of reality with respect to a certain situation.

Then, having watched the play, I hope you'll ponder the basis upon which we believe anything, whether it be the guilt of an alleged criminal, the veracity of an airplane's safety, or the remarkable claim that Jesus was God and rose from the dead. It seems that in every case the issue is the same: We believe based on a blend of trustworthy revelation and faith. This, it seems is true for all kinds of believing, and is true for all people. No person believes only on the basis of verifiable revelation, because to do so would lead to too much paralysis. For example, you don't really KNOW, by verifiable revelation, that your brakes won't fail on your car tonight. You've lots of evidence to the contrary, but you don't KNOW. There's an element of faith in it.

At the other end of the spectrum, if someone boldly proclaims that tomorrow's stock market will lose 500 points, the reality is that to believe the claim would require almost pure faith, and no revelation (I know there are exceptions, related to overseas markets, but work with me here). You really need more revelation, otherwise your faith is foolish.

Between the skepticism of demanding pure revelation, and the naivety of exercising pure faith, the vast majority of people navigate their way with a combination of the two. This combination varies, both from person to person (Thomas wants more revelation than John) and situation to situation. We trust what our spouse says, more than the salesperson, and so require less 'faith' because we consider the evidence to be of high value. We trust the law of aerodynamics, perhaps more than the claims of authorship for Genesis, because the former is testable, repeatable, the latter not. Thus, with respect to the latter, I'll need either more sources of revelation, or more faith.

What the play has me pondering is this: Is my unique process of getting to 'belief' the same for all matters? As I ponder this, I think I realize that I'm always looking for 'enough' revelation to make the leap of faith, but that I'm willing to make a longer leap for some things rather than others. The play seems to posit that perhaps if we want to believe something, we'll be willing to take a huge leap, whereas if we're not attracted to a truth, we'll avoid the leap, even if it's only an inch. Thus, it seems, we might - all of us, be accused of creating our own reality, or to put it another way, of making god in our own image. What's intriguing though, is the discovery that this danger of shape shifting reality to fit my predispositions isn't the sole territory of either left or right, scientist or pastor, skeptic or faith healer. We all bring bias to the table - finding it, naming it, and pushing back against it becomes the tricky part.

That a play would send my mind down this road means I was more than entertained, though that would have been enough. I was challenged to think through my reasons for believing, an exercise that is always a good thing.


At 21/4/08 20:41, Blogger Roy said...

I saw a poster for this at the library the other day. Sounds interesting...

At 22/4/08 07:13, Anonymous donte said...

Thanks for that. I am a 'big faith' and 'small know' person. I've never really been in to apologetics and I've struggled to understand why some need so much "evidence" before they can accept something as truth. I guess we are all different that way.

At 23/4/08 08:16, Anonymous Deborah said...

I think I can speak for the Taproot folks (being a former board member and current volunteer) when I say that this thoughtful reaction of yours is exactly what they hope to engender in folks who see their productions.

At 23/4/08 09:41, Anonymous Wayne F. Bays said...

Congrats to Donte for your gift of faith...must be nice.
I used to like taking leaps of faith, because it seemed to show how 'righteous' I was. It was more showing off how much a daredevil I was and working in the opposite direction of real faith.
Now, I find that obedience and perseverance really pay off in attaining Christlike faith. So much so that I tend to pray for more faith than for success or healing. I am starting to find the miraculous in the ordinary experience of every day.
One might wonder what comes or evidence. But that is like asking whether the chicken or the egg comes first. It seems to me that faith gives birth to evidence, which gives birth to more faith, which gives birth to more evidence...etc., etc., etc.


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