Faith, doctrine and sheer bullshit

Faith is not the same as doctrine.

Faith is a way of believing: faith is subject.

Doctrine is what is believed: doctrine is object.

Faith is not the degree of certainty in a belief. Faith is not quantitative.

Faith is the quality of belief, the particular way a belief is conceived.

If a doctrine is conceived by the believer in a way that spontaneously produces clarity, affirmation and action, that conception is faithful to the doctrine, and certainty naturally follow.

If a doctrine is conceived by the believer in a way that fails to produces clarity, affirmation and action, that conception is misconceived and is not faithful to the doctrine. And if the believer tries to will certainty into existence, anyway, that believer believes in bad faith and becomes self-alienated.

As the self-alienation intensifies over time, as it must, the false certainty demands more and more effort and detects threats in more and more sources. The self-alienation metastasizes into general reality-alienation. The alienated being is forced to retreat further and further into delusion and further and further away from what seems unsafe, unjust and unreasonable to them — safe, just and reasonable meaning, of course, harmonious with their own tyrannical, impracticable, imagined ideal. The self-alienated ideologue becomes so brittle the entire world must be terrorized and coerced into conformity with its ideological notions, which become more and more ludicrous from the outside. And, most of all, this ludicrous exterior must never, ever be comically reflected back to believer. Reality itself is offensive, especially the reality of how ridiculous the believer has become.

We can change our beliefs, but to do so we must, in the best faith, change our faith.

And this does mean experimenting with possibilities, that is, entertaining them. We observe how we, ourselves, respond to “what if?” propositions, and really notice if we find ourselves persuaded by the pragmatic consequences.

We ask ourselves, perhaps by invitation, “What if there no such thing as extreme virtue — that virtue is essentially moderate? What if virtue is always at the mean, somewhere between vices of deficiency and vices of excess? Which means too much of any good thing — too much empathy, too much equality, too much honesty, too much love, even — becomes vicious? What then?”

Or “Maybe progress is not progress toward perfection or toward any good, but, rather, progress away from misery and cruelty of various kinds? What then?”

Or “What if justice is not an absolute, but rather an ever-changing agreement between each and all, and that any one person or any one group, however benevolent, who exalts themselves above their fellows as judges of absolute justice becomes a tyrant — the epitome of injustice? What then?”

Or “What if liberal democracy is essentially contentious, and any attempt to purify it of conflict or to force it into harmony is an existential threat to liberal democratic life? What then?”

Or “What if every villain of history believes they are on the right side of history — and that if you, yourself, were such a villain you would passionately pursue a perverse justice, in total belief of your own righteousness, just like the villains before you? What then?

Or “What if that dichotomy of mind versus matter is just a weird artifact of human being, and that metaphysical reality is both, neither and infinitely more? What if materialism and idealism are both anthropomorphisms, at best stations on the way to real relationship with divine infinitude? What then?”

Or “What if infinity is qualitative, not quantitative? What then?”

Or “What if we are no more capable of doubting what we cannot doubt than we are believing what we cannot believe? What then?”

Or, finally, “What if truth has little or nothing to do with correspondence with reality, but rather with the fitness of a set of beliefs with a particular kind of life? And that correspondence theories of truth are no longer fit for the kinds of lives most of us are living today? What then? — Or! Or what if the opposite is true — that abandoning our incorrect but useful correspondence theory of truth destroys our ability to live?

And so on.

Asking such questions — assuming we can authentically ask them — and meeting these questions with an authentic response is the key to changes of heart, soul and strength — of metanoia — of saying “hineini” in new, better ways. When we respond, if we are observant, we will feel the implications of the possibility reverberating through the world as we’ve known it, ringing true or false, full or hollow, cramped or grand, dissonant or harmonious.

Sometimes, if we persevere in our asking and responding, something inconceivably weird happens. An entertained possibility crystalizes into actuality. New relationships, concepts, analogies, meanings ripple across our past, present and future, rearticulating time, space and being, tearing and restitching the fabric of history and the storyline we’ve woven through it with our own life. The world re-enworlds itself and we find ourselves standing in a remade place as reborn newborns.

This is how it actually happens when it happens. Beliefs change with a change of faith.

But falsifying your beliefs in this or that doctrine — or arduously retraining your thinking to better conform to the doctrine that you have come to assume ought to be true — this will never get you there. It will only infect you with worsening bad faith. It will make you profoundly and ridiculously full of shit.

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