Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On Anti-Faith

"And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." 
Friedrich Nietzsche

Like many other words in the contemporary vocabulary, I worry that the word "faith" has lost its potency. Too often it is a passive, nebulous idea: we have faith that things will work out in the long run; we have faith that God is in control; we have faith that divine justice will eventually replace injustice. Certainly these things can be said and still work within our definition of "faith," but I think that we too often resign the idea of faith to an attitude that looks into the distant future and rarely in the present.

Sure, we know that "faith without works is dead," but (and I think this is because we look so far off) these "works" are often lazily associated with our knee-jerk "read your scriptures, say your prayers, go to church."

In reality, faith is a much more active process. So active, in fact, that I don't think it ever turns off. 

We are always concerned with "developing faith," as though we can actually be a person who has no faith and therefore needs to develop it. Actually, faith is necessary for our daily operations. Because of the nature of time, nothing is empirically certain until after its originating decision has been made and acted upon. We take every literal step in faith that our body will be able to support itself, for example. Obviously we have taken thousands and thousands of steps successfully, and this reinforces our decision to take another, but we have never successfully taken this step, and therefore must do it on faith. This is true in every decision we make over the course of a day: we get in our cars in faith that they will work; we hand our debit card to people in faith that we still have money; we acquire college degrees in faith that they will benefit our socioeconomic status.

If this is the case, and we are truly perpetually acting in faith, what does it mean to "develop faith"? Too often we consider the opposite of faith to be doubt, or an uncertainty that results in standing on neutral ground. Unfortunately, there is no possible neutral doubt, only faith placed elsewhere. "I doubt we win this game" is the same as "I have faith the other team is better." Obviously one could claim that this is simply an argument of semantics, but even Descartes, in his attempt to doubt everything, settled on one irrevocable truth: "I think, therefore I am."

This thinking (in its diverse forms) is the foundation of faith. Joseph Smith taught in the 7th Lecture on Faith that "faith, then, works by words; and with these its mightiest works have been and will be performed." Some of these mighty works are given a specific frame throughout the scriptures, but I particularly like this section in the Book of Jacob, which reads: "we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea." (4:6) While these examples illustrate an intensity of faith that may feel unobtainable to us, the guiding principle is there: a belief in faith is a belief that our inward, personal thoughts (in this case vocalized) can impact, alter, and even override the circumstances of our existence and the laws of the universe.

Obviously our every thought and passing whim doesn't manifest itself instantly. (Could you imagine?) But those thoughts that are reinforced with imagination, purpose, determination, spiritual aggression, and endurance will, in time, become hope, faith, reality. 

Unfortunately, faith elsewhere benefits from this truth as well-- especially since negative thoughts are more easily reinforced and obsessed upon. I believe, from personal experience, that faith elsewhere is the cause of a number of mental, spiritual, and emotional issues. We struggle with depression and anxiety when we have more faith in our negative perceptions of ourselves and the nature of the universe than our positive ones. We struggle with addictions when we have more faith in drugs/alcohol/pornography to provide peace in our problems than we do in our own power to solve them. We struggle with pride when we have more faith in a myopic self-will than we do in a divine order. Naturally we distance ourselves from responsibility from these things by blaming the circumstances of a mortal existence, but a belief that our negative thoughts can exist without consequence is a belief that our positive thoughts can exist without consequence and that eliminates any possibility of Godliness. 

Most of us have spent entire lives singing "I am a child of God," yet somehow seem to forget the implications of that statement. It doesn't merely mean He has our back when the going gets tough; it means that we, like him, are creators and that requires accountability. He, like us, operates on faith but it has become a faith that is refined enough to be self-directed and irreversible. Since we are like Him and faith is the governing principle of our existence, we know that developing faith doesn't mean an acquisition of faith, a strengthening of faith, or any other number of verbs that we consistently pair with "faith." Developing faith is a redirection of faith, a focusing. This is well-illustrated in D&C 4:5, which tells us to keep "an eye single to the glory of God." 

This command wouldn't be as necessary if doubt meant neutrality, like we often think it does. No, our thoughts and words have more power than we often wish they did. They require constant redirection in a world that would take them any other way than where they belong. 


  1. "We, like him, are creators and that requires accountability."
    Pretty cool insight! I appreciate that concep that there isn't necessarily a lack of power in someone who isn't as pious as someone else, rather, that they direct their passion/ energy/ faith in different directions.

    I dunno, it was just a cool way to place accountability on an already existant amount of power rather than a lack thereof.

  2. "He, like us, operates on faith..."

    I've wondered before whether God has faith or needs faith since He is perfect, especially in terms of the relationship between faith and knowledge. The Book of Mormon teaches that "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things," implying that if God operates on faith it is because He doesn't have a perfect knowledge. Can we say that God operates on faith AND say that God is perfect?

    A broader question I have, then, is how does faith relate to perfection? Are we supposed to exercise faith until we develop knowledge and no longer require faith? If so, it would seem that the end-goal of faith is to obtain knowledge and thereby eliminate the need for faith. If not, then what is faith supposed to lead to? More faith? Is faith a step in the process towards knowledge and perfection or is faith endlessly cycling into more faith, like a dog chasing his own tail?