Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Person of Faith

A stranger that asks a stranger – Do you believe in God? – will most likely get at least a pause out of them. A bit of screwed up expression that is silently asking – Which God do you mean?

There is a fear that they are being asked a question whose answer comes with clear and immediate consequences. Will the questioner try and pull me in or trip me up if I answer? Will I mis-warrant my beliefs if I rely on the questioner’s definition of God for my answer?

Somewhere contained in the pause is the essential doubt. I can’t answer the question honestly and quickly because I don’t know if your God is my God. The pause in itself signals a somehow polytheistic view of the world, of competing ideas and of the importance of allegiances.

Only the truly devout, only the Person of Faith, will answer the question without reservation, regardless of any thought of the intention of the questioner. To believe in God necessitates the belief in only that God, so to whom else could the questioner refer? Even if the questioner has intent, is referring to a specific imagining of God, the Person of Faith understands that this does not matter, that the questioner’s prejudice or agenda has no affect on the Nature of God.

All of which seems simple enough, but sounds easy to write off, particularly to American ears, where the word God has been so completely co-opted by Christians. The convenient skeptical reply is – How is it that the Person of Faith’s God is the true God? From where springs that faith?

The type of faith I speak of springs from and defines itself. It is faith that encompasses both deep understanding and knowledge of the shortcomings of human understanding. Faith of the type I speak can only be had in a thing that is True.

I characterize it as an American skepticism because we imagine the asker of the original question to be a Christian Evangelical, the type of person most likely to ask such a question of rational, skeptical normal folks.

Take a moment to actually populate the roles and imagine how the asking and the answering play out.

Cast the questioner as a rough-looking man of Arab descent, and the questionee as a white Christian woman, one who actively professes her faith and engages her religious community. She would pause before answering, consider whether the man she is likely to imagine as Islamic is trying to lead her into a trap, some kind of admission, whether he is trying to erode her faith, or get her to demean her own God with comparisons to his. Unless I give her too little credit, unless she is a Person of Faith and realizes there are no traps, no comparisons, that could diminish the True God.

Or cast it a little more roughly. Say it is asked by a white atheist soldier with a gun pointed at the head of an Muslim. Surely, the soldier is really asking – Do you believe in the God of my country? The Muslim might pause if he worries that to agree, knowing what the soldier intends to ask, is blasphemy, or might still have enough hope of survival to wonder if it might be a god gambit. If he is a Person of Faith, there is no reason to pause, no reason to fear consequences. The One True God cannot be blasphemed, and the person that understands this cannot fear death.

There is an important distinction at stake here. Faith, true Faith, trumps suspicion, makes them meaningless. There is no worry about the bill of sale being offered when you understand that God cares not for commerce.

To be Of Faith is to believe in That Which is True. It is unassailable.

To believe you are Of Faith, yet believe only in That Which You Believe to be True, is the greatest trap the devil ever laid. And all accounts of the world today are that it is working.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Just how big?

We had a garage sale this weekend. Garage sales are, of course, built upon the Bigger Idiot Theory (I heard on NPR recently that the current housing bubble is built on the same theory).

This isn't anything new. I seem to remember an episode of Married...With Children that centered on this, and on the fact that the Bundys were the last in the chain, the final biggestest idiots.

But what I realized as people rummaged through the stuff I'd rather have disappear for a dime than move again is that while people are aware of this theory, they only apply it so far. They essentially just want an assurance that the fabled Biggest Idiot isn't in fact them, and stop thinking much about it once the first idiot arrives. But, if you look at it as a percentile, if you try and examine the kind and number of idiots that are bigger idiots than you, you can gain a valuable insight.

Just how big an idiot am I? Am I a 50th percentile idiot, meaning if I pass 100 people on the street I will be a bigger idiot than 50 of them? Am I a smug 12th percentile idiot? Or is it possible that I might slip to the dreaded 99th percentile, a bigger idiot than 99 of 100 people I pass on the street, and exactly as big an idiot as the last guy of the 100, who turns out to be my own reflection in a shop window?

Add in some qualitative analysis and you can even find out what kind of idiot you are. Plenty of idiots were willing to show up and buy my old movies and cd's, even, finally, the Guess Who's Greatest Hits, that has seen more garage sales than an entire suburban tract of bored houswives. Nary an idiot could be found, however, big enough to touch my knickknacks or my wives candles.

I don't know if I want to have this insight into myself as reflected in my garage sale traffic.

I could have lived without knowing just how big, or exactly what kind, of idiot I am.