And yet… was a great post, my friend. You perfectly captured something I’ve considered many times.
I see some differences between your contemporary friend and myself, but I love the way you respond to each of us.
I think, at its heart, the “and yet” really represents our doubts about any belief position we hold (on any subject), but it is especially potent concerning religious faith. I felt the “and yet,” on some level, when I was a theist about my theism (e.g. perhaps I’m praying to the wrong God or there really is no God). I think we each should feel some level of doubt concerning our beliefs about eternity. We’re limited people living for a very short time making decisions about an eternity for which we can have no absolute knowledge, and the beliefs we come to could potentially impact our outcome. However, after having left the ultimate promise – and my heart’s home for most of my life, the “and yet” as a non-believer is an inescapable part of my ruminations about faith. It is compelling. Even haunting.
As you know, I have no confidence in the non-existence of an eternal mind. For better or worse, the “and yet” has definitely had a major role in keeping the faith I walked with for so many years from flying too far from my heart. I can’t solidify it and I don’t know how to use it, but I can see it.
I don’t believe the Bible is entirely accurate. I don’t know which parts are valid and which aren’t. I doubt any of the supernatural claims in the Bible are correct (and I doubt any stage magicians are actually altering the laws of nature during their performances). But I don’t know there is no supernatural truth to the Bible. I don’t know a God that is somewhat similar to what is described in the Bible or in the Qur’an doesn’t exist. I think the “and yet” is explainable as the long-term effects of indoctrination coupled with the uncertainty of the supernatural and the desperation to come to the right answers for questions that could (in theory) have an actual impact on our eternal existence (if there is such a thing).
The “and yet” is a very real, very compelling, very haunting issue we each must face, no matter our position on the ultimate “why(s)” of reality. I often wonder (like many other non-theists) if the feelings of grand design really are just evolutionary design leading to projection, pattern matching, confirmation bias, innumeracy and the other issues I mentioned in The Problem. I believe that if an unscrupulous person planted an idea in the mind of their child concerning something of eternal consequence, let confirmation bias run its course over many years, and then talk him/her out of his/her belief, that young adult would experience the “and yet.” Despite the many possible “and yets” we may be called to that would of necessity be false, I can’t escape that hard-wired tendency to see patterns, crave control of nature, and cling to a future hope. I can’t know that, despite the odds of this or that God claim being false, we aren’t really called by something.
My position is that there might be a God that exhibits its influence solely in the margins of error in our measurements, in the randomness, in the unexplained. It’s not likely, but neither do I assert it is necessarily unlikely. We’ll probably never truly know. That is why I’ll never quit searching. We each awoke to a mystery of our own existence in a environment that we do not fully understand. I’ve never been one to put down a puzzle.
I don’t see Christians having as intense of an “and yet” moment as non-theists might. They have an answer that saves them (in their view) from paying the ultimate price. They may wonder if they’re missing something concerning their own salvation, or if the Muslims or Mormons have it right, but many are content and confident in their own answers (Christianity promises certainty). I do envy that. I have no confidence in my lack of answers.
However, we must remember we’re talking about reasons to doubt our answers to the big questions in life, not the reasons to hold the answers we do. Our beliefs must of necessity be more compelling than the doubts we have of those beliefs. As a non-believer, I don’t presently hold any God-beliefs, so of course I’m going to question my lack of belief. I don’t have an equivalent world-view that provides the same kinds of answers and assurances I was accustomed to in my former faith. In some ways, it’s a step down in terms of eternal significance. It’s forced me to lower my expectations about future existence and I naturally miss what I had. The feeling that what I had with faith might have been the right answer (the “and yet”) is not a reason in itself to justify belief that my former faith actually was the right answer.
If we’re praying to find our keys while searching our campsite at night when we suddenly see them, illuminated under a light that soon vanishes, we may be tempted to think God intervened in the laws of nature to help us. If we notice that our neighboring camper’s lantern was on as he quietly crossed the bridge near us and some of that light reflected off the side of the mountain and onto our keys, we may be less likely to attribute the cause to a direct suspension of the natural laws by God. However, knowing the natural explanation for a natural cause does not eliminate the possibility of a further, supernatural cause. It just doesn’t provide reason to think such a cause is necessary or likely. This is the case with The Problem. I don’t like it, but I can’t say that it doesn’t explain the natural causes for all our God-beliefs. All of them. It seems that everything we feel about God and everything we experience and attribute to him has a perfectly natural (more likely) explanation in The Problem (or the neighboring camper’s lantern). Might there be something more? Might God be directing the camper and his light in some supernatural but undetectable way (the Holy Spirit)? Might God be using evolutionary adaptation as the underpinnings of what we call the Holy Spirit? Might the HS be entirely natural, planned by God in its entirety and set into motion at the beginning of existence to seem as if he’s currently involved? Anything is possible. For me, understanding the natural explanations for the Bible and my personal faith (The Problem) removed my certainty that my beliefs were due to something supernatural (i.e. God’s direct intervention in the World and the Holy Spirit’s intervention in my life).
In the end, we each must hold the evidence (and methods of interpreting that evidence) we find most compelling. But the “and yet” is always there, beckoning us to reconsider. I’ve often wondered if the doubt you’re describing is, itself, some key part of the ultimate meaning of existence.
I’m looking forward to breakfast. 🙂
Gentleness and respect,