Monday, March 23, 2015

The Tinkerbell Fallacy - God is Dead Unless You Believe!

I wrote to a friend recently and compared the Evangelical Protestant attitude toward the Faith, which is highly emotional and is largely a question of "ginning it up", with the Catholic attitude toward the Faith, which is something altogether different.  The Protestants have a great many charisms, and they often put Catholics to shame with their passionate intensity and love for Our Lord, but there's a very big difference in how we think of Faith, and here Catholic author Hilaire Belloc sums it up (my emphasis) ...

The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality.  It is true.  Its doctrines in matters large and small are statements of what is.  This it is which the ultimate act of the intelligence accepts.  This it is which the will deliberately confirms.  And that is why Faith through an act of Will is Moral [i.e., a meritorious act that is more than just feeling].  If the ordnance map tells me that it is 11 miles to Wookey Hole then, in my mood of lassitude as I walk through the rain at night making it feel like 30, I use the Will and say: ‘No.  My intelligence has been convinced and I compel myself to use it against my mood.  It is eleven and though I feel in the depth of my being to have gone 20 miles and more, I know it is not yet 11 I have gone.'

But modern Catholics seem to have lost the notion that the Faith is about what is true, and that doctrines are "statements of what is".  Perhaps the prevailing subjectivism and the Protestant spirit in the U.S. have convinced us that somehow the Faith is all about us, that God is a benign presence that we create with the earnestness of our wishing, the way Tinkerbell is brought back to life by the applause of the audience.

But God is not Tinkerbell.

And yet the primary soul sickness or pneumopathology that I see in my Devout Catholic friends is this notion that we somehow co-opt the Faith, that we get a handle on it, and (by implication) that we get a handle on God.  This construction of an artificially and seemingly Controlable Substitute for Reality (CSR), substituting an idol for God, is what I call (for want of a better word) Unreality.  We become like women who will only date or marry men they can control, or like desk jockeys who opt for a safe and predictable income doing something they hate rather than taking a risk and pursuing what they love.  The Faith becomes a tool to keep life in check.

Compare this with what Rod Dreher said about Dante, which I quoted in an earlier post ...

There is nothing — nothing — simplistic or moralistic about the Divine Comedy — and this is why it reached me in the depths of my despair like nothing else could have done. 

In the Divine Comedy, the Faith is not a handy key to answer the anxieties we feel.  It is not an ideology; it is not a gimmick with which we work the system; it is not a handy bit of make-believe or a fairy who comes to life if we really really want her to.  It is a trip into the depths of hell, into the suffering of purgatory, into the unexpected bliss of heaven.  It is a full on encounter with Reality - a complete and total challenge to us and to our ability to love.

Every single thing we see, everything we hear, everything we experience is from God and can only be understood and properly responded to through a relationship with God.  This relationship we call Faith.  This is not to say that Faith is an answer-key, but the challenge of Faith is the call to respond to Reality appropriately, and is a reminder that this appropriateness consists of sacrifice, of total love - but a love of mind, heart and strength, a love seasoned and mature, a love prudential but entire.  Reality itself is love, and our response to it must be properly ordered love, love mortified and crucified for His sake, a love lived amidst disappointment, frustration and hope.

That's the Faith.  And that's why I don't get it when "people of Faith" get upset at a little cleavage, or when Christians think propaganda is better than art, or when Catholic friends tell me I'm not holy because of my sense of humor, or when young single chaste Catholics think that sex is either disgusting or obsession-worthy.  These are examples of people whose Faith blocks their path to reality, when Faith should be doing just the opposite.

And this doesn't mean simply that we've got to "believe".   That's barely the start of it.  For this is something much bigger than our belief, much bigger than what we intend it to be.

 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown himself. (2 Tim. 2:13)

God is bigger than Faith, and bigger than us.  That seems self-evident, but I don't really think we get it.


boinky said...

There is a quote somewhere that said Tolkien didn't see Catholicism as a faith to be chosen but as a reality to be lived in.

This is seen in his books: in contrast to CSLewis, where Aslan comes into the messy world to save it like a superhero, in Tolkien's Middle Earth the reality of God in it's very core...

Greeley described this way of thinking in his book The Catholic Imagination.

In medical school, one of our professors said that doctors are rarely pious or involved in churches, but that we see so much good and bad that most of us believe in the reality of God and heaven.

Daniel said...

The best definition of the supernatural virtue of faith is "the will consenting to the Graces God has been offering it."

Christi pax.