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Kind of Cool: A Conversation on Faith
Between a Theist and a Non-Theist

For the last 6 years, I've played basketball with the same core group of guys almost every Saturday. One of my favorite guys (and the de-facto ringleader of this motley crew) is a professor in the Logic and Philosophy of Science Department at UCI (and has a Lex Luther type-endearing quality about him). We get to have some great conversations between banging each other around on the court. I thought I'd share a recent email exchange...it was cool:


From today's NY Times Editorial on the new book of Mother Theresa's letters (last two paragraphs):

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe,” wrote Flannery O’Connor, the Roman Catholic author whose stories traverse the landscape of 20th-century unbelief. “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”

O’Connor suffered from isolation and debilitating illness, Mother Teresa from decades of spiritual emptiness. But — and here is the exemplary part, inspiring even by the standards of a secular age — they both shut up about it and got on with their work. Mother Teresa, sick with longing for a sense of the divine, kept faith with the sick of Calcutta. And now, dead for 10 years, she is poised to reach those who can at last recognize, in her, something of their own doubting, conflicted selves.

My Reply:


You and I both know Kyle that many people use "religion" as a crutch; a modified behavioralism (I'm not sure that's even a word, but you know what I mean) by which they earn points with "god" and obligate him to change their life's circumstances. Faith is quite different. If I can paraphrase a verse from the New Testament, Faith is the choice that makes the promise of what we believe to be true, real (maybe not the best paraphrase, but works for me). That choice comes with a cost that O'Connor correctly identifies.

Faith and doubt are the two sides of a coin. That tension creates a conflict that most "religious" people are uncomfortable with, but it is the reality of authentically spiritual people. Self-sacrificial service gives substance to one's faith, even as it is occasionally exercised in the vacuum of doubt.

K, your thoughts? Jeff

KS reply:

This sounds right to me, Jeff. What I liked most about O'Connor's remark is that it counters the tendency among non-theists to think of theists as just kind of uncritical in their thinking. Serious theists feel the same reasons for doubt that non-theists do, and are affected by them--this is part of what makes faith ennobling, rather than a willfully blind or cowardly response to existential crisis. Self-sacrificial service isn't paying the admission price to heaven for sophisticated theists, but a manifestation of faith itself.

I love this kind of discussion. What are your thoughts?

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