Persistence and Faith

Today’s installment in my continuing quest to say nothing original ever, and only ever to repeat things that others have said better than I can: Faith is reasonable and dedication to faith is indispensable.

(Today is a double tribute to C. S. Lewis, since he both said this better than I can and is the one that says we shouldn’t fret over originality! Thanks for the get-out-of-blog free card, Jack.)

It might seem sorry that a grown man would have to learn (or is it relearn?) things that a young boy ought to know, but dedication and persistence are indispensable.

Often I was told this of course. Often I heard the persistence and dedication of others praised. So-and-so made a million dollars, or became a great violinist, or a chess grandmaster, or an all-pro quarterback, thanks to his persistence and dedication.

But I always thought of those things as the reward for the effort. That is, the effort was the price paid, and the achievement was the product purchased.

And that never helped me apply myself very much at all. Because in the moment of wanting to chuck away my dedication — in that very moment — I also at the same time failed to see why I should want to “purchase that product.” Meh, methought, being a grandmaster’s not all that great. Who cares? 

So just when I most needed to keep my eyes on the prize, I no longer saw the reason for pursuing the prize!

I’m largely still like this when it comes to mundane things. I still can’t manage a great deal of dedication to my violin or my chess game. (I gave up on being a quarterback long ago.) I’m being slightly self-deprecating here… actually I can and do apply myself to mundane things, to a degree. But I’m trying to illustrate a certain emotional tone… because there’s something I want to contrast that with:

There is another kind of persistence and dedication, and that’s called faith.

Faith is the triumph of reason over emotion. It is precisely the opposite of what secularists think it is. Secularists have this strange notion that faith is emotional and that radical doubt is rational. In fact, “radical doubt” is a cop-out. It’s an unanswerable, unaccountable position, often motivated by existential terror, and completely impervious to reason.

And in fact the notion of faith is so terrifying that the very mention of the word can completely shut down someone’s willingness to listen to argument.

Faith is letting reason triumph over fear and fear-based doubt. When, in a moment of clarity and reason, I can see the basic truth of the universe, the basic supernatural presence within and all around, it hits me with the force of mathematics.

But I’m a creature of emotions; I am just a man, not a math-machine. I get scared, selfish, lustful, angry, jealous, etc. And almost without fail, in the grips of a powerful negative emotion like that, the emotion itself seems positive, and what I discovered in moments of calm and lucid reasoning seems silly and tenuous.

But faith tells me to remember what I learned when I was lucid. It tells me to doubt my doubts, to doubt my own motivations for my own doubts. Faith is faith in reason, even in the face of powerful emotions.

Anyway, what this has to do with the ordinary, mundane “persistence and dedication” is that this kind of faith (essentially, faith in God) is exactly not the kind of persistence and dedication that’s predicated on rewards and achievements. If I do it for brownie points and gold stars, it never works (just as with mundane goals). No, rather, if I do it because it’s True and it’s Beautiful, even in the face of raging petulance, maintaining faith really does become its own reward. It’s a persistence and dedication done for its own sake, and though that sounds rather dry when phrased that way, it’s actually pretty great. How gratifying.

So then, two common mistakes about faith:

1. “It’s irrational.” When in fact it is rationality maintained in the face of irrational emotionality.

2. “It’s a carrot-and-stick thing.” When in fact it’s precisely when you take away the carrots and sticks that faith operates most truly. It is a deep, calm, and lucid thing.

One can only hope for a little more…


6 comments on “Persistence and Faith

  1. Manwe says:

    Great post! Not to mention important, too many people believe the opposite is true (concerning Faith). Was this a shock to you, when you discovered it? I mean you used to be a secularist, your world must have been turned upside down.

    I came upon this on my own, before I ever read Lewis. I noticed how many of the doubts that I used to struggle with were all at their core, deeply emotional and irrational to boot. It was Faith that held me to reason. Seeing that helped me put things into perspective.

    • outofsleep says:

      I can’t characterize it as a “shock,” since it’s always been (and continues to be) a gradual process.

      I’m an ex-secularist, but I’m also and ex-ex-secularist (a Christian from childhood). So the surprise is not so much the surprise of the new, but rather the surprise that I had it more right when I was 12 than I did when I was 22.

  2. Aurini says:

    “Keep the faith, brother-” no truer words were ever spoken. As Sun Tse said, “Bury your chariot wheels.”

    Faith is that one aspect of humanity that raises us above mere animals; it’s what allows us to beat the prisoner’s dilemma, to *win!*

    Rorschach: “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”

    The Look of the Samurai, as my old Sensei called it – when you are willing to die fighting, your opponents will flee in terror. The fist that isn’t aimed behind the target will do no damage. The army unwilling to utterly destroy the opponent, will lose. The soul which isn’t purified to a single principle will dissipate into the herd.

  3. zhai2nan2 says:

    ‘In fact, “radical doubt” is a cop-out. It’s an unanswerable, unaccountable position, often motivated by existential terror, and completely impervious to reason.’

    Blind doubt is just as blind as blind faith.

    The thinker who is absolutely certain that he doubts has irrational faith in the consistency of his doubt. (This is the usual failing of thinkers like Ayer and Russell.)

    The thinker who doubts that he truly doubts, on the other hand, is a different sort.

    A. S. Eddington wrote that one can reduce one’s science to a chain of ideas, and one can move around the chain, but there is no end to the making of explanations. Conversely, the Logical Positivists argued that one can establish decent foundations for logic – but those foundations proved to be very different than anticipated. I am tempted to bring up the foundations of math and their relationship to doubt, but that is a big topic.

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