Beyond belief

What I do in this blog is think through things that are bothering me. I’m not trying to solve problems. I’m certainly not trying to solicit advice. It’s fine with me if people respond that way, but I’m really just thinking. If what I’m thinking is interesting, fruitful, helpful, or provoking to you, you could tell me about it.

Traditional AAers place enormous faith in faith. Whatever else is happening when people talk about a supernatural interventionist being, it is clear to me that people believe that their faith matters and is effective in their lives. To an extent, these beliefs about their faith are correct.

A certain kind of faith is absolutely necessary. As scientific and skeptical as you may want to be, if you consider the issue carefully, I believe you will be forced to assent to this conclusion. Causation, temporality, perception, the very being of the world are beyond proof. We have to accept that perception presents the world—even in distorted, biased perspective, it is still the world that we perceive, or else nothing that we do, say, or believe can have any meaning.

That mundane faith seems somehow unlike the effective and supernatural faith appealed to by AAers who credit a “higher power” with their sobriety. It seems not only a quantitatively different degree of faith, but such a different degree that it makes a qualitative difference. It is not merely faith in the unseen or unprovable, since that characterizes all faith including the mundane. Mundane faith involves, for instance, believing that when we each perceive something in the world, we can return to our perceptions and the world in order to work out the differences in our perceptions, and even come to decisions about which one of us is more “correct.” We must have faith in our being in the world, our intimacy with the world, and our capacity to be intersubjectively open to one another’s perspectives, for any of that to make any sense, let alone to be able to actually reach consensus about what is “real.”

Believing that a supernatural interventionist entity determines what happens requires faith in being beyond the world, a beyond to which we cannot be open, which we cannot perceive, operating in ways we cannot construe, yet which is reflected in our experience of the mundane world. In reaching beyond the world of our perception, this kind of faith would explain mundane experience by extramundane means. The humble faith that there “must be something” that explains the existence of the world and the cause of causality, is the same extramundane, extraworldly faith to a lesser degree.

To me, this seems to turn the relation between faith and the world upside down. Rather than faith directed into the world—believing without proof in that the world will continue to exist, and will continue to support being in the world—extramundane, extraworldly faith requires believing that the world does not support being in the world, but instead, something outside the world supports it. Mundane faith supports being in the world, and returns us to the world as context of action and meaning. Extramundane faith undermines this, and seeks a context outside of the world for action and meaning within it.

But, as I said, that faith matters and is effective. I don’t believe it matters and is effective in the ways that are typically expressed. I don’t believe that faith in a higher power results in that higher power reciprocally preserving the sobriety of the faithful. It matters for the way it affects the being-in-the-world of the faithful. For the faithful, it cannot count that there is an alternate way to understand life and sobriety, based on the experience of those of us whose being remains in the world. It cannot count, because that experience is, to the faithful, mere illusion and unreality.

Yet, for my part, I reject the notion that faith in a supernatural interventionist entity is delusional. It is not delusional, because I can understand it, in terms of the being-in-the-world that we do in fact all share. That faith exists; therefore, it has meaning in the world that I experience. I can reject the posit of the supernatural, yet still understand its meaning.

I do not believe that the contrary is possible. The faithful cannot understand that existence can have meaning without their faith. In the language of intersubjectivity: I do not exist in the extraworldly, supernatural realm from which the faithful seek their meaning. They will not encounter me there, and I will have nothing to share about my experience that can address their extra-perceptual experience of that realm. To the faithful, lack of faith must appear to be delusional. It’s very hard to believe in respect, or even tolerance, for views that appear to be delusional.

It’s very hard to believe in respect, or even tolerance, for views that appear delusional.

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