Thursday, March 24, 2011

The substance of things hoped for . . .

Still life #6
“I had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief.”
Let me begin by toying for a minute with the quote above from Immanuel Kant:
In the boarding house of my soul, I harboured two tenants; Knowledge and Belief. Belief was resident on the premises first and occupied the big room, but after Knowledge moved in, his need for space kept expanding and he demanded that he be given the big room. Thus ensued a continuous tension in the household and I felt compelled to make a choice. Since Belief was my cousin and was in close harmony with the remaining tenants, I sadly evicted Knowledge and resigned myself to living without him although I had found his dynamism invigorating.   
Obviously I’ve ripped the quotation out of its context, unless you consider the brainyquote website to be a context. Also, it could be interpreted in other ways than through the “boarding house” imagery. It could—by itself—be a lament for having misunderstood that knowledge and belief can dwell together, indeed must dwell together in harmony. And then there’s the whole issue of the meaning of the two slippery words at its core: What is our common understanding of knowledge? What do we mean by belief? Is knowledge a synonym for wisdom? Is belief another word for faith? Definitions of abstract nouns are approximations at best.
I’m pretty sure we all know what the quotation is about, nevertheless. When discovery contradicts belief, a crossroads presents itself. Many choose the road of denial in the assumption that holding on to a belief against all evidence is a virtue. Others turn their backs on their previously-held beliefs, sometimes with great disappointment and dismay. Some seem to have accepted the great conundrums of life with equanimity and confidence.
I don’t believe that earthquakes are shakings of the earth by an angry God. They are the inevitable results of the earth’s brittle crust reacting to the contraction of a gradually-cooling interior of our planet.  Fill a bottle with water, screw down the cap and set it out in a Saskatchewan January night. The bottle will break; earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes will happen. Knowledge tells us why.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” Maybe we’re just too hung up on the sanctity of “believing.” Faith may be where it’s really at; faith in the sense of “the substance of things hoped for.” I suspect that between expanding knowledge and the kind of faith that hopes, that loves, that is optimistic about a future as yet unseen, there is no conflict.
 No reason why they can’t live amicably in the same house.

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