FAITH: SECURITY & RISK
Chapter 7: Conjunctive Faith
There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection. To round itself out, life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the "thorn in the flesh" is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent. (C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy )
More than from any other author, this quotation from the great modern psychiatrist Carl Gustave Jung seems in order here. One reason that I shied away from Fowler's terminology for the previous stage is that "individuation", as this movement toward completeness was termed by Jung, better describes the process that distinctively characterizes this more advanced "conjunctive faith."
After first calling it "paradoxical-consolidative faith," Fowler decided to use this single word, conjunctive, which of course implies a "joining together" -- in this case a conjoining of all those elements into that unique combination that constitutes this or that individual person. Accordingly, in his later book, Fowler describes this conjunctive faith:
" ... the stage of faith that emerges with mid-life or beyond involves the integration of elements in ourselves, in society, and in our experience of ultimate reality that have the character of apparent contradictions, polarities, or at least paradoxical elements. (Fowler, 1984 p. 64)
As such this movement is, in effect, what Jung understood as "individuation" and which must not be confused, as we have seen, with "individualism" understood as a strictly personal affair, self-centered and without reference to others except to mark differences between us. Mere individualism, if it retains any spiritual aspects at all, too often becomes a kind of private religion marked by negativity -- a rejection of one's cultural, familiar, and often even personal past.
Such a negative or critical attitude, as we have seen, is often a preliminary step, just as the more positive second phase, the so-called "conversion", or arrival at a personal faith, also marks the beginning of the maturing process. Still, to become a truly mature believer the individual person has a long way to go.
Personal Integration and Conjunctive Faith
In many ways, the process of maturation must move in the opposite direction from that taken by the young person seeking his or her own identity. Where, before, the movement was often away from what one had been in the effort to seek new ideals and goals, now the movement is marked most of all by an attempt to reintegrate, to reappropriate, and to come to terms with the past in a way that extracts the good from all that went before.
Instead of the tendency toward one-sided fanaticism often present in a newly discovered personal faith, or the defensiveness that marks too long or too rigid an adherence to one's own personal or even private faith, conjunctive faith will show a new appreciation of others and a new-found respect for their beliefs and views. Tolerance for diversity is one mark of a maturing faith.
hallmark is patience with oneself. The longer one lives the more one understands why "
Another way of putting this is to recall the old theological adage that "grace builds upon nature." Divine help improves on what is already there. It rarely destroys anything, seldom touching the roots of the passions and drives that we have allowed to lead us astray. Instead, grace heals, redirects energies, purifies motives.
In addition, our thought processes must become more integrated. Earlier black and white, either/or style of thinking slowly gives way to both (on the one hand) and (on the other), or a "not only but also" type of approach to problem solving and thinking. We learn to avoid supposedly simple solutions for everything in the face of the complexity of reality in all its fullness -- and this includes the complexity of our own nature as well.
Another way of looking at this stage is proposed by Richard Sweeney when he calls this faith "mystical." I do not feel that this is a good title because it might imply that the person reaching this stage is a mystic -- and there are just too many arguments about and too many attempts to define what exactly "mysticism" is for it to be very helpful. Still, this stage of faith draws from the common fund of mystical insight, which is to say that faith at this stage has reached a new appreciation of the core values and insights that exist within all religions, despite the apparent diversity and disagreements. It is also "mystical" in the sense that it is reached when people begin to get in touch with the deeper aspects of their personality and the elements of divine grace working within them.
If I were to add one other adjective to the description of this stage of faith, I would call it "holistic faith," for much the same reasons. One need not be an accomplished mystic, or even a born one, to have a basic sense of the whole. But at the same time, one is not apt to have much of this sensitivity unless one is respectful of the whole of one's own past life and upbringing, as well as the whole of one's own personality, the unconscious as well as the conscious, body as well as soul, emotions as well as intellect. The dualistic thinking found in much of religious thought in various ways (good vs. evil, light vs. darkness, spirit vs. matter, etc.) has its proper function, no doubt, but it is not characteristic of maturing, holistic, conjunctive faith, nor, one might add, "monotheistic" faith -- since, ultimately, everything must be traced to one God. As faith matures, a new emphasis on the whole, the global, the universal, surfaces. In some ways, it might be described as movement toward "catholic" thinking in the original sense of the word or phrase -- kath/kata as "toward" or "into" or "serving" the holos or whole. Without this sense of, and some achievement of, this wholeness, it is difficult to see where genuine holiness can exist, at least in the form that God fully intended it to be.
When Fowler first termed this faith stage as "paradoxical-consolidative", it was because he wished to stress the task of learning how to make sense of all the paradoxes or contradictions within ourselves and to come to terms with them, and to combine their strengths or to consolidate the pluses while trying to minimize the effects of the minuses. But this is not a process that can be carried on merely within our isolated selves. As we shall soon see, a conjunctive faith is also a faith that is in dialogue with others.
But first we must ask how this stage is usually reached. Psychologically speaking, a major ingredient is simply the process of maturation in itself. To truly mature, persons must generally incorporate all, or most, of the elements, experiences, trials or whatever else that has contributed to their personhood or being. This means that no significant part of oneself or one's personal history can be repressed -- even one's mistakes and failures. To do so would mean to cut off not only the vital sources of energy but also the wisdom that was, or should have been, gained even when these forces may have been misused. The price of repression is distortion, and any significant denial of this kind will result in the atrophy of one or another facet of the personality.
Much the same is true regarding our environmental history or background. One's socio-cultural roots cannot ever be abandoned entirely, or not without an obvious deformation occurring as a result. Although one may arrive at the point of appearing fully adapted to a new environment -- not just speaking a new language, for example, but even thinking in it -- still, the denial of the subtle and residual influences of the past, even if only for the purposes of resisting them, will most likely result in a lopsidedness that is apparent to all except to the person engaged in this denial. What happens so often in such cases is that the person's new identity is bound to exhibit the more obvious faults associated with the purely individualized "personal faith" stage, such as exaggerated dichotomies in reasoning and the lack of tolerance and sensitivity that such thinking often exhibits.
Conjunctive faith, on the other hand, exhibits a reasoning process that is more fully dialectical. Although dialectic, of course, begins in the contrasting of apparent opposites and often seems paradoxical or outright contradictory, it is able to rise above them in the classic pattern of thesis vs. antithesis resolved in synthesis. For example, take the longstanding contrast between God viewed as transcendent (or, popularly speaking, "outside of" creation) and divinity as immanent (or contained "within" creation). The synthesis, of course, is not a compromise that says God is "partly inside" of and partly "outside of" the universe, but in a realization that we are talking about a subject that itself transcends or goes beyond such physical categories. Hence, metaphysically speaking, God is both or, as St. Thomas Aquinas put it, God can be fully immanent within creation only because God is completely transcendent.
I have used this example because "transcendence" is, in more than one sense, a key word here. In terms of a person's moral or ethical reasoning, the conjunctive stage involves an ability to see issues from a variety of perspectives and not just from that which is determined by one's own socio-cultural or religious tradition. This means that one must have extended the horizon of one's own awareness far beyond local and invariably limited and often selfish concerns. This also means that one has gained an education of some sort, if not formally, maybe through travel or simply by living long enough. Exposure to reality as perceived and experienced by others almost invariably brings about a change of perspective.
Such a broadening of horizons should result in a corresponding deepening of one's own moral views. Typically, it leads to a quest for ethical wisdom in a form that we already (Chapter 4) have spoken of as "natural law". While the prophets spoke of this as a law "written in the heart", St. Paul argues that it should have been so obvious that even the pagan world had no excuse for ignoring it (compare with the book of Wisdom 13:1-9 and Romans l:l8ff). Accordingly, the same concept was present in the Greek world in the form of such ideas as that of an eternal Logos or "mind" or "reason" (or in Eastern thought, the Tao or "Way") that is identified with the first cause of all things. This "mind" or "way" is the origin of and the pattern for an inherent order in nature. Hence, a conjunctive faith usually includes a rational ethical perspective that reflects a deep knowledge of human nature and nature at large, of history, and a sympathetic understanding of many religious and ethical systems as well.
In such a perspective, of course, the "locus of authority" becomes largely impersonal. Even though in Christian theology the Logos takes personal form -- following the personification of wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures -- still this divine "reason" tends to become more abstract, not to be remote, but to become more universally embodied in human institutions that must transcend socio-cultural and, particularly, religious differences. Things are seen as right or wrong not because God or some other authority has said so, but because of a basic wisdom and rationality that is inherent in divinity itself.
Another very important and significant shift in thinking patterns characterizes this stage -- one that at first glance may seem a regression to an earlier stage. Symbol is rediscovered and reintegrated as the language par excellence of faith. Having been "broken" from a naive literalism of the earliest stages of belief and divested of its multi-layered socio-cultural trappings that characterize conventional faith, "myth" now reemerges as a privileged means of not only expressing existential truth -- truths that never "happened" as historical events but that simply "are" -- but also as a means of interreligious and intercultural understanding. The reason that myth is able to do this in a way that even scientific theology is unable to is because it remains multi-dimensional -- which means that the story can be understood on several levels at the same time. In other words, it is precisely because of its ability to handle paradoxes and to conjoin them that myth and the language of symbol are now revitalized with new and much deeper meaning.
In sum, conjunctive faith represents both an advance beyond and yet, paradoxically, a renewed appreciation for and a reappropriation of much that was cast aside when a person moved from the phases of faith that tend to characterize childhood to forge an individualized personal faith of one's own. Just as the idealism of adolescence, which can be generally very hard and demanding, even rejecting, of one's former ways, needs to be corrected by the mellowing influence of a mature adult life, so too the enthusiasms and often rigid convictions of a personal but still-maturing faith need to be tempered by a reclaiming of what was valid in the past into a new synthesis for the present. In this way, conjunctive faith becomes a more truly mature faith, even though it is still not the ultimate, and still must struggle with the ambiguities and conflicting polarities that afflict the human condition.
Some of these polarities are experienced most deeply within ourselves, seemingly in isolation from the rest of the world. For some, the risk of faith is primarily an existential, deeply personal thing. Undoubtedly, there can be no final evasion of the challenge of making a here and now and ultimately personal, individual choice. That being said -- and we will soon return to that topic -- something else also must be said as well. Choices, no matter how personal, are never made in a vacuum, completely isolated from the world around us. This is even more true on the level of conjunctive faith. The struggle to achieve a personal faith amidst all the pushes and tugs exerted by childhood loyalties and the conventions of society was difficult enough. Now we have to face all this again, but in a new, integrating rather than rejecting way.
From looking at the difficulties involved in arriving at a conjunctive faith in terms of the individual's life, we now turn toward the ecclesial or communal dimensions of conjunctive faith. Simply put, a conjunctive faith is necessarily an ecumenical faith. But just as the meaning of the Greek word oikumene, originally referring to a family or household, eventually was extended to include the clan or tribe, and later the whole human race, so our modern theological notion of ecumenism has likewise grown. In its most restricted sense, the word usually refers to the efforts toward cooperation and union between the various Christian churches or denominations. But more broadly taken, it must ultimately refer to finding a path to harmony between the world's major faiths.
Understood in either sense, ecumenical thinking, far from being a peripheral concern, must be seen not only as an essential, but also as the single most important element in the maturing process. Conversely, it might be added, the success of the efforts of ecumenism as a movement depends largely on those concerned with arriving at a conjunctive level of faith. So both the achievement of a personally conjunctive level of faith and the success of ecumenical thinking are mutually dependent. One will not occur without the other, or if by chance the semblance of one does occur in the absence of the other, it will soon prove to be extremely limited and without any deep effect on life as really lived, whether it be in the life of the individual believer or the collective life of a church.
For example, while merely "conventional faith" presents a distinct opportunity, it also presents a distinct problem for ecumenical efforts. Unlike the mentality often found in those of "literal faith," conventional faith, despite its tendency toward narrow parochialism and preserving the status quo, retains a certain openness to community and social cooperation -- at least in our pluralistic society -- that, if approached carefully, may allow for corporate movements toward reunion. But still, if the socio-cultural dynamics of this stage are not understood thoroughly, great miscalculations can occur. A careful understanding of this stage must always keep us aware that faith, no matter how much it may become "individuated", still normally has its psycho-social roots and, to some degree, even its theological underpinnings (in terms of divine providence) in a community of believers. To expect people to readily let go of their own confessional differences or traditional ways of expressing their faith would be to make the fatal mistake of asking them to disown their identity. The current argument over the extent of permitted religious "inculturalization" in the former mission churches of the third world is, in this respect, an ecumenical issue which can be solved only in terms of a conjunctive faith that is able to leave room for local versions of what amounts to conventional faith.
When we come to the level of a more personal faith, the situation becomes somewhat reversed. Aside from those who fall prey to the born-again enthusiasms which are often opposed to ecumenism, people in this stage of faith are quite capable of exhibiting an ecumenical enthusiasm that can take the movement a long way, particularly by way of active commitment. But they can only do so effectively if they begin to understand some of the limitations and pitfalls of their own inner dynamic. Mere enthusiasm can do more damage than good.
So we must conclude that ecumenical leaders must themselves be, by and large, people of a conjunctive faith. We cannot expect ecumenical initiative to come from the ranks of the merely conventional. While stronger initiatives may be taken by persons whose personal faith has made them real instruments of grace for others, the very strength of their own convictions can often polarize others whose own journey of reflection and commitment may have taken a quite different path. Somehow the truly effective ecumenical leader has to combine the enthusiasm of the true believer with the social awareness of conventional religiosity, not to strike a compromise between them, but to transcend both.
The necessity of a conjunctive faith approach can also be seen in the debate over what form a unified Christianity would take. Too often union is thought of in terms of uniformity, especially in doctrinal matters, while others see it primarily as a matter of "confessional" style -- even while there is basic doctrinal agreement. History shows that Christianity has always contained a certain amount of diversity and theological pluralism, even in the New Testament scriptures themselves. This is something that those who have not reached a conjunctive level of faith find difficult to deal with. Instead they typically lay down conditions first before they will engage in dialogue, rather than trust the Spirit enough to let the desire for union lead the way. No doubt there are painful issues to be faced. No one has ever promised that marriages do not sometimes involve pain. So it is with the efforts toward Christian unity -- real sacrifice is often called for from everyone involved.
For leader or follower alike, ecumenism brings with it the challenge to grow in our faith. The prayer of Jesus that all his disciples "be one, Father . . . as you are in me and I am in you" (John 17:12) can only come about if we are willing to follow his great command to "love one another as I have loved you" and to prove to the world that there is "no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend" (see John 15:12-13). The sin and scandal of Christian disunity, while it often poses as "fidelity" to the word of God, is more often just the opposite.
Nevertheless, most Christians seem to accept these divisions as being realistic or inevitable, even while remaining an unfortunate barrier to the conversion of those "sheep" who "are not of this fold" and thus preventing Jesus' stated wish that there may be "one flock and one shepherd" (as given in John 10:16) and that ". . . they all be one, Father; may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe that it was you who sent me" (see John 17:21).
But I wonder if these passages are read too often exclusively with an eye to "conversion" as the spreading of the Christian religion throughout the world. No doubt, Christian disunity is a barrier to the spread of the faith. But if we stop here we miss the point. Ecumenism is not merely a tool for conversion. Instead, unity is a major goal not for Christianity's sake. Instead the goal of all religion is unity -- unity of the human with the divine and the unity of all humanity. So ecumenism is not simply one movement among others, to be accomplished through a series of tactics, dialogues, etc. Unity itself is the goal which at the same time is the principal way as well. The whole purpose of Christianity, according to the Johannine theology, is to replicate among Christians, and thus invite all humanity to share in that same unity that exists between the Father and the Son. So too, in the Pauline understanding of Christianity, the ultimate goal is that redeemed humanity, one with Christ, is made one with the Father. Thus "we are Christ's and Christ is God's" (1 Cor 3:23) so that, in the end, "God may become all in all" (1 Cor 15:28) NAB.
But if it is granted that Christian unity is more than just a means to an end, what stands in its way? Underneath all the doctrinal divisions and other excuses, it is ultimately our unwillingness to let go of ourselves and "let God be God" in our lives. The divine grace or initiative is not lacking, but rather our own resolve is deficient. The only real question is, then: Do we really want this unity to come about?
When we really come down to it, at the heart of the ecumenical problem it is ultimately a question of letting go of an imagined security to take the risk of pure faith and trust in God, stripped of the illusory support of dogmatic principles and institutional props. Not that Christian faith will not express itself in certain convictions or "beliefs" -- the revelation of God through and in Jesus being central. But this faith must concretely embody itself in church or community, for how else can we even begin to express the unity Jesus enjoined upon us? Yet our adherence to the teaching or our loyalty to the community cannot be allowed to stand in opposition to our basic commitment to God.
We sometimes forget that Jesus did not come to found another "religion." Instead, he came rather to call all people -- even though first of all his own Jewish people -- to a closer union with God and to be instruments of God's will on earth. It is only to the extent that his followers have failed to accomplish this that we can speak of "Christianity" as a "religion" opposed to other religions, or, even worse, separate Christian "churches" as institutional entities that somehow are rivals to each other.
Thus Christian ecumenism, as a communal expression of conjunctive faith, can only come about in an atmosphere of risk, a risking of self-identity, a risking of institutional pride, and a genuine sacrifice of self in love. This implies that the various Christian churches or communities as we know them are in some way called to self-transcendence, to be prepared to apparently lose themselves and their own self-identity in the interest of that greater "communion" willed by God in Christ. There is no other way. But if this is the case within Christianity and the conjunctive faith which is demanded of it, what is to be said about its total relationship to the world and especially to the other religions in the world?
Raising this whole question of ecumenism on a global scale in the broader sense of the relationship of Christianity to the rest of the world's religions is n good way to bring on a panic attack. Many otherwise ecumenically-minded Christians stop short at this point. Ecumenism, they feel, has its limits. Unity between Christians -- yes! But unity or some kind of convergence between all the world's believers?
While our consideration of conjunctive faith seems to demand that this wider view of ecumenism be confronted at this point, I have decided to postpone our consideration of it until after the next chapter on "universalizing" or, as I prefer to call it, "unitive" faith. One of my reasons for doing so will not become apparent until we take the time necessary to consider at much more length the kind of interior transformation that has to take place before one can begin to fully appreciate the deeper unity that lies behind the wide divergences within the world's major religions.
But there is another, more immediate reason for stopping short on this topic at this point. It has to do with the dangers of openness and the nature of risk itself.
Openness or Indifference?
To many people who may have arrived at a strongly committed and truly personal faith, the person who claims to have arrived at a "conjunctive" faith may appear to be somewhat vague, relativistic, or altogether uncommitted. What may seem like a healthy dose of reverent agnosticism to some may seem like outright "wishy-washiness" to others. If so, the judgment, however rash, may be not far off the mark, in view of what is the most common temptation at this stage -- a situation which, at least in the beginning, may sometimes take on the appearance of a mid-life crisis of faith.
The perspective-taking that involves the ability to see other persons' point of view, or to take into account cultural and historical factors different from our own, or even to accept one's own failures with some equanimity -- all these may produce an impression that is frustrating and puzzling for the person who thinks of faith in terms of unshakable absolutes, unassailable dogmas, and ready answers for every possible moral dilemma. To the contrary, for the person possessing a more conjunctive faith, such sureness may appear to be a suspicious over-simplification.
Of course, the impression that the more self-assured, personally-committed believer may have might just be correct; the person aspiring to have this conjunctive faith may actually have very little faith of any sort. Although they may claim to be able to see the value of all faiths or beliefs, their broad-minded tolerance may serve to mask their lack of commitment to any serious practice of faith in the concrete challenges of life. They may even go so far as to brand any commitment, other than to their own carefully cultivated broad-mindedness, as fanaticism or narrow-thinking. They want to be above all that. So sometimes what might appear to be a conjunctive faith may turn out to be a disguise for no faith at all.
It is not too difficult to understand the cause of such an attitude, particularly when it can pose as academic objectivity. The serious comparative study of religions, or even of the "phenomenology of religion" -- to take such study to another level -- does require, to some extent, that a person lay aside his or her own personal commitments, at least in a theoretical sense, in order to "bracket" or stand aside from one's own belief system (or to put it into parentheses, so to speak) to try to enter the mental world of someone else whose belief system may differ radically from one's own. Thus you cannot possibly expect to even begin to understand Vedic (Hindu) religion if you remain tied to western categories of thought. You have to try to enter, as fully as possible, into the world-view of a completely alien culture -- something that may be, in the long run, quite impossible. Jung, for one, especially in his Psychology and Religion: West and East (Collected Works, II) repeatedly warned about the dangers of such well-intentioned but often superficial attempts. Nevertheless, we must try to bridge the gap.
Openness to the views and beliefs of others does not necessarily mean that we accept them uncritically. Instead it simply means that we develop the ability to place ourselves in another person's shoes or situation and to be able to sympathetically attempt to understand where they are coming from and appreciate the values which their approach affords. Through this process we can hope to gain some new insights for ourselves, some of them resulting in a deepened appreciation for and understanding of forgotten elements of our own religious tradition. To accomplish this, however, means that we have to be able, at least to some degree, to step out of our own mental habits, and in the process setting aside, as it were, our own beliefs temporarily so as to try to enter another person's world. This is, of course, almost completely impossible for persons of conventional faith, since their whole mentality is dominated by their conformity to their own culture and its thinking. But it is almost as difficult for people of intensely personal faith as well. They are apt to be so strongly committed to their own set of beliefs that even the idea of another person being satisfied by another set of beliefs is incomprehensible -- yet underneath they are not sure of themselves enough to be able to try to understand another point of view without feeling threatened by it.
Of course, the question of whether this "bracketing" can ever be completely accomplished, even by one who aspires to a conjunctive faith, is something else. Most likely the best that can be accomplished is to try to keep this openness in mind as a prerequisite for a serious and sympathetic study of another's religion. But at the same time we must remember that the loss of commitment to one's own beliefs -- which amounts to the refusal to commit oneself to the ultimate as one discovers it -- removes any possibility of entering into religious experience at its deepest level. In other words, bracketing one's own belief is not the same as suspending one's own commitment. Furthermore, the attempt to abstract oneself from one's own bias will fail, paradoxically, to the extent that one imagines that one has completely succeeded. One can learn all about religions or even a particular set of beliefs without ever having faith. At the best, that person's appreciation and knowledge remain second-hand; at the worst an uncommitted aloofness can lose the meaning of the whole thing.
All this is not to say that an academic or studious approach does not play a necessary and crucial role. But the open-mindedness and sympathy that characterize conjunctive faith should not be too easily identified with the supposedly neutral objectivity that is the ideal of much of the academic world. To the contrary, these two attitudes are quite the opposite despite some surface similarities. Because conjunctive faith is the result of the integration of different levels of or aspects of our being, it is able not only to assimilate paradoxical truths -- such as God understood as transcendent as well as immanent -- but also to incorporate seemingly conflicting commitments.
Thus conjunctive faith sees no real contradiction between a sympathetic understanding of all religions, coupled with a deep commitment to one's own faith. It realizes that human reason and logic have their limitations, and is able to live with the greater mystery that transcends all human knowledge. At the same time, such a faith seeks to integrate all knowledge, for example, convinced that there can be no real conflict between science and religion, between reason and faith, since it believes that the same God is the origin of both. But it is respectful of the rules that govern each. It sees them as complementary, but not identical ways of approaching reality.
In sum, conjunctive faith recognizes that even if we must first "believe in order to understand", still faith that fails to go on to greater understanding is a very dangerous thing. Again Jung warns us:
Understanding is never the handmaiden of faith -- on the contrary, faith completes understanding. To educate men to a faith they do not understand is certainly a well meant undertaking, but one that runs the risk of creating an attitude that believes everything it does not understand. (C.G. Jung, Marginalia on Contemporary Events ["On the Reeducation of the Germans," 1946], Collected Works 18.)
A truly conjunctive faith must fully integrate commitment with an expanded knowledge. That in itself is not an easy task, and for those with a weak understanding of their own beliefs or a shaky commitment, the task may be quite beyond their capabilities. But as great as these risks may be in coming to a conjunctive level of faith, there is, at least for some, an even greater risk.
The Risk of Risking
If we were to ask what is the single greatest, if not the most common, danger in this conjunctive faith stage, our answer itself would also have to take something of the form of a seeming contradiction. The paradoxical nature of conjunctive faith contains a temptation that is more subtle than simply the lure of uncommitted openness. If the risk of unreasoned literal or conventional faith is credulousness, and the risk in the effort to come to a personal faith is either to become a fanatic or else end up with no faith at all, the greatest risk in achieving conjunctive faith is the peculiar one of succumbing to the attraction of risk for its own sake -- a problem not unlike that of the compulsive gambler, someone who has, for whatever reason, a pathological addiction to risk.
Back in Chapter 2, I spoke particularly about "existential" faith. This modern emphasis on commitment in the face of uncertainty highlights the risk of faith, particularly when faith no longer seems to be bolstered by the traditions and convictions that both undergirded and expressed the faith of past ages. What seemed like clear evidence proving the existence of God, of divine providence, of creative wisdom -- much of this has been called into question in modern times. It seems like modern persons are forced to have a lot more faith commitment than "medieval man" had when the convictions appeared to be so self-evident -- or so we imagine. To a large extent the modern hero of faith is the person who commits himself or herself without knowing, who hopes against hope despite the lack of evidence that would make belief a sure thing.
Perhaps this is why, among other things, we can trace an evolution of the meaning of the word "believe" from primarily an affective emphasis (close to its root in the Germanic word for "love") to the present intellectual and volitional stress on our holding something to be true despite a lack of much evidence. Even Jung implied this, when he pointed out:
No one can know what the ultimate things are. We must therefore take them as we experience them. And if such an experience helps to make life healthier, more beautiful, more complete, and more satisfactory to yourself and those you love, you may safely say: "This was the grace of God." No transcendental truth is thereby demonstrated, and we must confess in all humility that religious experience is extra ecclesiam [outside the church], subjective, and liable to boundless error! (C.G. Jung, Psychology and Religion, Collected Works 74, 1938).
Is this existential faith or is it simply naive willfulness or wishful thinking? For most, it would constitute a certain stubborn refusal to take "no" for an answer to the riddle of life's meaning, despite the lack of hard evidence. To some, such an attitude is nothing less than heroic, for despite the demands of such a faith, the rewards seem slim. How much more accommodating seems the conclusion of Dostoyevsky who observed that "without God, everything is possible."
To others, such existential faith seems childish. How much more straightforward and honest is Nietzsche's antihero, Zarathustra, who boldly proclaimed that "God is dead -- we have killed him!" Truly, now all is permitted, provided we have the courage to take responsibility into our own hands. Yet rightly understood, and not perversely as Hitler twisted it, Nietzsche's proclamation was not meant to be an invitation to immorality but instead a summons for pure humanitarian goodness with no hope or desire for reward in this world or the next.
But for some others, even this skeptical attitude would not be without hope, for if there is a God, and he "rewards and punishes", then can't we reasonably expect that this God will reward a life lived unselfishly despite (or even more unselfishly because of) the lack of certainty about what's in it for us? So argued the seventeenth century Jansenist philosopher Blaise Pascal. Why not believe in God in the face of uncertainty and act accordingly? If there is no God, what really would you have lost? But if there is a God, and you have not acted rightly, you could end by losing everything.
Some may see in Pascal's famous "wager" not just a shrewd but even a cynical calculation and not worth serious consideration, particularly if we believe God rewards only those who are sincere. But actually it makes a lot of sense to someone of conventional faith -- which can be quite sincere in its own way. People will respect you, and even if there is no life after death, you'll miss nothing of really great importance -- including hell, for there wouldn't be that possibility either. But if there turns out to be such life, God will accept you, maybe even specially reward you, for being such an upright character in the face of all this uncertainty. And there are added perks as well. You can always tell yourself that God can hardly blame you for not doing more in the face of so much insecurity, so your commitment needn't really be outstanding. So there is even a certain amount of security to be had in assuming this modern sort of risk -- whatever you do (short of being an absolute cad) will assure, or at least not interfere with, any future possibilities that God may hold in store. It is the best of all possible worlds -- yes, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Of course, such calculating risk, not for risk's but really for one's own sake, is really the inverse of a personally committed faith. If there is any self-forgetfulness involved, it is not unlike the pseudo-transcendence of any of the false goals that we humans often use to while away our time.
On the contrary, a truly conjunctive faith will see through Pascal's cool analysis of the odds which deceptively mask the utter riskiness of faith. Against the bourgeois calculation to enjoy the best of both worlds the truly existential choice that a committed faith involves, as against a merely self-pleasing "aesthetic choice" - - to borrow Soren Kierkegaard's terminology -- is a choice that demands that we put our lives where our good intentions claim to be. In a world filled with suffering and injustice, there can be no excuse. Do we really think God will be taken for such a fool?
Here we are brought back to Frankl's criticism, not of the pleasure-principle of Freudian psychology, but of the power-principle of the Adlerian school. The modern pop-psychologies talk bravely of "risking" and "venturing", of "affirmation" and "self-actualization" -- all fine and brave words, taken as means but not ends in themselves. When joined to worthy goals, they serve a worthwhile function. But joined to self-centered aims or as a posturing of ourselves in the role of "modern existential man", they are but slogans for an ego-trip.
Our consideration of "conjunctive faith" has led us to what appears to be the very limits of faith in any usual sense of the term. We are brought to full confrontation with the paradox that lies at the heart of all genuine faith. For if one would consistently apply the challenge of the gospels that "to save one's life in this world" is to lose it, while "to lose one's life . . . is to save it" (see Mark 8:35-37 and parallels, Matt. 16:25-26; Luke 9:24; 17:33), then it would follow that to live the life of faith one must be ready to sacrifice all the sureness and the security it promises. It almost seems that without the commitment to living insecurely, any claim to be living by or in faith disappears. Of itself this situation points toward a state beyond.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Why, in your opinion (or in your experience), is it unlikely that a "conjunctive" faith will occur before the onset of midlife? If it did occur earlier, would this be a good thing? Why or why not?
2. Discuss, from as many angles you can think of, the possible meanings or variations of a saying like "the various churches or religions are just different roads to the same goal." In what ways would you agree or disagree with this statement or its variations?
3. To what extent do you think education is a threat to religion? Or to what extent do you think lack of education is a threat to personal belief ?
4. How would you describe the "existential risk" element of faith in your own life? Where exactly are the risks? What concrete shape does the commitment take?
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