I've known him since he was a lanky, awkward child in middle school. Like me, he's a tad less awkward today. We're sitting near my computer, which I shut off so I'm not distracted while we talk.
"You know I went to church as a kid. It's just that now," he pauses, scrambling for words, "I haven't decided on a set of morals yet. I know I should choose to believe or not, but I haven't. I don't know how I could."
My mind unearths a photo of me dressed as a monk at the Ren Faire. I try to find words to make the connection.
"I don't think faith is something we should choose to believe or not. I am a Christian because I believe it matches reality. I look at the world and I ask, 'Does this make sense with my Christian views?' It does. So my faith isn't based on a choice to believe, like turning off my mind, but on a recognition of truth."
He nods, almost as if what I've just said makes sense.
"Of course," I grin, "I could be wrong."
This undermining of our faith is subtle and ubiquitous. I'm a film guy, and the refrain "have faith" or "just believe" echoes emptily through the porn-drenched Don Jon, the slur-slinging Grand Torino, the ridiculous Bulletproof Monk, and even the colorful and stylistic Peter Pan. These four films gloss over, respectively: the purpose of penance, the basis of Trinitarian doctrine, the reality of gravity, and even the existence of fairies (something not real in our world, but very real in that one). Faith in films is often empty and devoid of thought, or somehow so connected to reality that lack of belief diminishes it's existence. Without regular reminders to the the contrary, it's little wonder my friend starts to believe that faith is something we choose, like the shirt I put on in the morning -- easily replaced by something else had I merely reached for a different one. I'm sure the internet normalizes belief-based faith as well... how many times have I seen someone in an online discussion come back with, "Well, I just choose to believe what I believe"? Too many.
This is one reason why I am so passionate about life-long learning! May we not be those who merely roll with what's popular. Let us do the hard work of building our foundation on what's real. And if we find that something we believe grates against reality, we must accept that we
- misunderstand reality
- have misapplied our faith
- or see a conflict where there isn't one (like the Baffling Balloon Behavior video making the rounds these days)
My friend still hasn't settled on accepting a particular set of morals. We're still talking about a great many things. But I hope that our continued conversations help both of us to see where faith and reality line up.
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian