Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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A Trip Straight to Madness

I missed church last Sunday. Again.

It seems that after most of a lifetime spent unable to find a reason not to go to church I am now unable to find a reason to go. I once found comfort in the fact that my time in church was “shared” with many millions of other churchgoers of the same stripe, comfort in the fact that the service I was attending would be mostly the same in any one of thousands of churches around the world. No matter where I might find myself I would always have one place where I felt at home.

This is no longer true. I almost wrote “sadly”, but I’m not really sure that would be truthful. To be honest I really have very little feeling about this development; I am neither happy nor sad. When I sit in church now I feel… well… nothing. I used to wonder when I was younger how my beloved Gama could stop going to church after decades of faithful attendance and I think I have a bit of an understanding now. You see, Gama never really lost her faith in God, never really lost her belief that there was something to come after this life that made the living worth the effort. She never stopped believing in that; she simply stopped believing in the Church. My friend fighting cancer is much the same–we agreed that he and I are not very faithful churchgoers but that we do, indeed, have Faith.

There was a certain pull to the Church of my youth. A certain “rightness”. There was also more than a little fear. What if the Church was right? What if it truly was the one and only truth, and believers of all other truths were doomed to a forevermore deprived of the ultimate afterlife? With time and more than a few miles under my belt I’ve given this considerable thought, and what I think is that Gama was more right than not. Could it truly be that all of the other churchgoers, attendees at slightly different types of churches, were wrong? And the millions of other people of faith, the Buddhists and Shintoists and Hindus, the Jews and the (peaceful) followers of Islam, all of the indigenous peoples of the world who worship the nature that surrounds them? Perhaps my Church is MORE right, but are they all wrong? Gama, I think, would have said no, that it is the faith in some greater good overseeing all that is right. My friend who is fighting cancer would agree.

It makes you wonder about atheists, doesn’t it? The existentialists are a little easier to fathom. For them there is one truth and therefore only one choice. Life is nothing but pain; one simply chooses to accept the pain or to end it. It seems as if Faith does not enter into the equation since the entire focus of the existentialist is the pain today, and the focus on that question makes all other lines of inquiry unnecessary. But what of the atheist? Is the atheist simply an existentialist without the insight or the courage to acknowledge the question? Or is an atheist someone who has looked for a reason to have faith and has simply stopped looking too soon?

I am a physician as is my friend above, and at our core all physicians are in some way scientists. We typically entered medicine via a science background or a science aptitude, and the best among us apply the very best of what science has to offer in the care and service of our patients. Science and Faith have certain fundamental conflicts, however, and these conflicts rise to the surface when Faith is reflected as Religion. The essential character of science is proof, or at least the attempt to secure the best approximation of proof. All Religion fails at the earliest application of science because all religions require a very early application of Faith. Is Faith the same? Is the very existence of Faith inconsistent with science? Is the atheist right?

I’ve been working my way through a very difficult book called “Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity” by John Polkinghorne. The author is the former Cambridge Professor or Mathematical Physics who is now an Anglican priest. The book is short on pages but long on words, if you know what I mean. In it Polinghorne attempts to reconcile particle physics with religion in order to answer the question of whether a scientist can believe, can have Faith. He attempts to prove that the end of every inquiry into the origin of life, and therefore every inquiry into the question of an afterlife, must always end in some measure of Faith. If you end your search in the Old Testament you conclude “Let there be light!”. If you find that evolution is the answer you must believe that some all-knowing Chef first stirred the primordial soup. And if you are a particle physicist there is really no answer behind the curtain of the infinitesimal dot that exploded in the Big Bang, is there?

No, in the end there is only and always Faith. Every inquiry ends in Faith. It must. The need to know and the need to prove are the essence of being human, but the existence of Faith is the essence of being alive. The absence of Faith is a type of intellectual laziness at best and an essential cowardice at worst. The existentialist acknowledges this by honestly attempting to answer one and only one question, whether or not to accept the pain for one more day. The atheist is essentially a coward, unable or unwilling to follow the inquiry to any conclusion. The essential questions of life, where did we come from and where will we go, can only end in some acceptance that there must be more. My friend the physician with cancer has always known this. At the end of every inquiry we must have Faith.

Without Faith every essential inquiry into the beginning and the end of life is nothing more than a trip straight to madness.

11 Responses to “A Trip Straight to Madness”

  1. July 30th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Jenny says:

    Nice post. But you misspelled “Gama!” You, of all people, should know how to spell it since you came up with the name! ;) besides, there’s no “o” in Grandma! Besides, didn’t she sign all your cards G-a-m-a?

  2. July 30th, 2009 at 9:45 am

    darrellwhite says:

    I’ll fix it right away! I spelled it the way Anne Lee always did.

  3. July 30th, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Jenny says:

    Yeah, it seems everyone but Gama and me spelled it the other way. i always went with how she did it!

  4. July 30th, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Jeff says:

    Interesting. Not sure if I agree with the last paragraph.

  5. July 30th, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    How so, Jeff? If you go as far as you can go, and prove as much as you can prove, you eventually hid a logical, proof-proof endpoint. To explore beyond that, to turn away from Faith at that point, is a “trip straight to madness.”

  6. July 30th, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Jeff says:

    But in the end what lasts is not Faith, nor Hope. Hope is for things longed for and Faith once proven is no longer.

  7. July 30th, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Apolloswabbie says:

    I never thought of myself as an existentialist but by your description I am one. Also a buddhist as I interpret what buddha was, but not one that ‘worships’ buddha, which seems to miss the point entirely. I would like to have Faith in something but I think I have faith “I don’t know what.”

    Church – only one reason to go that I know – do you feel good for having gone? Do you see people you are glad you saw? Does the hour help you get to place you need but don’t otherwise get there?

    This is racy stuff to throw out there, doctor, could end your promising political career to speak the truth with no varnish!

    Atheists, yes, a funny bunch to presume that they ‘know’ there’s no creator.

    What I see is the most powerful force on the planet, universal, and not contradicted to my knowledge yet by animal, plant, or any living things – the force to participate in creation by self preservation and reproduction. Human beings are at their best in this process when they engage it with others. Whatever else there may be to know about the creator, we know that he/she/it desired for creation to be ongoing, active, vigorous and contested. It’s the kind of thing for which CrossFit may be very handy …

  8. August 2nd, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Mike says:

    Religion, Faith and Church are three totally different things, as you know. I go to church to pray and remember with other folks who want to do the same, but as a community. There is no feelgood, there is no “affirmation” of an afterlife” where I worship.
    We are a community who believes that the much sought after “Kingdom God” is here and now; in other words, our life IS heaven–right now, here on earth. Why spend your life trying to be “good” in order to save yourself a spot “up there in clouds”, when one must recognize that “heaven” as we know it is what you are living and breathing right in front of us. This understanding of heaven has allowed me to live life with much more understanding of faith and love, charity and forgiveness, to do what I can to improve this world we live in and to be tolerant of others as well. Why? Because I believe that what we are living right now is all you’re ever gonna know and see.
    I, like you took a long hiatus from Church because I found that too many churches that I attended before my break were filled with worshipers who had more selfish agendas on their minds than a concern about humankind or the earth.
    Faith was centered more around guilt, fear, and stacking one’s deck against the ole devil himself, so that when the time came, you could look at St Peter in the eye and say “let me in:the scorecard doesn’t lie”. And through the Pearly gates you would stride.e
    Fortunately I can no longer accept those thoughts, and now believe that Faith in God and Humanity and the Earth will allow one to pursue his life here on earth in a way that Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, etc., had envisioned things whene they walked the earth thousands of years ago.

  9. August 4th, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Joe 'axlebear' says:

    Hey Darrell, just now happened upon your blog. Not sure how I’ve missed it until now.

    What a doosey of a first post to encounter. I enjoyed it. Some very interesting thoughts.

    Ever read any C.S. Lewis? Mere Christianity is a great read and I think you’d find it applicable to this topic.

  10. October 29th, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Prof. Karen Graves says:

    “To sit alone with my conscience will be judgment enough for me.” – scientist quote

  11. October 29th, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    Well played.

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