A Return, in Ambiguity
I've spoken of Christian Wiman in this BLOG before (see "Riven Things in All Creation," June 26, 2013). His recent book, My Bright Abyss, has received great attention as a poet's expression of an honest faith. His is a faith born of struggle, comfortable with ambiguity, and open to doubt. Wiman has recently been appointed at Senior Lecturer in Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School (and the Institute for Sacred Music), where he's teaching "Poetry and Faith." In an article about that appointment by Ray Waddle, Wiman describes the doubt that can texture any honest affirmation of faith in the modern world:
'Poets today aren't very concerned about theology, or they're only accidentally concerned," he says. 'One of the reasons is the trend of secularization that characterizes all disciplines.
'More generally, though, the problem is: we know too much. We think we know too much for the Christian story to be true. We know too much historically, cosmologically, anthropologically for this one story to be true.
'But that's the paradox, because the more we know, the more we should realize how little we know. As physics demonstrates, we can't even observe phenomena without distorting them. Uncertainty is built into our fixed knowledge. If that's the case, then—good Lord—think of the mistakes we're making.'*
For nearly two years Pinnacle has had a monthly "roundtable" gathering of folks interested in faith and science. It's been a terrific conversation, often touching on just the kinds of things Christian Wiman is talking about.
We think that faith is impossible in a scientific culture, or at least we're taught that. But those who teach us that idea often don't know science very well, and they certainly don't know faith. What does seem true, though, is that the character or feel of faith changes in a scientific culture.
We can believe simply, with a kind of "first naivete" (as the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur once called faith that hasn't been tested by intellectual or existential fire): "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." And we can find great comfort, security, and a good life in that place. We can also disbelieve simply, with another kind of naivete: "Jesus loves me is a lie, for the Sciences tell me so." And we can also feel secure, even if cosmically alone, in that assumption.
Yet we can also let doubt, questioning, testing, and other parts of modern life enliven our journey and blur some boundaries. That can be exciting. It can also be frightening. And it can also feel inevitable. In that space we let ourselves make great mistakes, while still being open to God. And through that, a new naivete of faith (or of doubt) can return, beyond our wandering—or maybe in the midst of our wandering. It can look like the first naivete, but it can be entirely entirely different. It can move beyond ambiguity, even while it still includes ambiguity. It can be a "second naivete" (Ricoeur's term again). If it's a second naivete of doubt, it can be less ure of its doubt and more open to God than some belief can be. If it's a second naivete of faith, it can sound just as sure as the simpler faith, but it can know the cost of that once more simple affirmation: "Jesus love me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." And it can feel that affirmation as a gift, at long last. More real. More present. More true.
* Ray Waddle, "Chrstian Wiman: the limits of language, the persistence of love," in Notes from the Quad (http://notesfromthequad.yale.edu/christian-wiman-limits-language-persistence-love)