Rob Kashow has recently posted a rant on ignorance pertaining to the trinity. I’m glad he did; I find myself increasingly frustrated oftentimes with others who claim to ‘know the answer’ and then go on to recite something from the creeds to me. Or, worse, they share what can only be said to be terrible exegesis.
Let me clarify: I do not have the answers. My scholarship is a quest for answers, but I have no grand delusions that I can or will actually arrive at the truth, nor that everyone will agree with me. Of course there is an element of confidence and rightness that I feel with my own interpretations, but as a good and healthy postmodern, I also can’t say my interpretation is the only valid one. But what I will say is this: despite my postmodernism, not all interpretations are equal. Not all are convincing. Some are just downright poor and depressing.
I have often struggled with what I call the “dumb faith” of others. By “dumb faith” I mean an uninformed belief in something . . . . believing “just because.” I used to be one of those very people. When I became a religion major I was wholly ignorant of the field. Yes, we went to church growing up, but I knew nothing about the field, little about the biblical text, and even less about Christianity, let alone Judaism and Islam. I was quickly disabused of this means of existence by rigorously applying myself to the text, the original languages, and to the scholarly enterprise. As I have said before . . . . my paradigm exploded.
As a religious academic, I don’t think it is my job to “explode your paradigm.” We all have our crises of faith, but I don’t think it is my job to shock and awe you away from whatever you believe and into a new set of beliefs (assuming, of course, at that point one even opts to believe; it is often not the case). My role is to give a student the tools to be a competent and confident reader of Scripture, and to be able to avail herself/himself of the various tools to make sense of the text best they can. They won’t be experts, but they will at least be informed readers. That’s all I’m after.
“Dumb faith.” An example. If I ask you why you believe Jesus is the messiah and the response is “because the church says so” or “the creeds say so” or “my parents raised me Christian, and that’s what we believe,” that is not an adequate answer in my view. “Dumb faith.” If I say (as I do) that God is complicit in Jacob’s many deceptions, and also deceptive himself in Genesis and elsewhere in the biblical text, and your response is an a priori dismissal because “that can’t be my God” or “God doesn’t do that” (see my related posts HERE and HERE), that is “dumb faith.” I’m not saying you need to agree with my interpretation of these texts, but please read the Bible. Actually read it. Please. And let that be the basis of your faith. The texts are there.
One of my teachers in undergrad, who remains a dear friend to this day, used to always say, “you are entitled to your own opinion so long as it is thoughtful.” Without a doubt I agree. I’m quite open and pretty easy to get along with. I’m fine if your faith and beliefs don’t match up with mine, and the converse should be true as well. So long as you can give me an informed answer about why you believe x, y, and z to be the case, I’m fine with that. I may disagree. I may think you are entirely wrong. But if you have convinced me you have put some thought into it . . . . and your thoughtfulness also betrays some level of acumen (in other words, it is possible to be thoughtful yet still ignorant . . . . then I’m happy with that. I may engage you. I may press you. And I hope you will press back. Such is the task of learning. But then, only when you can provide a thoughtful response do you no longer possess a “dumb faith” but rather a faith that is . . . . and this is the most important part . . . . your own.