Needing someone to lean on
Feb. 25, 2010
Faith is a crutch. It helps those of us who need it to cope with a world that is dangerous, confusing, unfair, and often cruel. We desperately cling to the notion that within what often appears to be chaos and disorder there is purpose and meaning.
Unable to accept existence as the product of random forces that have dropped us on this speck in the universe, we ask why? Unwilling to ignore the madness and enthralled by the beauty, we ask how?
We see in the world of man language, tools, structures, art, music, literature, and organizations, all the product of design and purpose; yet some argue the universe and nature evolved from chaos. Science has or one day will explain the colliding energies from which the universe and life emerged.
Chemistry, physics, biology contain the keys to our existence. These natural forces have and will continue to provide answers to the eternal questions. But how? Who will explain the source of the order that is the very essence of scientific research? Is it all just an accident, a series of coincidences lacking coherence and symmetry?
Are creatures (i.e. men, animals, insects) the only beings capable of intelligent design? Or is it more plausible that creatures themselves are the product of an intelligence that is then reflected in the activities of living things?
Is our reverence for truth, justice, and love, as imperfect as it may be, simply a byproduct of evolution or a reflection of absolute values far beyond our ability to attain? Does it offer an explanation for our own existence, a reason why we were created, and a force to which we are ultimately drawn?
In a way I admire those who can face life without faith. I wonder where they find the strength and confidence to persevere. How do they cope with the madness; the ignorance, deceit, pettiness, suffering, injustice, and sheer arbitrariness of it all?
Either they choose not to confront these dilemmas or possess extraordinary personal resources that enable them to live in a world that for them needs no transcendent explanation – it is what it is. Apparently choosing to ignore the question –Why is it? – they feel no need to look beyond, or having looked, they find only ambiguities.
Without faith they carry on, often leading very good and productive lives. I marvel at their independence and ability to find strength and guidance from within; living off the land without spiritual sustenance.
There are those, like myself, who could not survive in that manner. We would be overwhelmed by the madness in the world and our own weakness. Call it a delusion or pipedream; we need something beyond ourselves to cling to for meaning, hope, strength, and purpose.
Conscious of our own flaws, we see these weaknesses amplified in those institutions that provide essential goods and services – in government and the economy. We acknowledge our pathetic inability to overcome many of our own problems or to fix those institutions formed to help us.
As a judge I was in the flaw business but one need not be in a courtroom to see the evidence of our weakness. It is everywhere.
As creatures, we look for help to our creator. Faith is a continuing act of will, correctly referred to as a “leap.” It is beyond reason but not unreasonable. There are compelling signs that the universe and all in it are the product of a benign intelligence.
To some that is preposterous. Perhaps, but not as preposterous as suggesting it is the result of an accidental cosmic eruption giving rise to billions of coincidences. At some point you have to face the question: Where did space and stuff come from?
For the weak and dependent, faith is the vehicle by which we turn to a power beyond ourselves to acknowledge our dependence and pray for strength, guidance, and forgiveness. That power is our creator.
Faith is a lifeline in a tumultuous sea. Having grasped it, one must then determine how to express and sustain it.
Perhaps if I was strong, I wouldn’t need it. But then, I don’t think anybody is really that strong.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.