Over the past couple of months I've had a feeling that I need to write a book about my faith. (Part of that feeling may come because I'm also writing an academic book on Shakespeare--and you know how being obligated to do one thing makes doing almost anything else suddenly attractive.)
Here's a draft of the beginning of my proposed book, which I may called something like Surprised by Faith: Why I Believe What I Believe and Can't Help Wanting to Share It:
Sometimes I am surprised not just by what I believe but that I believe at all. We live in a world that in many ways is hostile to belief in anything except the prevailing views and attitudes of contemporary culture, views and attitudes imposed on us through media and in many other ways. But I cannot deny the reality and goodness of things I have experienced, even if they seem strange or foolish to those who are attuned mainly to the dominant culture. To be true to the things I have felt and witnessed, I find I must refuse to yield myself to many of the world's prevailing intellectual and cultural currents.
Of course, I am influenced by contemporary culture, and there is much (perhaps too much at times) I value and enjoy in it. In this, as in other things, I find I must be discerning. I must test what surrounds me and hold to what is good and not allow myself to be damaged or swept away by what is not. In general, I think it’s healthy to be skeptical of what is popular. Sometimes popularity represents a genuine response to things that are good and true. Sometimes it stems from a relatively mindless collective complicity in a cycle of imitation, based not so much on the quality of what is popular as on the craving not to be left out. Sometimes popularity has causes more complicated than either of these. Few—even among those trying to make choices with care— think through their grounds for valuing or rejecting what is popular very deliberately, and when examined, these grounds often turn out to be opaque or inconsistent. Many of us spend a good deal of our lives with “a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about” in our heads, as C. S. Lewis put it (The Screwtape Letters, Letter 1). Today, I think, “a dozen” would be a very low estimate.
So how is it possible, as Charles Dickens phrased it, to believe in “seeing visions in the age of railways”—or to update the question, in an age of space travel and the Internet? (See Charles Dickens, “In the Name of the Prophet—Smith!,” Household Words 3.69 [19 July 1851]: 385.) To me such belief seems far from impossible, and not even all that strange. But many people react otherwise, not only to a belief in visions and angels, but to belief in miracles, the literal reality of bodily resurrection, the idea that God is actively involved in the affairs of the world, and the idea that a particular organization—a church—might act with his authority and be an instrument to accomplish his work.
I want to acknowledge and respect the experiences and feelings of others. The world is much larger and more complicated than any of us can comprehend, and we’re more likely to see things truly if we listen to each other. So I offer this, not as the final word on anything, but as my view, based on long thought and experience. I think I understand something—even from the inside—about why it can be hard to believe. I have useful things to share, I think, about why belief makes sense—even why particular beliefs make sense.
Along with all that is confusing and challenging in this world, I can bear witness of the reality of spiritual things, the value of every human being, the goodness of much that is taking place in this world, and the truth and value of certain ways of living. I can share the reasons for my conviction that we are spiritual beings, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that there is a loving God who is actively involved in our lives, that God has worked and continues to work through human beings, that revelation from God continues, that God’s transforming power is made available in specific ways for the blessing of his children, and that the scriptural claims about Jesus Christ and his reality and role are true. And I can share my reasons for being confident not only that these things are true but that they matter. Even the mere possibility that the things I’ve listed are true raises issues of unavoidable importance to everyone living on this planet.
For me, belief is an essential step from the start and remains essential from beginning to end. It is valuable because it makes happiness and hope and love and goodness possible. I want to share my faith because I believe it opens the door to exciting adventures, in this world and the world to come, including, for me and many others, membership in a vibrant institution that is accomplishing remarkable good in this world. Faith also opens the door to relationships that can bring great joy and wonderful blessings, relationships that can endure beyond this life and serve as the foundations for a heavenly life.
To put it simply, faith opens the door to all that we could possibly want and all that we most deeply need, to all that is most truly and transcendently valuable and good. I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t want to consider, at least, the possibility of opening that door.
[I'll keep working on the book . . . and let everyone know when it's done.]