Religion invites us to have faith. Thus, for most people, the idea of faith is a choice. We can have faith or not have faith. From this perspective, there are people of faith and people without faith. It’s all pretty simple and clear cut.
But, if you pull the word “faith” out of its traditional religious confines and place it in a wider, existential view, it’s no longer an invitation. It’s unavoidable. Non-negotiable. You can’t not have faith. That is, it’s impossible not to live as if something is true that you can’t prove is true. I’m saying, everyone shapes and chooses a worldview. We decide what’s essentially true about this life, and then we live out that truth. That is, we place our faith in it.
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) said it this way: “Choose your myth, and live it with passion.”
Faith is “living as if.” As if what? Well, that’s the point. You get to fill in the blank. No one can do it for you. Not ultimately.
Sure, as children your first tenants of faith (that is, your worldview) were supplied for you by parents and family. As you watched your parents love each other … or not. As you experienced the competence of your parents’ steady care and nurture of you … or not. As you and your family experienced the particular whimsies of joys and sufferings that unfolded for you. Out of these formative experiences you collected ideas about what was true about your life and life itself.
But, sooner or later, as you moved to adulthood, it occurred to you that not everything delivered to you as truth was necessarily true. You had options – social, moral, theological, existential, philosophical, academic.
See my list of all the reasons to quit/ Not smooth enough, tough enough, inferior fit/ And all the voices saying “Why don’t you just step aside”/ “How dare you dare to reach so high,” they’re asking for my suicide/ One hand open, the other a fist/ I guess I’ll have to live as if/ See me tearing up my list
The choice is not whether to have or not have a worldview in which you place faith. The only choice is whether we are willing to be conscious of that worldview. To choose it with intention, clarity and commitment. When our deepest beliefs about self and life are conscious, then we have choices. Including the choice to decide that some of our deepest beliefs might not be true.
See my beloved and me in a bitter rift/ Trying to remember why this love is such a gift/ I want to fly away and find me something easier/ I don’t feel much in love right now, what did I ever see in her/ What do we hold on to while we search for what we missed/ I guess we’ll have to live as if/ I think we’re called to live as if
Faith is “living as if.” All of the choices are ours. We can live as if there is an inherent goodness in the human heart deserved of our seeking and admiring. Or we are free to live as if, since no one can or should be trusted, we must in every moment protect ourselves at all costs. We can live as if it is our very birthright to be loved and respected. Or we can live believing deeply that we are far too flawed and broken to rightly expect love and respect. Perhaps maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is Life’s most noble pursuit. Then again, perhaps you prefer to subordinate equations of pain and pleasure, passing comfort or discomfort for the very different goal of commitment to a beloved’s best interest.
Absurdity, anomaly, a sand that always shifts/ All the evidence says life is meaningless/ I’ve tried to face reality, to live my life the way life is/ So now I’ve seen reality but I’m not sure how real it is/ I’m left with this bit of foolishness/ I prefer to live as if/ I will try to live as if
As if it matters that we live/ As if it matters when we love/ As if it matters when we offer something beautiful/ Stand against some ugliness/ Endure the days of emptiness/ We can live as if we’re loved
Faith is “living as if.” Perhaps you’ve heard people say “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.” To that I say “yikes.” It matters very much what we believe. The worldview in which we have faith is consequential for us and everyone around us. Hitler was sincere.
In what have you placed your faith? What do you believe deeply? The next question is, how do those beliefs serve you? And, then, the 24 million dollar question: Is it time to believe something else?
Happy New Year.
(Steven Kalas is an Episcopal priest, a therapist and an author. You can reach him at email@example.com.)