In one of my classes the other day a student took issue with the Calvinist notion that salvation was predestined: You are born for heaven or hell, and there is nothing much you can do about it.
“That isn’t biblical,’ my student complained. I replied that John Calvin was quite learned in the Bible, and in his mind predestination was not only biblical it was “gospel.” My student tossed out a few choice biblical quotes to defeat Calvin, and found himself assailed by others who tossed out their scriptural quotes in support of Calvin.
“If you believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, how can there be so many different and opposing understandings?” I asked. “And, while we are at it, how are we decide which of the many books that claim to be the word of God is in fact the word of God?”
We knocked this around for a bit and came to the conclusion that it is ultimately a matter of faith.
“So faith is simply your opinion projected onto God?” I asked. Stunned silence. I waited until someone became uncomfortable enough with the silence to break it. “No, it isn’t my opinion, it is my faith.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked. “For example, there are millions upon millions of bright, thoughtful people who believe God spoke to Mohammed and dictated the Koran. There are even more equally bright and thoughtful people who believe God impregnated a Jewish woman and died on a Roman cross. I believe all of these people are wrong. On what grounds do I assert this? On the grounds that my faith denies it. But how do I know my faith is true rather than simply old and adamant? I don’t.”
“That’s why we call it faith,” someone said.
“Meaning what? That faith is simply synonymous with groundless assertion? Look at this carefully. You take something on faith because you do not know for certain it is true. Yet you choose to label one idea as true and another as false simply on the basis of your own predilection or conditioning. In the end faith is simply a mirror reflecting back your own bias. Because you deny faith is a mirror you imagine the face it reflects belongs to someone else, maybe God. But the truth is you are only seeing yourself, your ego. Faith is simply an affirmation of your own ignorance.”
“This can’t be,” someone half-whispered.
“Don’t take my word for it,” I said. “Find out for yourselves. And when you find a truth that doesn’t require you to choose it as true among competing truths, please let me know.” So far no one has.