Utter certainty, yet leavened by humility and doubt
Speaking of unshakeable faith, Andrew Sullivan gave a pretty good display of that (and I don’t mean that as a compliment) in the debate with Sam Harris. A pretty good display of knowing what he can’t know, of labeling beliefs as ‘truth’ merely because he has decided to believe them for no very good reason, of admitting it’s all nonsense yet insisting that he knows it all the same.
The reason I cannot conceive of my non-existence is because I have accepted, freely and sanely, the love of Jesus, and I have felt it, heard it, known it. He would never let me go. And by never, I mean eternally. And so I could never not exist and neither could any of the people I have known and loved. For me, the radical truth of my faith is therefore not that God exists, but that God is love (a far, far less likely proposition). On its face, this is a preposterous claim, and in my defense, I have never really argued in this dialogue that you should not find it preposterous. It can be reasoned about, but its truth itself is not reasonable or reachable through reason alone. But I believe it to be true – not as a fable or as a comfort or as a culture. As truth.
His admission that it’s preposterous is disarming, in a way, yet that also makes it all the more annoying. As Sam Harris firmly points out at the end.
In your last essay you admit that your notion of God is “preposterous” and then say that you never suggested I should find it otherwise. You acknowledge the absurdity of faith, only to treat this acknowledgement as a demonstration of faith’s underlying credibility. While I have yet to see you successfully pull yourself up by your bootstraps in this way, I have watched you repeatedly pull yourself down by them. You want to have things both ways: your faith is reasonable but not in the least bound by reason; it is a matter of utter certainty, yet leavened by humility and doubt; you are still searching for the truth, but your belief in God is immune to any conceivable challenge from the world of evidence.
Just so – Sullivan acknowledges the absurdity of faith, only to treat this acknowledgement as a demonstration of faith’s underlying credibility. Well, at that rate, everything has underlying credibility, and epistemic chaos is our own true home.