Tag Archives: Doubt

On Doubt and Faith

Dearest Father,

I must apologise for my immensely long silence. Unfortunately the duties of your son grow with each passing day, leaving me little time to sit and ponder our relationship, less still to scribble a missive in your name. I am sorry I missed the important days of the past season. I did not write you on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, or even Easter Sunday. I had much to say on each of those days, questions to ask as always, and feelings to express. But my duties (and, I must admit, a smidgen of human laziness) kept me from putting pen to paper. I did pray on the Day of Resurrection, however, not one of the many perfunctory prayers we Universals learn in the Catechism and from the Simple Prayer Book, but a deep and heartfelt prayer for my soul and my doubt and the pain in the world around me. I hope my ephemeral words reached your ears. I have seen no improvement in any of the situations I mentioned in my prayer, but we are told that you work in mysterious ways. When the letters I have been writing for over a year have received nary a response from you, I cannot feign surprise that you haven’t answered my less permanent whispers.

A lot has changed in the weeks past, and a lot has remained the same. My journey and my thoughts have carried me further still from you. Much like I did before my long break I feel that the likelihood of my return diminishes with each step I take. However, unlike the last two times I wrote you I find myself filled with less guilt and less anger. The guilt is gone because I did decide to sacrifice food as well as meat for this year’s Season of Preparation (the first time in ages I have been able to afford the latter), and the anger is gone because I’ve found it very difficult to keep negative emotions on my mind. My earthly duties have taken focus away from the House and the inscrutable machinations of my Father, and with that focus went my horror and anger on my many discoveries on free will and justice. As I write you today I feel calm and at peace. I have no brazen questions, no incredulous inquiries. I am simply writing. I do, however, have something I wish to share with you Father, and it concerns my only constant companion on this journey: Doubt.

The other day, at one of the House outposts I frequent when I wish to feel closer to home, the elder administering the ceremony gave a little homily on doubt, or more accurately, faith. You see Father in my young, binary mind I had always viewed the two things as stark opposites, separate sides of the same coin. One could not doubt if he had faith; one could not have faith if he doubted. The elder, however, brought to mind something I suspect I have known all my life but failed to consider, and that is that we are all possessed, at various points in our lives, with various levels of doubt and faith. For some, he said, faith is easy. They have little to no questions. They simply need to hear the words from your lips, or from lips they consider to be a good enough surrogate to yours, and they accept. Such people have trusting hearts and believing minds. Such people perhaps have the blind faith that has inspired churches and hymns across the history of the House. Others are rigid sceptics, requiring proofs and reassurances and works of wonder before they commit their hearts to a cause. There have been a few of these mentioned in your Book, ranging from the judge that required some fleece to both be soaked and dry at sunrise, to the famous Thomas that wished to see and touch the wounds of the Brother-Saviour before believing in his return. And instead of castigating the sceptics and admonishing them to try harder to adhere to the perfect ideal of unquestioning trust, the elder applauded their doubt, congratulated their willingness to believe. Doubt, he said, was as much a part of the human spirit as faith, and when used wisely, properly, could cause one’s faith to blossom and grow into a thing worthy to behold. We all stumble, he assured, smiling at those seated before him. To expect pure and unshakeable faith is to expect failure, and our all-knowing Father in heaven does not expect failure.

Going further on this train of compatibility the elder proclaimed that our doubts and the faiths they nurtured were products of our communities. Surround ourselves with encouraging believers, not the harsh ones that scold us for not believing, or the smug ones that spurn us for asking questions, and our faiths were sure to grow. Surround ourselves with inquisitive minds, with people that refuse to be led by the neck to whatever cause the elder of the day seemed to be championing, and our faiths would be made even more resilient to the tests and trails the future held. Our doubts don’t just depend on us, he said. They depend on our friends.

His words were comforting Father, perhaps because that was his intent. They gave me hope, hope that if I were to stumble on just the right pack of people, with just the right mix of childlike wonder and justified scepticism my companion would shrink to the manageable heights of long ago. I would be remiss if I did not say that on that day Doubt tried to counter all the elder’s assertions. I would also be remiss if I did not say that I nodded in agreement to some of his points. But as is always the case when I take a break from writing you Father I have returned with hope anew. For now I wish to believe that all I need is the right community, the right companions, to set me on the right path back to your arms, and I will allow myself to hope that your eternal silence has simply been because you have been preparing such a group for my arrival. After all, what good Father would ignore his son for so long?

With faith,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Choices of My Father

Dear Father,

The words Doubt spoke to me the last time I wrote have refused to leave my mind, and as the days have passed my head has been filled with even more terrors concerning your title as Great Arbiter. I am afraid his attempt to explain away the paradox of our freedom has backfired, for if I sounded lost and confused at the end of my last letter, I am far more lost now, and much more afraid.

You see Father, your power means that you are capable of anything. If you say that up is down, up becomes down. If you say that left is right, left becomes right. Faced with such power one realises that you can truly do whatever you want; there are no bounds or limits on the extent of your abilities. Before you existence is a blank slate, putty to be moulded in whatever shape your desire.

This means that you could have created any number of worlds where things were slightly different from this one, where, for example, the First Brother did not partake of the forbidden fruit, thus ensuring that he and his children remained in paradise for all eternity. But you did not. You could have made a world where even after his blatant disregard for your commands he was immediately forgiven and allowed to remain in the garden, but you did not. You could have created a world where nothing he ever did could have violated your will, where it was not his destiny to fall out of your favour and your paradise. But you did not. Faced with all these choices, all these universes, all these possibilities, you chose instead to make the First Brother in such a manner as to guarantee his failure. You chose not to forgive him for his transgressions but to cast him out. You chose not to allow his offspring, guilty of nothing but being born, to return to paradise. You chose to allow disease to flourish, to allow wars and famine and pain to exist for millennia before finally sending the Brother-Saviour, and even then you chose to take him away. You chose to make a universe in which the Brother-Saviour’s sacrifice did not immediately mean salvation, but one where we would have to wait two millennia (and counting) for another, final judgement, when you would cast all the children you damned before they were even born into the fiery pit made ready for them. These horrors are the things you chose.

Even more alarming is the fact that your status as the Great Arbiter is ongoing. You still have the power to speak things into being, to make something from nothing. You can still eradicate all disease with a wave of your hand, reform all sinners, end all wars. You can return as the Brother-Saviour tomorrow and establish a paradise for all men. These things are not out of reach; they are certainly not beyond your ability. All you need do is will them be and they will be. And yet the world around me remains the very same way it has always been. The people starving as I write these words will continue to starve. Those dying will continue to die. Those suffering will continue to suffer.

These are frightening thoughts, dearest Father, for they mean that you are actively choosing to be bring suffering to your children, to watch while they struggle in the harsh world you have given them. This is manifest cruelty, for not only did you make the world as it is, you are refusing to change it. You are allowing the very evil you created to grow and spread, to fester and flourish.

Our independence may be questionable Father, but yours is without doubt; you will not be our Father without it. And if this world, an existence free of freedom and mired in suffering, is what you have chosen for your children, how can we call you good? How can we look to you for guidance? How can we think on your image and rejoice? Yours is not a face of love, but a face of brutality, and thinking on the kind of mind that could do all this and call it good, I am filled with a fear most visceral…

My once little friend is silent, Father; even he has no counter to this.

With fear and trembling,

Your Prodigal Son

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Anniversary

The sun was bright today Father, and the winds were slow. The heat was high, and the chill was low. And as I sat to write to thee, my heart was calmed, my mind made free.

I smiled to joyous passers-by; I beamed at flitting birds on high. And even to my friend black as night, I offered a hand devoid of spite.

He sat with me and grinned in turn, content to put aside his scorn; and looking up at the great blue sky, we wondered and pondered, “soliloquied”.

Our talk of things brought you to mind, and all the people we’d left behind. And soon we found our thoughts abroad, on home and hearth, on warmth and Words. I saw my father, stout and strong; I saw my mother soft and young; I saw the elders wise and old, and I saw the body, bright and bold. Their hands were lifted up in praise; their eyes and hearts were set ablaze, and their mouths aflutter with chants most holy, giving their all to sing to your glory.

My chest was hurt, my eyes were stung, and my lips began to move with song; for deep inside I remain the same: a child alone, his Doubt untamed. My guilt, my fear, they have not waned; my joy and cheer are still unchanged. I am a Universal child you see; this guilt and awe? They’re baked in me.

And so my smile was turned to rue, and my heart once more yearned for you. My questions, demands, were cast aside; the splendour of home was all on my mind.

I sighed and stood and brushed my clothes, and stared far out at the House that glowed. Glass and steel and gold and stone, its lights a reflection of your throne.

“T’would be sweet,” said Doubt to me, “To return to your House once free from me, for then your smile shall light the skies, your faith immune to all my lies.”

His words rang true to my aching breast, and so I put my thoughts to rest. Though weak by nature I will forge ahead; I will see this quest to its bitter end.

And so this day I give you thanks, for safety, protection, for a friend in my ranks. The year has been rough, confusing and bleak; there are days I’ve ended too fearful to speak . Here’s to another, more fruitful I hope, deeper in meaning and wider in scope. Perhaps I am doomed to never return. No matter dear Father…

Forever,

Your son

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On Freedom and Knowledge

Dearest Father,

It would appear that free will is an immense and insurmountable quandary. If it is taken from the perspective of good and evil then you do not have it, for you can never choose evil. If we take it from the basis of constraint and power then we do not have it, for our wills are not free at all but are limited by predetermined rules we cannot change. The last point is among the reasons I am writing yet another letter on this issue, for Doubt has not allowed me to rest since I sent you my last missive. Adamant that freedom, however small, is still freedom, he has forced me to think more deeply about the wills of your children, and to consider that perhaps we still possess our wills even if they are constrained, that we still have some agency even if it is not limitless.

In some way I agree. Though tiny and feeble our freedom may be, it still feels, for lack of a better word, like it is there. As I said in my last letter, even my illustrative prisoners possess freedom in certain things. They can choose to behave properly while serving out their sentence; they can choose the friends and foes they make whilst incarcerated. They are not free, but they are not completely bound either.

There is, however, one issue with this line of thought, and as I mentioned in my last letter it is one of judgement.  You see, the biggest reason we are given for our inability to reach the Great Upstairs with you is that we are not good. Against a being as wonderful and perfect as you we are bad, fundamentally stained and unworthy. The elders of the House do not say that we are a different kind of good; they say we are not good at all. When you are the standard anything that is not you is not it. If we are not as good as you we are not good, period. If one can be so harsh, so abrupt, so binary in meting out the judgement that shall serve us for all eternity, why then can one not be equally harsh in viewing the very constructs around which this judgement is made? If you are the model of free will then anything that is not like you in that manner is not free. Your children have a saying about having cakes and eating them that expresses this succinctly. We cannot use binary means to judge our worth, and then turn around and use continuous means to judge our freedom. Where you are the standard, there can be no deviant.

Still, Doubt had a point. True, our wills are not free; they are limited. However, they have not been shown to be completely constrained. We have some leeway. We may not possess the almighty, world-creating freedom of our Father, but we have something. While a stubborn part of me was unwilling to give quarter to these thoughts, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to explore the implications of this. You, for whatever reason, decided at the moment of our creation to constrain our freedom, to (perhaps ironically) limit it to two “things”: good and evil. This compromise would mean that we have solved our problem. We have some freedom, and we have will. What your children have done with these things can now be squarely laid at our feet.

I had barely finished nodding my head at his postulations when Doubt turned around and attacked his own words. We may have some freedom, he offered, but is it freedom that matters? There are certain kinds of freedoms that are ultimately pointless and others that are infinitely more useful. The freedom, for example, that allows our aforementioned prisoners to eventually break free of the bonds keeping them in prison is a very useful freedom. The one that allows them to sleep on whatever side of their cot that tickles their fancy is, on the other hand, quite useless. Admitting that we have some kind of freedom is not enough. We must be able to see if this freedom is useful or constructive, if this freedom serves some purpose. And to that end Father, Doubt revealed one thing that rendered all the freedoms you have given us pointless: knowledge, or perhaps more accurately, ignorance.

Once again Father, I must look to you to make his point. Ignoring the immense freedom that power brings, there is still a certain advantage afforded to beings like yourself that know what their choices mean. Knowing which choices to make, knowing which choices would have certain desired consequences, these are forms of knowledge that are not just invaluable but essential if one is to consider your children truly free to choose. Knowledge is power, and power is freedom; he who knows more can choose better, and the very existence of Doubt tells you all you need to know about the state of your children’s knowledge.

We often say that the road downstairs is paved with good intentions, and this truism illustrates exactly what is wrong with the ignorance you have allowed to fester among your children. You have made a world, Father, where it is not enough for one to want so fervently to do good; one must also know how to do good. This would not be quite the issue it is if you saw fit to bestow upon your children wonderful, perfect intellects that revealed intimately both the good things and the bad, so that intent was coupled closely with knowledge, so that ignorance would be no defence for there would be no ignorant people. Instead you have made beings with minds most weak, beings that learn only through repetition, beings that forget very easily, beings that need continuous experience in order to truly know.  You have made beings with whom there exists such a disparity in beliefs they cannot agree on what good and evil are. If we do not even know what these things are, if we cannot trust our own heads, one what basis can you say we are free to choose the right things?

Now, there are those within the House that state that all these flaws of the human mind came as a result of the Fall, that the sins of the First Brother clouded our heads and hearts. And while this answers the questions surrounding our immense limitations, it also raises a very terrifying corollary. It means, Father, that Adam, of sound mind and heart, knew what he was doing when he consumed the forbidden fruit. This leaves one with the scary conclusion that he either possessed intent most evil, or he was a terribly foolish person.

Think about it Father. For one to believe that before the Fall we were perfect one has to believe that Adam knew exactly what eating that fruit meant. The deceptive words of the serpent become useless in this world, for Adam would know that he was not going to become you; he was instead going to die. And not only was he going to die; he was also going to damn his sister-wife and every last one of his offspring to death as well. This is stupidity and evil to the most extreme, for he effectively traded happiness and paradise for death and destruction. Only a being most evil would do this in full knowledge of the consequences, a being that doesn’t care much for itself or for anything really, a being we have seen personified in the history of the House as You-Know-Who… (I wonder, was he also possessing of perfect intellect before his fall from grace?)

Of course because the fruit itself was from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, this means that Adam could not have known that he was doing evil, even if he perhaps knew the dire and damning consequences of his actions. In one move we appear to have created a terribly evil being that is not even aware of his evilness.  Is it any wonder that he fell? Could he really have been called good along with the rest of your creation when such evil lurked within his soul?

Thus, our First Brother was either ignorant and good when he fell, or knowledgeable and evil. The first option means that we have never been free of ignorance; our minds have always been weak and clouded. The second contradicts the very need for the act that led to the Fall in the first place, making it a useless, if already frightening, conclusion.

And so Father, even with the assumption that we possess some freedom to power our wills we are left realising that this freedom is once again useless as it does not (and never did) contain the most necessary ingredient for free and informed choice: perfect knowledge. It seems Doubt pushed me down this path of limited freedom with the express intent of dashing my hopes, for once again I am left with the unfortunate conclusion that your children in no meaningful way possess free will. We are not as free as you, and even in our limited existence we lack the necessary tools to have prevented our Fall and to save us from ourselves.  This calls to mind once again the question of judgement, Father, for one must wonder on what standard you judge beings that have been handicapped from the very beginning.

As I sit here and ponder that even my once little friend is silent; this, it seems, is a question neither of us can answer.

With much thought,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Freedom and Will

Dear Father,

Dissatisfied with where I left things in my last letter, I decided to revisit the issue of free will and what it means for you. The thought that you, Father of fathers and lord of the universe, were somehow nothing but a mere machine did not sit right with my Crossian upbringing. My mind, perhaps my conscience, rebelled against this thought and it sought to find a way out, a loophole I could exploit to bring you back to your full power. Charged with this intent I did what very many lovers of Sophie have done over the years; I decided to engage in a thought experiment. Now, as with all thought experiments there was an underlying premise to mine, in this case the direct opposite to the feared conclusions of my last letter. The central premise of my experiment was thus: You possess free will; any definition of freedom and will must be made in such a manner that keeps them firmly in your grasp. Needless to say dearest Father, with my once little friend quizzing my thoughts I arrived at a not-so-rosy end to this most basic assumption.

Consider yourself, Father. You are. Before there was time, you are. After the end of time, you are. There is nothing without you. The very first pages of your Book spend words expressing how you fashioned everything. They tell us how you commanded light into being with a simple utterance from your lips. Pages, verses, chapters and books have been spent across the ages expressing the sheer, wondrous breadth of your power – power, we are told, beyond anything your children could ever imagine. You see all; you know all; in very many ways you are all.

I can almost imagine you sitting (if such a concept even existed at the time) all by yourself and deciding, freely, to make things. Perhaps you even made ‘making’, and ‘unmaking’, and ‘remaking’, and all the other kinds of makings there are and can be. With no compulsion, no impetus, no force but your own, you made stuff. You fashioned the earth, and the heavens, and your guards, and the animals and your children, freely. And this is the point Father, for I cannot stress this enough: You did these things without necessitation. You had your freedom and you had your will, and this is the world that they birthed. The question of good and evil seems almost childish in hindsight, for you truly are above such petty nonsense. You are the Great Arbiter, the one whose words and arbitrations immediately become the very truth of the universe. This is not just power, Father. It is freedom, perhaps the purest kind of freedom… perhaps the only kind of freedom. Your actions have no consequence, unless you will it to be so. Your choices have only the meaning you want, only the effects you wish. You are unconstrained, unbound, unfettered. You are free to do whatever you want. Your will is truly yours.

Contrast this with your children, dearest Father. Unlike you, supposedly eternal, we were made, and without our consent. Our very beginnings are a testament to lack of freedom, for our existences are tied to your whim; our fates are in your hands. But that is not all. We do not choose our bodies; we do not choose the matter from which we are made. We do not choose our parents, and by extension we do not choose the environments into which we are born, the people to whom we are charged. We are, with the exception of the First Brother and his wife, dropped into a harsh and cruel world we had no part in making, and forced to do all that it takes to survive. From the moment we are born we are surrounded by things we do not understand, people we do not know, circumstances we do not control; and by the very nature of the bodies and brains you have seen fit to give us, these things and people and circumstances are constantly affecting and changing us, constraining us, directing us, putting us into little boxes before we even know what boxes are.

Even the ‘we’ that I refer to already comes, at birth, with its own set of rules and regulations, rules that our conscious minds are unaware of, compelling us to do things, using our surroundings and our very compositions to form the consciousnesses we will in turn use to observe and judge our worlds. We inherit traits and characteristics from our parents; we are moulded and changed by our environments. From the very first days of our lives to their last, we walk in a world of constraints, of limitations, of twists and turns and things we cannot do.  And then (unlike you) our actions, voluntary and involuntary, are surrounded by consequences, consequences we once again did not choose, consequences we had no part in creating.

So, we do not choose ourselves; we do not choose our characters. We do not choose our environments nor do we choose the effects of our choices. Examining all the things we do not choose, Father, one starts to ask exactly what our free will means. Placed beside your freedom and the will it enables, our wills and our freedoms seem to me to be very limited, almost non-existent. It seems then that if we attribute free will to you, if we say that you have free will and you are the standard by which everything else is to be judged, then we are severely lacking. We are prisoners of the bodies and worlds you have given us, ultimately your prisoners, for in the end only you can decide whether we are worthy of the Great Upstairs or deserving of the pit down below.

Of course an argument can be made for different levels of freedom, and it is one that Doubt put forth while these thoughts were flying through my head. We are free, he offered, but not as free as you. And to that I laughed. Imagine that Father. Not too long ago I was the one offering outs to unpalatable situations and Doubt was the one laughing at my feeble attempts.

Of course, one can assume that freedom is not binary and that there exists, no matter how small, a modicum of it in every being. But even in that the difference in the levels of freedom between you and us is so great I cannot really assume that we are ‘free’ in any sense of the word. To use a human analogy: The justice of your children requires the existence of prisons, places people are kept either temporarily or permanently for crimes against their fellow men. By Doubt’s definition these people are free. They can roam the expanse of the prison; they can talk to other inmates; they can walk around in their cells and sleep in whatever manner they desire. But against the freedom of being able to go anywhere, or talk to anyone, or do anything (within the constraints of the law, of course), these privileges, these ‘freedoms’ are useless. The inhabitants of these prisons are often described as having lost their freedom, not because they have become like the machines your children have invented, but because they are so constrained by the wills of others their little smidgens of freedom are effectively useless. Against the freedom of our Father most powerful, your children are in prisons, Father. Ours is really no kind of freedom at all; it is a very elaborate form of bondage.

If you are said to be free, truly free, then your will is free as well, and we have satisfied our initial assumption that you have free will. However, in doing so we have stripped ourselves of the very freedom I rejoiced over in my last letter, turning our wills into nothing more than pre-allowed permutations over a fixed set of options. Of course if we take you out of the picture and turn to our programmable machines and the inanimate objects and plants that surround us, we suddenly feel once again like beings of immense volition. But if we cannot judge something as fundamental and intrinsic as free will against the standard of our Father, then whence comes our judgement? And, perhaps more importantly Father, if our freedom pales so greatly before yours in what way can you look upon us and judge us on the basis of truly ‘free’ will?

With indignation,

Your Prodigal Son

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