Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Delusions and Faith

Before he left for a few months away, we'd spend many mornings in conversation, my neighbor and I.  He struggles with reality, and with his own anger.

Some days, infrequently, he raged against me personally, for not helping, for only listening and doing noTHING!  This is not quite true, as the yardwork, helping him get plane tickets, and reviewing legal documents kinda sorta counts.  But he is angry, and he is alone, and rage rises so easily in such situations.

I don't let it drive me away.  That would be ceding to my own selfishness and weakness.

In one of those conversations, as one of my measured responses didn't affirm a particular delusion about the wide-ranging conspiracy against him, he took a tack he'd not taken before.  "How can you not believe me!  You believe in God!  You have faith in something that you cannot see!  I see my life!  I know all this is true!  It is true because I believe it to be so!  Why can you of all people not understand that!"

It was an interesting assertion, and not entirely inaccurate.

Faith is not delusion, of course.  But delusion can be faith.  The difference is easy enough to measure.  Faith is the radical orientation of the self towards something.  It is the thing that gives us existential ground and bearing.   When we have faith in something limited, it invariably expresses itself in the same way.  We become trapped by it, unable to see beyond it.

For mon ami, the bitterness of physical illness, isolation, and slights both real and imagined have become the whole focus of his being.  They consume and devour him, and can drive him from others.  I can see the faded remains of competence in him, and intelligence, and a wry continental humor.   But those aspects of himself that would connect with others are subverted and weakened by the delusions that demand the attention of his whole being.

That's the essential character of an idolatrous faith...which is, unquestionably, delusion.   Whether it's materialism, hedonism, racism, nationalism, or any of the other solipsistic -isms, it clouds the human mind.

But a God-focused faith has the diametrically opposite impact.  It does not trap or isolate.  It does not delimit or divide.   Even in inward contemplation, it is oriented beyond the existential boundaries of self.   It drives us to connect, and to see our inherent connection to others, and to grow richer in grace and deeper in understanding.