Monday, June 26, 2023

Preparing our Souls for Aging - Faith

Faith grows more and more important as we age.  This isn't just one of those things we Jesus folk put into our brochures, or that we cart out in debates to annoy our atheist friends.  It's an observable reality, a testable hypothesis, one that's been noted enough by disinterested observers as to have some theoretic reliability.

People of faith, particularly those whose beliefs posit a loving, just God?  They're consistently happier as they age, with better mental health, better mood and affect, and generally encounter the realities of aging with more resilience.  The why of this is fairly straightforward and easy to grasp.

Faith gives life purpose.  With purpose and meaning, you can have hope.  With hope, you can endure, and Lord have mercy, does aging give us things to endure.

This is all well and good, but it only takes us so far.  Unless we have a solid understanding of what faith is and is not, they're kinda meaningless.

Faith is not just believing certain things, not just assenting to one set of truth claims or another.  Faith is not a set of logical constructs, woven together to create a framework for understanding the world.  

Faith is the orientation of our whole selves, the fundamental commitment that defines us as a person.  Faith defines and directs every other action we undertake.  It is the core that binds us together, that unifies and integrates all of our other commitments.  It is the measure against which we make all claims about the good.  

There are other truths about faith, ones that rise from the modern era struggle against meaninglessness.  

If faith is the thing that defines us, the goal and orientation of our lives, then it is possible to have faith in the wrong thing.  We can choose something that will ultimately come apart in our hands like wet tissue paper, something that will crumble and shift beneath us.

We can have faith in a nation, in its flags and ceremonies, in proud songs and martial prowess and volksgeist.  But nations are the work of human hands, and only a people who have forgotten history imagine that they stand forever, or that they are always good.

We can have faith in a single charismatic leader, in their confidence, in their self-professed prowess and projections of strength.  We can choose believe everything they say, and set out their flags and banners out front of our home.  Again, with the forgetting of history.  Why are we so good at forgetting history?

We can have faith in an economic system, or in the structures and expectations and languages of an ideology or a movement.  We can have faith in our family and friends, because family is always healthy and friends never let us down.  We can put our faith entirely in ourselves, in our strength and the magic that is us.  Self-love is the mantra of this solipsistic age, the siren song of commodified narcissism.  All we need to do is manifest!  Manifest the reality we wish to inhabit!

Because you know that just always works.  

All of these things are shifting sand.  We ourselves are shifting sand.  And like the sands of the hourglass, that jes' don't serve us well when our time starts running out.  There's a word for what happens when we place all of our faith in something that we've created ourselves.  That word is "idolatry."

Faith needs to go deeper, past our constructs, past the frail mortal bounds of self, deep down to the ground of things.  It's existential and fundamental, something that rests on the depth of the real.  Faith that serves us in our endgame must have that deep root, because when we come into encounter with that last stage of life, we've gotten real.

Nations and economies and our social networks are all human creations.  They are convenient fictions, stories we are telling together.  They exist only because we say they exist, just as the power of a despot vanishes the moment everyone decides he's just another human being. 

Aging is utterly different.  Aging is not a social construct.  It's a biological reality, a truth that exists independent of our languages and norms and expectations.  It is as inexorable as gravity, as bright as the fires of the sun, as all consuming as the sea or the endless void of space.

Faith gives us a path, a way to find our footing, and for enduring what is to come.  If we're to escape the pall of existential dread and despair, faith...tested, proven, robust, and a mighty fortress.  So to speak.

What does that faith look like?