Culture and Society

Faith

Nothing about me would lead anyone to believe that I am a man of faith.

I am, at my very core, a believer in Bayesian logic. In my natural state, the world is mostly numbers to me. Events are data points. Future events are probabilities. Solutions to problems require a relentless application of the statement, “what you need to believe in order for that to be true is…” 

I work with and have a firm grasp on machine learning and the building blocks of artificial intelligence. I understand that the activities of the particles in my brain that make up my consciousness could be considered substrate-independent—a fancy term that simply means they could be duplicated by other materials than the organic ones that makes up the wet organ in my skull.

It’s only a matter of time before we duplicate human consciousness in a machine.

The fact that I don’t believe that makes us gods is at least part of the point of this essay.

I’m aware of the age of the universe. That tally is up to 13.8 billion years or so. It was 13.7 when I was in college. The irony that existence aged 100 million years while I only aged 20 is a minor delight to me.

At this rate, I’ll live forever.

I know dinosaurs are real. I could name almost every one of them by the time I was eight. So could my son. I also think that the fact that they were here for 200 million years and never developed more intelligence than a cat before they died off is interesting. That we humans went from nothing to splitting the atom in 2 percent of that time is also interesting.

It’s not proof of God though.

No matter how improbable the odds that something can happen is, a near infinite universe makes it not only possible but near certain. We just happen to be at the end of that very long equation. The complexity of our being is proof of little; except that we live in a very big and very old space.

Yet, here I am, a devout Christian, reflecting on the source of my faith on the holiest day of our year.

I’m not naive. I understand that the scarcity of contemporary historical sources is really only enough to say that the man Jesus likely existed. And that the Gospels were written long after his death. And that our book of scripture was put together by a bureaucratic process centuries after anyone who ever saw Jesus had died.

I know that some of the greatest acts of evil this planet has ever seen have been committed in the name of my God. And that most churches, even today, suffer some form of bigoted exclusionary practices. And that the church is used to enforce predatory power structures and class systems and political nonage all around the globe.

Churches are made by people. Sins and all.

Yet, here I am.

My journey to faith won’t fit in a thousand-word blog. It involves war and death and autism and alcoholism and terminal illness and a commencement speech by a man who wrote a book about Abraham Lincoln in a cemetery with a ghost that had a giant erection. (seriously)

My journey to faith is about the lesser defined science of the mess that is a human life.

I believe for my own reasons. I’m happy to share them beyond the pages of this blog. But my “why” is mine. You can’t use it.

A better question than why, perhaps, is why does it matter?

If I live the life that my faith teaches me, one of love and charity and inclusion, in the words of the Savior himself, why does it matter? If I insist to never close my door on my fellow man, no matter who they are, no matter what harm or danger they bring me, what importance is my motivation?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Luke 13:34-35

If you know me as a Christian by how I love my fellow man, does anything else really matter? Do the sins of millennia of disobedience by others in His name matter more?

I don’t know.

If Luke 13 can’t convince you, then perhaps a less liturgical source might help. In 1941, Isaac Asimov wrote the short story Reason that was eventually collected in I-Robot nine years later.

The gist of the story is that QT-1, Cutie, as he’s called, is the first robot ever created with the ability to reason. Previous robots had been constructed to conduct menial tasks in extra-terrestrial mining outposts or space stations. But Cutie was to be the first to be trusted with replacing a human to run a whole station.

Within a few days of testing, Cutie assesses that the station itself, by virtue of being the focus of all activities and the provider of all resources, is in fact a god. The robot makes quick work of naming himself a prophet, subjugating the other menial robots into ritualistic worship and confining the humans to their quarters.

Cutie refuses to believe any evidence provided to him by the protesting humans of earth or other planets or any existence outside of the station. He then sends the humans to what he believes is a necessary end to their existence in the form of a shuttle back to the earth he doesn’t believe exists.

All the while, Cutie reads the operating manual of the station as if it were scripture. He does everything perfectly and insists with the spirit of a maniacal zealot that everything be done exactly according to the manual.

The space station never runs better. And the humans are left with a dilemma.

We can’t let him continue this nitwit stuff about the Master.”

“Why not?”

“Because whoever heard of such a damned thing? How are we going to trust him with the station, if he doesn’t believe in Earth?”

“Can he handle the station?”

“Yes, but–”

“Then what’s the difference what he believes!”

It’s entirely possible that I’m the obtuse robot.

And it’s entirely possible that you’re all the sentient humans marveling at my nonsense. But if I follow the operating manual, the one that says that above all else, I must love my fellow man, what does it matter?

Can you trust me with the station?

Here’s to trying like hell to find out…

 

5 replies »

  1. Luke 13:34-35: “… love one another”. To me, this sums up the ministry of Jesus. As humans, I think we buy into this conceptually but in practice, we prayerfully seek exclusionary clauses.

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  2. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Faith is antithetical to proof — if ‘proven’ it would become fact. And that would be no fun at all.

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