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Losing certainty, keeping faith

  • 14 April 2022
As a kid, all I wanted was answers. As soon as I’d get one, I’d chase the next. Nowadays, I’m happy with holding onto questions. Rephrasing, examining, thinking. The answers I have don’t always add up, and my mania for meaning, for definitive proof, is abating.

Our most precious gift, time, is also the one that slips through our fingers. As years pass, we hope to gain distance from earlier, formative life crises. We also hope to extract some scintilla of something approaching wisdom.

Belief dances with culture through the eons, waxing, waning and evolving. I am increasingly aware that all of us, regardless of creed, creditworthiness, consciousness or credentials, lack definitive answers to life’s mysteries. As poor old Voltaire once noted, ‘Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one’.

We’ve faced innumerable questions in pursuit of meaning since the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Reformation all the way up to and through post-modernism. Can faith function alongside doubt? Can we avoid the hypocrisy that slithers in when worldviews aren’t examined critically, or when the actions buttressed by those worldviews fall short of the inherent ideals espoused?

Can we maintain a connection with a profession and pursuit of faith, when faiths of varying ilky shades demand call for special status and exemptions, or encourage anti-intellectualism?

In short, can we ‘belong’ without drinking whichever Kool-Aid is placed before us? Is acceptance worth the price of admission; a ceding of intellectual sovereignty and an acquiescing to the never-to-be slaughtered sacred cows? Can we comfortable with mystery while pursuing clarity and truth?

'Doubtless some of the current beliefs, self-evident truths and values we espouse today will be seen as risible in 100 years.'

Around our dining table, beliefs and questions get free reign. The rejection of literalism and the exploration of praxis — where the ideal meets the real — is where it gets juicy. Two adults and two teenagers discuss the coming federal election and its denouement; we talk about the fragile safety net, health care and policy showdowns; the demonising of groups, the denial of equality, and the wronging of rights.

This may seem heavy stuff to talk through over the Sunday roast, but windmilling away at justice, rabble-rousing and pontificating are in the DNA. What my wife and I have realised from these talks is that acknowledging context and perspective is crucial. We only pretend if we claim to have the answers. Stealing from Lord Alfred Tennyson, I