Our culture often treats faith as synonymous with delusion. At Christmas time we see the word, “believe,” written in whimsical font and we’re not really sure whether it’s referring to Santa or Jesus or whatever-makes-you-happy.
This can make people with honest religious faith feel insecure about that faith. When so many beliefs really are delusions its easy to call into question even the most reasonable, thoughtful beliefs. It’s easy to think that if you can’t feel and see it— if it’s not totally physically tangible— then it’s not real and not worth believing in. I have religious faith I consider to be honest and reasonable and yet, because I can’t fully grasp that faith and because I don’t always feel its truth, I often worry that it’s all wishful thinking— that I’ll get to the end and realize it was all just a fantasy.
But then I think of the seven pound baby in my belly. He sleeps and eats and he can hear and see and feel. He has a heartbeat. I can hear that heartbeat with a simple contraption. I can see him on an ultrasound screen. I can feel him kick and roll and play. But I don’t feel like he’s the same sort of thing as the toddler sitting next to me. I don’t even feel like he’s the same sort of thing as the babies his very same age or younger lying in hospital bassinets this very moment. I don’t feel fully like there’s a real baby with me right now.
Some mothers may. Some mothers may feel a complete and total connection with their unborn babies. I feel a connection, certainly. I don’t mean to convey that I feel like there’s nothing there. But I absolutely don’t feel like what’s there is what is actually there. Sometimes, it almost feels like pretend— like I know he’s “coming” at the end of March— but it’s like this abstract wishful-thinking sense of coming, when the reality is that he’s already here. Indeed, you can’t get much more scientifically proven than this baby in my belly, already here, and yet it takes enormous, proactive faith to actually act and think as such. As crazy as it sounds, it takes enormous, proactive faith to believe in my baby.
And so, certainly, there are people in the world, religious and nonreligious, who persist in all sorts of delusions. They pretend things are true when they’re clearly not so as to make life easier. But there are also all sorts of people in the world, religious and nonreligious, who persist in faith, quite reasonably (like me with my unborn baby)— they’re not fighting the truth; they’re fighting for the truth when senses and the world blur our perceptions of it.
I’ll always remember the very first emotion I felt when my first baby was born— complete and utter shock at his reality. Before I saw him, I heard his cry and it’s as if I didn’t really expect to hear it at all. All my senses were stunned into, that’s actually my baby? This wasn’t pretend? This wasn’t delusion? This wasn’t a game? That’s a real baby and he’s mine? And then I thought, I can’t believe I didn’t really believe that until now. And I wonder if that’s how we with religious faith will feel at the end of time. Not, I can’t believe how much I believed in that fairy tale, but rather, I can’t believe how little I believed.