The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blogging Lux Mundi: Henry Scott Holland on Faith

Henry Scott Holland's contribution to Lux Mundi, his essay entitled simply "Faith," is extraordinarily fresh for a piece of writing that dates to the Victorian Age. His concern with responding to Darwinian theory dates the essay only slightly, as his response of incorporating each new scientific datum into the worldview of the Christian is as applicable now as it was then. Indeed, it's perhaps especially timely as Holland's prediction--that the scientific models of his age would eventually wear thin, and faith would again confront the problem of increasing scientific knowledge upsetting the world-view that has domesticated and, if you will, digested, the scientific consensus, may be said to be coming true today--quantum theory, exploration into space and even into the human mind's own mechanics--all these threaten the world view of those who view each scientific discovery as shrinking the sphere of faith. Holland takes a different course.

For him, faith is not about knowledge, or even reason, although these are tools through which it works--it is that sense of "sonship" to the Divine, the relationship between ourselves and God, which creates in each of us a sense of our belonging to the world and its belonging to us. It is, to put words in Holland's mouth, an expansion of Descartes's solution to the solipsism of only being able to know that one exists as a thinking being--Holland points out that faith enables us to be in a world whose rough parameters we can know, and rely on, even though our knowledge of its mechanics and workings are so imperfect. And then Holland gets really interesting.

Holland points out that faith is beyond reason in the way all love, or chivalry, is--it involves a response (an act) in relationship to an other, God. And, like all relationships, it involves highs and lows, and growing (or declining) intimacy. So God threatens, warns, and then--pardons, seemingly in the teeth of his warnings. (Here is where I get my claim below that Holland implies that God's warnings cannot be viewed in isolation, and that God yearns for reconciliation, not for justice). Holland points to the continuing development of the relationship as a people through the millenia as a growing understanding away from our own culturally conditioned response, an evolution from the "imprecatory psalms" to the mercy and love of Christ. Each person, likewise, can grow in relationship through experience of God. Faith, in short, is a love story.

While it's not a comprehensive catalogue of belief, Holland points out, faith does come with the growing knowledge of the beloved--and that's how he grounds the creedal understanding of who God is, what we can grasp of Him even though we see "through a glass, darkly." To know, and to reason, are necessary--blind faith becomes superstition. But to experience faith, as love and in loving relationship, is paramount.

Holland's views can speak to us even now, and remind us of the place of doctrine, and that of knowledge, and even that of reason--important, each and every one, but in the end subordinate to experience, to living the relationship in, ideally, ever growing intimacy, as sons and daughters.

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