Recently, I’ve been thinking about and developing an idea of axiological faith. This idea has been born mostly out of anxieties about graduate school and anxieties about whether certain desired conditions will obtain for a close friend of mine. Also responsible for the birth of this idea, are 3 movies (inception, 50/50, and LOTR) and 1 book (The Ethics of Ambiguity). Finally, there’s several passages of scripture (Mark 9:24 and Daniel 3:18) that touch on this idea.
In a previous post, I talked about an axiological response to life’s ambiguity, and I concluded with wondering whether this axiological response was related to a certain kind of faith one might have. I now think that it does. I probably need to think (and say) more about why I think this axiological response to life’s ambiguity is related to – and perhaps identical with – a certain kind of faith, but that will be for another post.
Assuming that there is such a relationship, it occurred to me the other day that there might be a limit to the sort of axiological faith that I’m thinking of. This, of course, made me wonder whether the idea is worth its salt at all if it couldn’t stand up in the particular case of which I was thinking.
Here’s the case: Suppose I know that I have cancer and I know that I’m going to die. Well, in this case, there’s not exactly an ambiguity about future outcome. So, having an “axiological response to ambiguity” doesn’t really fit here. I would know, in this hypothetical case, that the potential of actualizing all of the wonderful possibilities of a full, well-lived life would not be available to me. So, there’s not really room for saying “even if it doesn’t work out, it was wort the try” because I know it isn’t “worth a try because its not going to work out.” (This “even if it doesn’t work out phrase, by the way, reminds me of the phrase “even if He does not, we will not worship your idols” in that baller story in the book of Daniel.)
But here’s where we can expand this axiological response to life’s ambiguity into something more robust. If we expand it, we can actually get past these apparent limitations. And now that I think about it, if we expand this axiological response, we end with something that looks a lot closer to a notion of faith.
Let’s return to the cancer case. In that case, my valuing of a particular set of opportunities must shift if I am to continue to live a good life. I can no longer be attached to certain desired future experiences like having children and reading them the Chronicles of Narnia or having the sense of deep companionship that is born out of a healthy marriage. I can’t even be attached to playing a particular role in the process of ushering in the kingdom of heaven like being that guy who writes things that are profound and engaging and move people to think and act differently.
Instead, I have to be attached to the Potential Good Itself. I’m not trying to make any sort of crazy metaphysical claim here. I’m not claiming with Plato that there is a form of Goodness out there somewhere. All I am saying is this: for any situation in which we find ourselves, there is some potential good that we can seek to actualize.
Now, I say that I have to be attached to the Potential Good Itself because if I am attached to any potential good and not a particular vision of goods that I desire, then in any circumstance, I have a reason to continue on. (There’s a very interesting connection here between “having a reason to continue on,” a “meaningful life,” and the sort of ethical imperative to be attached to the Good. I’ll have to work that out some other time.)
So, in the cancer case, I have to be attached to the potential good that I can bring about as constrained by the limits of my situation. Can I show kindness and love to those who care for me as I die? Can I comfort those who mourn my death? Can I exude a peace about my situation that inspires others in their lives and in their ability to face their death with peace? Can I be a reminder that this life is short and speak a sense of urgency in to the lives of those that I will leave behind? Yes. As long as I am conscious, I can do these things.
As long as I have breath within me, I can be attached to God, who is the author of- or perhaps is even (ontologically) identical with – all Good, potential and actual, and to the ushering in of God’s Divine Kingdom. And as long as I can be attached to the Divine, I think I can have faith.
(All of this leads me to a similar place where Jesus has been, a place where I can say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” Interestingly, though, I have arrived at this place via a radically different route.)
Assuming this isn’t all nonsense, I’ve really been given a wonderful Gift here! Assuming, this I’ve actually grasped something here, I’ve been given the wisdom to be attached to the Divine in all circumstances, and being attached to the Divine, of course, means that I can live a wonderfully joyful life delighting in the Divine no matter what the circumstances!
(Afterthoughts: There is definitely a worry that cutting off particular opportunities to actualize the good might leave us in a position where our anticipated opportunities can bring about considerable less good than our original opportunities. This, in turn, might make us feel like we’ve really lost something even though we can still hang on the Divine with what we’ve got “left over.” What’s interesting is that we often don’t actually know for certain that our current diminished opportunities will be less effective at actualizing Goodness, and as long as we don’t know this for certain, we can actually respond to this ambiguity axiologically, i.e., we can say “Its worth a try to bring about as much Good as I think I could have if I had more favorable circumstances.)