1.A man stands in Waterloo Town Square on a small milk crate, elevating himself above the crowd. From across the road you cannot make out exactly what he is yelling, just occasionally the hoarse chorus of "Jesus saved me! He saved me!" A meek looking street evangelist with a slim frame and grey beard stands beside him, quietly handing out pamphlets of his own faith inspired poetry. It's October 2nd and the weather is warm and agreeable. Buses pass, the sound of the man's testimonials is drowned into a distant incoherent bark. All I can hear is the rawness of his throat. After today's performance he will be saying Jesus in the same dry, hushed tones I say it after a night at the bar.
I ask S. if she thinks he believes it.
"What he's saying. The Jesus business."
"Obviously he believes it. I don't think you would do that unless you believed it."
"I'm not so certain. I think that its doubt, not belief, that drives him to act in such an extreme way. It's that he believes he knows what the truth should be, yet he is still distant from it as a manifest reality, which is what pushes him onto the pulpit."
"I think unconsciously you are right. But I think consciously he believes in what he is preaching."
"You might be right."
"Now you're being a fucking hypocrite. Why are you contradicting yourself?"
"Well, I'm not sure that I believe that he does. Dude's a born again. He's probably made a radical life change and thinks he knows the way things are, but part of him - the conscious part - doubts. He doesn't think that if he's a real Christian he should possess doubt, so he drives himself to extreme acts to prove - not to God, and not to others - to himself that he believes."
"I still think you are attributing too much to his conscious processing. Right now he looks like he believes his own shit."
"Maybe its somewhere in between our arguments. In the act of daily life, and the bullshit that entails, he doubts. In the act of being an obnoxious shitbag, he believes."
S.'s bus came and she got on. I crossed the road and took a long route along Waterloo Town Square so I could avoid coming into close proximity with the preacher.
I remember watching a discussion with Slavoj Zizek on YouTube. He was discussing his recent work "God In Pain: Inversions of the Apocalypse" with Jack Miles, author of "God: A Biography."
At about 1:10:32 a woman in the audience asks an excellent question concerning faith. She asks: "Is it that we never actually really arrive at a belief? Is it that we are always in the process of naming what we believe but that is inauthentic?" Zizek responds with a quote from Kierkegaard: "We never really believe. We just believe to believe." He spins off an anecdote about IDF psychologists trying to understand the psychology of a so-called terrorist before blowing himself up. What they have come to understand is not that he believes in the rewards of his sacrifice, but that he is trying to "crush his doubt." In the extreme act the fundamentalist tries to believe what he cannot fully bring himself to believe.
In the study of religion it is helpful to understand different religions by the terms "orthodoxic" and "orthopraxic." These terms mean, literally "correct belief" and "correct practice." In North America and Europe given the prevalence of Christianity religion is almost wholly thought of as an orthodoxic affair. For hundreds of boring reasons - Descarte, blah blah blah mind/body split blah blah blah - what one believes typically takes precedent over what one does. There is a notion that beneath the temporal world of forms and actions the inner world presided over by the innermost soul is more important. In the Christian worldview the belief in question is typically what role Jesus has in the grand scheme of divinity, and is basically a question associated with the Nicene Creed. Even removed from the Christian historical context defining people by what they believe is still a major European and American past-time.
Other ways of defining one's religious identity are interesting to me. Other groups, such as many Jews, define themselves in terms of practice, other than belief. That is to say, to be a Jew is to live like a Jew, to participate in the Jewish community, to do the rituals when you are to do the rituals, regardless of having a coherence of belief. Within Judaism is a pluralism of voices concerning meaning and beliefs. As one saying puts it something like: "Two Jews: five Torahs."
Dogen was a dude that sat down a lot. He believed that the practice of being a buddha produced buddhas. In the conscious pursuit of believing in buddhas, a great deal of delusion is encountered. In sitting and practicing the way of an enlightened being, you are an enlightened being, even if you aren't aware of it. In fact, according to Dogen's way of thought, being aware of being a buddha was just delusion and was proof that you weren't a buddha.
The way here is practice. Of course, practice refers to the practice of certain rituals. Ritual is what basically allows for the divine to enter where it is otherwise not permitted. The ritual performance of salat in Islam lets Allah enter the same mind that even moments before might have been contemplating the hypnotic undulations of fat booties. The thing is here is that the practice of ritual changes the person practicing ritual, and for those moments, however long or short, brings about a reality where the divine is alive and meaningful.
Here I see the conflict of religious life. Whatever portion of divinity one has access to is so easy to grasp, but so hard to hold. The paradox of faith makes discussing it in terms of belief or disbelief almost totally pointless. This, I think, is what really tortures our buddy on the milk crate.