Authority II

“Oh, if Shakespeare says it, that’s all right.”  L. Frank Baum, The Master Key

“Do you believe in the Bible?” David asked me again.

Dread is like swallowing a large ball of dough. Not unbearable, but heavy, dense, and sickening as it slides down your throat and at last drops in the pit of your stomach. David’s question induced acute feelings of dread—firstly, because I was hypersensitive to the significance of it—an ‘incorrect’ answer could have a lasting impact on our relationship—and secondly, because I didn’t know.

C.S. Lewis, a smattering of experience, and dozens of philosophical debates have led me to conclude that personal philosophies, whether based on upbringing, religion, science, personal experience, or—most likely—all of the above (and then some), are not built on knowledge, but belief. Most of us can’t know the world was created, that creatures evolved, that God exists, or that mankind requires redemption. We can only know we are convinced by the available authorities on the subjects.

Until about age ten my core beliefs consisted of assumption—namely, the assumption that everything I learned at home, church, and school was right. If I had a question about the world I was confident that I could ask my parents or teachers and they would provide the correct and indisputable answer. I, like most children, placed my faith in the people that loved me.

Then, in third grade, I met a curious specimen of a girl. Her name was Grace and she went to church on Sunday. I was suddenly presented with the possibility that questions did not always have neat answers, because Grace was as sure that Sabbath was on Sunday, as I was that Sabbath was on Saturday. I’d heard of these ‘Sunday-worshipers’ before, but I’d never met one before Grace (technically I still haven’t, as the phrase literally implies worship of a day, or perhaps our solar entity). She was stubborn and convicted of her peculiar beliefs, even in the face of our classroom teacher, Mr. S. I think a piece of me admired her, even though I thought her wrong about Sunday and what happens after people die.

Grace eventually left our denominational school, which was either too exclusive or too fixated on weekends to truly welcome her. Her departure was one of the first experiences that showed me the value of pluralism. To my third-grade mind, Grace may not have been right, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t be nice to her. Surely ‘nice’ meant nice enough to not push her on the Sunday thing, since—if her parents were anything like mine—they were responsible for her church attendance. Grace also introduced me to the world of grey, because I now wondered why some people worshiped on Sunday, thinking the issue may not be as clear as my parents and teachers seemed to believe.

Third grade was about twelve years ago and I have no idea what happened to Grace, but she (and many significant experiences since) has had an indelible impact on my belief system, so that when David asked me if I believed in the Bible I thought, do I? I realized what David wanted to know; he was asking if I accepted the Bible as a reliable spiritual and moral guide, molded by divine power through man. He wanted to know if I had faith in the authority of the Bible to give me the correct and indisputable answers, and the truth was, I didn’t. I don’t.

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