The Ocean of Uncertainty
For those still interested, we’ll get back to the ongoing conversation between Mike Todd and myself shortly. Mike’s off at a speaking engagement in Toronto but has indicated that he plans to respond to my most recent post at some point. This is a conversation we both feel is worth continuing.
In the meantime, I thought I would share a passage from Joseph Ratzinger that I came across recently (from Introduction to Christianity). Here’s what he has to say about the nature of faith and doubt at this historical/cultural moment:
The believer can only perfect his faith on the ocean of nihilism, temptation and doubt; he has been assigned the ocean of uncertainty as the only possible site for his faith….
Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief, about the real totality the world which he has made up his mind to explain as a self-contained whole. He can never be absolutely certain of the autonomy of what he has seen and interpreted as a whole; he remains threatened by the question of whether the belief is not after all the reality which it claims to be.
Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation, and so a threat to his apparently permanently closed world.
Many of us, I suspect, resonate with what Ratzinger says here. My own faith has always been worked out in the “ocean of uncertainty” he refers to in the quote. Among the questions this quote triggers for me are: How unique is the challenge of faith in our context (either for believers or for unbelievers)? Is our “assignment” of figuring out what faith looks like in a sea of skepticism a recent phenomenon, or simply an inherent part of faith? Is all this just a different way of describing the postmodern situation? If the “ocean of uncertainty” is the “only possible site” of our faith today, how (if at all) does this change how faith is communicated or understood?
I’ve recently been re-reading the story of my great-grandparents’ journey from the Ukraine to Canada and all of the struggles and hardships they endured along the way. One thing that stands out to me as I read their story is the unshakable conviction they have in what they believe. The “ocean of uncertainty” referred to by Ratzinger is nowhere to be seen or, at the very least, is not articulated. Was it easier to believe then than now? Or does suffering force a kind of crystallizing of what matters and what one believes is really true about the world?
Just a few of the things leaping across the synapses of my brain on a Tuesday morning…