Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Little Hopeful Arm-Chair Theology

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." I think about this Proverb often as I watch my childhood friends, one by one, drift from the Faith. Is that axiom really true, or is this one of those "generally speaking" proverbs that happens "most of the time." Will my friends really come back; can I count on it? How old is old? How long do we have to wait to see results? What to do in the meantime?

Then again, the author doesn't say anything about turning away in youth and then coming back in old age. No, he just says, "Hey, at least she won't turn from the path when she's old." What about those that lose their way in youth? My gut says there's hope for them, too. But I don't think that gut feeling is founded on that proverb. Rather, I think it's founded on a kind of Platonic notion that a soul really cannot unlearn what he already knows. I'm almost certain that once God gets under one's skin, he's impossible to shake, but I don't know how to argue that theologically. So maybe this isn't arm-chair theology. Maybe it's philosophy. Or wishful thinking.

Can one really unlearn the truth? I mean sure, go to school, learn a completely different epistemology with no room for true religion, but you'll always be trying to prove your old knowledge in terms of the new, I'd like to tell 'em. As if that proves something. Still, I know that friends A, B, C, and D will come back around, someday. Maybe I only feel that way because sometimes I suspect I'm following them down that road, but at a more cautious, reasonable speed. I had this conversation with a buddy on Thanksgiving, and we parted with hope, but never nailed down exactly why we hoped.

A few days later, I came across something Flannery O'Connor once said: "Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not." I think maybe she's saying the same as the author of that proverb, but she says it in a way that puts the question outside of the worrisome dimension of time. I'm pretty sure she's right. I hope she is.