I agree with The God Who Weeps that faith is a decision, but I disagree about the site of this decision.
In its first chapter, Weeps argues that most people must exercise faith because they are uncertain about what to believe. Only our uncertainty about God makes our faithful decision meaningful. Otherwise, “an overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads.” (111/2408)
But I doubt that this kind of doubt is ordinary. In this same chapter, Weeps describes the death of a friend who had a native faith that “did not seem a choice for her. It descended upon her as naturally and irresistibly as the heavy snow that fell on her upstate New York farm.” (98/2408) If this friend’s belief in God was natural and irresistible, is there room left for meaningful faith in her life? If not, why not?
Rather, I agree with Jacob Baker that in religion the most salient feature of belief is often its involuntary character. Beliefs are generally given as common sense conclusions drawn from a shared but unchosen background of practices, institutions, and assumptions. Depending on this infrastructure, God’s existence may or may not show up as a common sense conclusion. But, in either case, it is a conclusion that is unlikely to be freely chosen.
What then of faith?
When slipping from one existential framework to another, you may experience a dark night of the soul. But faith is necessary even (and perhaps especially) when you’re firmly settled. Faith is not generally a choice about what to believe but a choice about how we respond to the difficulties that press us in an unchosen world.
Faith is not the same thing as common sense. It may be that, for you, God’s reality is so natural and so consonant with common sense that you’ve never doubted it and don’t have to work at believing in it. God is just plain given as part of how things are. This is true for many people. Believing in God isn’t something they chose any more than they chose to believe that the sky is blue. They couldn’t unchoose it if they tried. But this isn’t enough. Though this native, common sense acceptance of God’s reality can be a blessing, it can also get in the way of practicing real faith. It can lull you into thinking the hard work of losing your soul is done when, in fact, you haven’t even started.
On the other hand, it may be true that, for you, the existence of God is so unlikely and runs so counter to common sense that even an earnest kind of wishful thinking is more than you can credibly muster. God is just not given to you as part of how things are. This is also true for many people. Not-believing just is and this is not the result of sin or the product of something they chose or could magically unchoose. Though this common sense godlessness can make things harder, it too can open a path to practicing faith. It may free you from common sense idolatries.
Neither kind of common sense is faith. Whether God is or isn’t obvious to you, the work is the same: practice faithfully attending to the difficult, disturbing, and resistant truths God sets knocking at your door. Faith is a willingness to lose your soul in caring for what’s right in front of you. Faith doesn’t wish these difficult things away. It invites them in, breaks bread with them, and washes their feet. Faith gives to what is given.
Common sense theist, common sense atheist, common sense (or anguished!) agnostic: the work is the same. Each must practice faith. Each must choose to care rather than wish or run.
Weeps claims that “the greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a thing is, and knowing that a thing is not.” (137/2408)
I’m hesitant to agree. It seems to me that the greatest act of revelation comes when we lose the self in faithfully caring for what God gave unchosen.
We may or may not know that a thing is. Faith is what we do either way.
Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012).