“Faith is not so much a binary pole as a quantum state, which tends to indeterminacy when closely examined.”
There is a physics postulate called “Schrodinger’s Cat” which is intended for matters of quantum mechanics. It goes something like this: a cat in a box can’t be observed without first opening the box, thus changing the conditions for the cat inside the box. In other words, an experiment as such is affected by the experimenter.
Updike’s perspective on faith sort of reminds me of Schrodinger’s perspective on felines (or physics rather). Faith isn’t directly quantifiable. As you begin to measure it, it changes like sifting sand through the fingers.
There is a common argument that faith (that is, religious faith) is at odds with reason (that is, objective rationalism). I don’t disagree with that statement, in and of itself. But I think it stems from the wrong question. Faith implies an element of blindness, of reckless abandon from reason. But that is a definition of faith against the measure of reason. Instead, the better question to be asked of faith is in light of its own nature, i.e., faith is an experiential state of being requiring experiential metrics to quantify it. It isn’t really fair to use reason in defining faith, any more than it is reasonable to define the scientific method in terms of piety. Apples and oranges, aren’t they?
As an illustration, consider love. In Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, the question of proof’s burden is posed to the main character. She, the godless astronomer, is asked by a religious believer to prove that she loved her dead father. From his frame of reference, there is no direct proof that her love existed. But that was (intentionally) the wrong question. He was trying to convince her of the simultaneous validity of faith and reason. One doesn’t have to negate the other.
And yet despite their coexistence, the two tend to be at constant odds in practice. But that is always the practitioners’ fault. So many faithful observers don’t think through their rash decisions and charge to hate, abuse, and war. Meanwhile, the agnostic intellectuals see a life devoid of higher meaning and neglect the beauty beneath their microscopes.
As with so many things, there must be a happy medium.