Friday, January 4, 2013

Faith in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"

On the whole, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is just another formulaic, romantic film. It isn’t really a romantic comedy because it is too slow and almost depressing to qualify. It is not totally unentertaining, but just has a pervasive sadness throughout. Maybe that is in part due to the fact that, in addition to the thrill of a developing relationship, we also get the demise of two others. That and the characters here are more reserved than one is used to in such stories.

What is interesting about “Salmon Fishing” is a through-line in the story regarding faith. The sheikh that is trying to convince Dr. Jones to introduce salmon to the Middle East points out that Jones is a man of faith in spite of his atheism:

“You're not a religious man?”
“No. No, I'm not.”
“But you're a fisherman, Dr. Jones.”
“I'm sorry, I don't follow.”
“How many hours do you fish before you catch something? Dozens?”
“Gosh, hundreds sometimes.”
“Is that a good use of your time for a facts-and-figures man? But you persist in the wind and the rain and the cold with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you're a man of faith, Dr. Alfred.”

At first glance, that might be something pleasing to a “religious person.” Christians—followers of Jesus—often refer to themselves as “people of faith.” But that is not saying much other than we are a part of the human race.

Whatever you believe—whether you are a materialist, atheist or a devout spiritual, believer in a personal god—you have to admit that the human race needs faith. Be it by design or chance, we need to believe in something the way we need to eat. Whether or not you believe in something real that impacts your life, or whether the faith you have is the power itself; that is what is in discussion these days.

If you need catching up, here is how the discussion has progressed thus far:

When Western culture emerged from a highly superstitious, magical form of faith during the renaissance, a world view defined by a belief in a rational, creator God made scientific reasoning and a pursuit of truth possible. The idea was that a designer God would have made the universe rationally, and it could—to a degree—be understood as observable and predictable in its function.

Somewhere along the way, people who rejected the world view of a higher power that man had to answer to, applied the scientific method to things outside the observable world, like God, and declared anything non-material false. Modernity became the pursuit of categorizing and understanding everything. Anything that could not be catalogued or observed was declared unreal.

Eventually, modernity was understood to be overreaching. It failed because human reason was limited. People understood intuitively that there had to be more. They could not reject their need to believe in something more than what could be measured. The faith of modernity was flawed. However, rather than return to a faith in a God who existed outside of our understanding and whom we would be responsible to, postmodernity declared faith itself the key. It doesn’t matter what you believe, just believe. Anything.

In “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” faith is very postmodern. It does not matter what anyone believes. We are left without an answer to a fundamental question. Did the fish survive because they could, and Dr. Jones got lucky believing what he did, or did his faith make it happen? The former is almost surely the case. However, this story is like many others where the faith itself is the power that causes the reality to occur.

This is a naïve stance on faith, but it is the dominate one in our culture today. The mantra is something like: “Believe whatever you want. The important thing is that it works for you.” Only problem. What if it doesn’t? Does that mean your faith was weak? Or did you believe something that just wasn’t real?

Biblical faith is not a power. It does not make things happen. The truth the Bible presents must either be accepted as real or not, and faith means living one’s life in a trust of that truth. If what the Bible says is true, then our faith is justified. If not, then no amount of belief will change things.

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