Recently, in a discussion on reddit, a group of us were asked “Do you believe in the Resurrection?” Frustrated by how an answer given did not fit into the desired framework(s), it was insisted that “Your beliefs have a theological foundation. We want to see that foundation.” Unhappy with a theological/theopoetic answer, some insisted that we find ways to fit into their boxes. They wanted the foundation, the ultimate truth on which all of our theologies were built.
The only response I could give was “The foundation is no foundation.”
“An empty shell!” The charge rang out. “If there is no foundation, the belief system is an empty shell.”
I know I sounded like I was spouting some sort of koan, and I know that many reading that discussion felt as though I was, along with others, dodging the questions. There was no dodging, and if an empty shell I inhabit, then so be it. But what some see as emptiness, I experience as space made for relationship.
The foundation is no foundation.
For a belief system to be solid, they say, it must have a solid foundation, a reality on which all else is predicated. We have to be practical, they say, and practicality dictates that to build anything that will last, one must build on solid ground. The wise build their houses on solid rock!
But no rock is solid. Looking within, even the most solid of rock is made up of smaller pieces, and those of bits smaller still, between which are vast swaths of nothingness. Emptiness, one might say, like the shell named earlier. Looking downward, the rock sits upon something else, which sits upon something else, which sits upon the flowing, molten core of the planet, which spins and turns in space. More emptiness.
A foundation cannot be an ultimate starting point upon which everything else is built, because what’s called a foundation is always atop something else. There is no ultimate base. Anything named as “the foundation” must have a foundation of its own. It’s simply turtles all the way down. The foundation is no foundation at all. It may be a link or an interface, but any solid rock is ultimately sand and empty space.
Instead of a foundation, my “belief system” has a series of relationships. I do not base my faith on the resurrection, nor on the Exodus, nor on church tradition, nor on any of the solas. Instead I relate to each of them, and they to each other. In this way I relate to the Trinity. As with any relationship, it is ever changing. The faith of no foundation is not a once and for all declaring, but a living, with all its uncertainty. It is a trust in relationship, be it the relationship between beliefs, doctrines, history, experience, tradition, etc. or the relationship between people. No one is greater than the other. They hold each other together, constantly looking to one another for strength.
To flip a hymn on its head:
On Christ’s wind-blown dunes I stand,
All that looks like rock is surely sand.
The foundation is no foundation. It’s something much stronger than that.