It is clear that people draw strength from their faith, but where does that strength come from? Consider the case of a woman who bought a pair of Oprah Winfrey's shoes, even though the shoes didn't fit her. When she felt depressed and needed confidence, she stood in Oprah's shoes. She became confident enough to tell her story on national television, without the help of Oprah's shoes. Oprah as a role model was the final cause of her increased confidence. Given that there was no sole-to-soul magic that Oprah cast through her shoes to the woman, how did the final cause work?
Mathematician Claude Shannon tells us that information is a relation between sender and receiver. The shoes didn't vary, but her interpre¬tation of the meaning of the shoes did. The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer tells us that because of the hermeneutic circle, you can't step into the same shoes twice; every time this woman revisited the shoes, she had experienced new things since the last time, and was bringing a new perspective and a new interpretation of her life to the shoes. Her varying interpretation of the shoes created the variation in the sender. The channel wasn't the shoes, but her thoughts. The variation in her confidence was the variation in the receiver. The relationship between sender and receiver created information, a decrease in system variability (her chaotic feelings), and an increase in her confidence. Although it seems that she got something from nothing, that she pulled herself up by her bootstraps, it was actually the hard work of her own thinking that accomplished the feat, as it were.
This is how believers get a boost from faith. God is defined as perfect. As such, God cannot change or vary, because any change would imply less perfection either before or after the change; therefore God cannot be a source of information, and yet many people draw strength from their belief in God. This strength comes from the dynamic of the evolving interpretation of the relationship between the believer and God.
Gadamer, H. 2004. Truth and Method. Translation revised by J. Weinsheimer and D. Marshall. New York: Continuum.
Shannon, C. 1948. "A Mathematical Theory of Communica¬tion." Bell System Technical Journal, 27: 379-43, 623-56.
Winfrey, O. 2004. "Oprah Winfrey: Heart of the Matter." Biography. Arts & Entertainment Television Network.
Excerpted from Lasting Contribution: How to Think, Plan, and Act to Accomplish Meaningful Work by Tad Waddington. To find out more, go to http://www.lastingcontribution.com.