6/23/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~
FAITH: b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust . (from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary)
Religious faith is arguably the most powerful force available to man. With it, according to scripture, he can achieve anything, even the impossible. Faith enabled the 9/11 terrorists to believe there were several dozen virgins waiting for them in heaven. Faith enabled the Heaven’s Gate followers to believe they were highly evolved spiritually and that a space ship trailing Hale-Bopp comet was coming to spirit them away to a trans-human state. Faith enabled the Aztecs, Mayans and many other cultures to believe their human sacrifices would sustain the universe, guarantee good harvests, and/or allow them to prevail over their enemies. Faith enabled Harold Camping’s followers to believe that May 21, 2011 would be judgment day.
Jesus spoke repeatedly of the power of faith. “… blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) And, "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:23-24)
No, scientific experiments have not been able to confirm the truth of these statements, but isn’t it an even greater accomplishment of faith that hundreds of millions of people believe they are true anyway? Doesn’t that conclusively demonstrate the enormous power of faith, that millions can still believe something despite the failure of experiment and a complete lack of evidence?
And, when that mountain doesn’t budge, the faithful will see in that the proof they seek that the Lord works in mysterious ways; if god created human intelligence but doesn’t want us to use it to confirm his existence, isn’t that mysterious?
In fact, as some theologians have testified, Christianity absolutely demands faith because the evidence to prove its foundational premises does not exist. As Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Orthodox Church has written, “‘Unless I see I will not believe.” This is how people who demand from us logical, tangible proof of the Christian faith often answer us, the faithful. But there are not and cannot be such proof, for the Christian faith is beyond the grasp of rational thought . . . Nothing in the Christian faith, be it the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ or other truths, can be proven logically: one can only accept them or reject them on the basis of faith.” Voltaire said much the same thing nearly 300 years ago: “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”
St. Augustine wrote: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” Clearly, Augustine understood the message of the Bible, that blind faith must precede religious belief. Bishop Alfeyev concurs, “Of course, in the age to come we will see Christ face-to-face, but this is just another thing that we must believe in! For the time being we have been given the inner experience of the risen Christ, an experience that is stronger than any logical proofs or any physical “seeing”.” These exalted religious teachers are telling us that if we focus exclusively on what we wish to “see,” then given time and a dedication to prayer, we will see whatever we wish to see. It is as Peter Pan said about flying; it only works if you have faith. If faith lets you “see what you believe,” then you can create your own reality without troubling about what is real or not real. Perhaps Nietzsche was onto something when he wrote, “Faith is not wanting to know what is true.”
Nothing in the Christian faith, be it the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ or other truths, can be proven logically: one can only accept them or reject them on the basis of faith. Bishop Alfeyev adds, “The skeptical mind of contemporary man says: “Unless I see I will not believe”. But we say: “I believe even though I do not see”. If everything in religion were visible, tangible and provable, why and in what would we need to believe? If there were not any mysteries in religion, how would it be different from everything else in our earthly life?” Isn’t he saying that it isn’t worth much if it doesn’t require faith to believe? How much better is it then, if your belief is without evidence? Outside of the scriptures, there is no authenticated historical proof that Jesus even existed since no historian of his time ever mentioned him. Doesn’t this just add to the mystery? How much greater of an achievement it is to believe in the written details of Jesus’ life when we can’t even prove that he existed!
Martin Luther, who obviously didn’t believe in half-measures, wrote, “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.” And Luther was absolutely correct. If you are to believe that the being who threatens you with everlasting torment actually loves you, then you must trample on reason. If you are to believe it was the height of moral action to drown everyone on earth except one family, then you must trample on common sense. If you are to believe that justice is served by sacrificing one of your children to torture and death in order to forgive the others for their transgressions against yourself, then you must trample on understanding. It follows that if you are to achieve and retain belief in a religion based on doubtful morality, contradiction, and miracle, then you must indeed “trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.”
As Luther understood, faith arms the heart and mind against other interpretations, other possibilities. In effect, faith twists the mind into a Mobius strip, turning both sides into one side: turning dark into light, turning emotions into proof, turning wishful thinking into conviction, turning god’s murders into a service for the chosen, turning the condemnation of all the descendants of the first humans into justice, and turning the blood sacrifice of a son into a blessing on the remaining children.
Of course, some would argue that this kind of faith is dangerous nonsense which erodes human compassion and destroys the capacity for reason, but, for true believers, faith creates its own “reality.”