I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard.
I believe that someone in that great somewhere hears every word.
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf,
Or see the sky, Then I know why I believe.
– Ronnie Dunn & Craig Wiseman, from “I Believe” (1953)
The most dangerous word in the English language is “faith.” It seems ironic, doesn’t it, that we hold such a counterproductive word in such remarkably high esteem?
The word “faith” generally refers to an admirable level of religious piety. It is the highest virtue to have complete faith, and especially faith in God; while the inability to have faith is seen as a weakness, and even as a character flaw. Many people consider the fact that so many Christians seem to be losing their faith to be what lies at the root of much of what is going wrong in the world.
And many people would think the foregoing paragraph is just a simple truism. But in fact, it is nothing of the kind! Far from being in any way admirable, our having nothing more than faith is a sorry admission that our religion of choice is not based in anything real. It would never stand up to objective scrutiny. No wonder so many modern Christians are feeling increasingly set adrift! I submit to you now that it is finally time for us to look frankly at the fact that what once was a rational way for humankind to make sense of an unfathomable world is now not only sadly outmoded, but it is in fact a perilous and unnecessary diversion from what should be our singular and unrelenting pursuit of the truth.
We tend to use “faith” and “belief” as near-synonyms. But in fact, they are near-opposites! The difference between them is, and always has been, evidence:
And that difference is a gulf as wide and deep as the sea!
Having faith in something based in little or no evidence never has been a comfortable way to live. Of course, Christians have good evidence in the Gospels that both Jesus and God are real; and if our Christian faith were based only in the Gospels, it could reasonably rise to the level of belief. But beyond what appears in the Gospels, the entire Christian faith is based not in evidence, but instead in a set of human ideas. From the virgin birth through the God who insists that we learn to forgive perfectly, but that same God refuses to forgive us unless He gets to see His own Son tortured and murdered: the whole religion is based in human ideas. Not only is there no evidence that any of those later Christian notions is true, but there is considerable evidence at this point that all of them are fear-based nonsense.
Until quite recently, humankind has had to settle for faith alone. The urge toward coming up with gods may have been innate in the first modern humans as they emerged two hundred thousand years ago, and it likely was their best way to cope with a reality that was incomprehensible to them. Perhaps it even was based in part in inchoate pre-birth memories. But for whatever reason, people thought up gods, and we created especially tough and brutal gods to help us cope with a dog-eat-dog and saber-tooth-cat-eat-human world. Our developing the ability to maintain faith in such gods was our only comfort in a pitiless reality. Looking back from here, it seems that our having developed the ability to have faith without evidence was a useful early survival skill.
And until as late as the start of the twentieth century, we can be forgiven for having clung to being satisfied with faith alone. It was really only about that time that both the advent of modern science and our much-improved communication with those that we used to think were dead began to give us a lot of solid evidence of what actually is going on. And that evidence came together and began to make sense! We don’t yet have anything like all the answers. But for decades, humankind has had a sensible and rapidly improving understanding of a remarkable greater reality that includes our afterlife as a tiny part.
Perhaps we ought to pause here and remind any Christians who might be bothered by the thought of using “Jesus” and “evidence” in the same sentence that Jesus Himself urged us to seek and find the evidence-based Truth. He said:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (MT 7:7-8).
How could He have made it any plainer than that? He did give some lip-service to the notion of faith, perhaps to placate the listening Temple guards; but then He plunged in and made the most profound call for us to acquire enough evidence for real belief that you ever will read anywhere! He said,
“Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted to you” (MK 11:22-24).
The only enemy of the kind of mental power that it would take to move a mountain is doubt. And it is impossible for most of us to sustain an abiding and largely evidence-free faith while never once doubting it. That’s especially true when what is required of us is faith in a set of dogmas that with just a bit of critical thinking can be seen to be plain nonsense. There is no evidence for most of what Christianity teaches. And given what Christianity teaches beyond the Gospel words of Jesus, the fact that it isn’t real is actually a good thing. Jesus had something to say about that, too. He said:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (JN 8:31-32).
And in fact, He was entirely right about that! The Gospel teachings of Jesus are the most powerful and most direct method for growing spiritually that humankind ever has found. They can free us from every doubt and all fears. It is only when we complicate them with foreign ideas that never came from Jesus that we come up with a religion that in too many ways simply defies belief.
But it isn’t only Christians who are betrayed by and drowning in an antiquated faith. Modern mainstream scientists are even worse off! Mainstream science is based in a supreme faith in materialism, a theory for which there is little evidence, and against which the evidence is overwhelming. Materialism has let scientists down repeatedly! There can be no hope that it ever will lead anywhere. But still, like devotees of some ancient sect whose faith in Moloch always lets them down, but whose fear of losing out to that upstart Christian sect is even greater, the scientific priests cling to their materialist faith and continue to toil away. They even are starting to investigate consciousness. We know by now that consciousness is the equivalent of the Gospel teachings where evidence-based truth is concerned; but still, even when they study consciousness, modern scientists’ materialist faith requires that they find some material connection. No Christian ever born has been so faithfully and so pointlessly dogmatic.
Rather than doing what they both should do, and deciding at last to transition from their faith in human-made, dead-end dogmas to an evidence-based search for humanity’s common truths, our two faith-deluded core institutions are only now wondering whether they might somehow keep their bogus faiths while they search for better ways to somehow get along.
In August of 1964, Lt. Everett Alvarez was the first American pilot shot down over North Vietnam. After eight and a half years of misery, Lt. Alvarez finally got to come home. When he was asked how he had made it through, he said, “Faith in God, in our president, and in our country – it was this faith that maintained our hope.”
And that is the only rational use that there ever can be for any kind of faith! Faith belongs to the nearly hopeless, and not to Christians in their Sunday pews. Certainly not to scientists who claim to be engaging in the open-minded pursuit of the truth! What is needed now is some kind of truth-detector that can be used by both scientists and religious folks to begin to seek the actual truth. And that truth will of course be common to both disciplines. We’ll talk more about this next week….
I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows.
I believe for everyone who goes astray,
Someone will come to show the way. I believe. Oh, I believe.
– Ronnie Dunn & Craig Wiseman, from “I Believe” (1953)