Faith (and Other “F” Words)

faith-vs-reasonWhile riding the train home from downtown this afternoon, staring out the window as I often do, I noticed something that struck me as odd. A young man on a bicycle pulled to a stop in front of a large, ornate cathedral. He dismounted, then hurried up the steps and disappeared inside the church to confess his sins or pray or whatever it is good Catholics do on a Monday afternoon.

I wanted to bang on the window and call out, “Hey, you forgot to lock your bike!” After all, it could have been an oversight. Perhaps he didn’t mean to leave a perfectly lovely bicycle resting, unchained, against the base of the cathedral stairs, where any number of dishonest people may come along and steal it. Maybe he was simply in a hurry to attend mass, or so distracted by the burden of his transgressions that he forgot to lock the bike.

Or maybe it was a matter of faith. What if that man just happens to place so much faith in the magical supernatural powers of that cathedral, that he doesn’t think anyone would dare steal his bicycle? Not in front of God’s house! It must take a great deal of faith to believe such a thing — that despite crime statistics in the neighborhood of the cathedral, and despite the fact that he made not one effort to secure his property, that somehow, God would watch over his bike.

brainI personally find such a faith both admirable and foolish.

It is difficult not to feel a sense of admiration when a person, against all odds, against the pressures of society, and even against scientific evidence, continue to have faith that something they choose to believe is true. What security such a faith must bring! What a sense of peace such a faith must offer – no need to wonder, to doubt; none of the skeptic’s dilemma of constant questioning. Only certainty.

And, perhaps, foolishness, at times.

After all, faith in the unknown must have its limits. No matter how much one prays for God’s protection or provision, or believes that God will supernaturally intervene, one must accept that if they were to jump from a rooftop, no miracle will take place to keep them from falling. And as for that young man at the cathedral, well, I can only hope that the downtown thieves were too busy this afternoon to notice his unlocked bicycle. Faith, no matter how admirable, makes a lousy security system.

Back when I used to pray, I truly believed, thanks to the widespread teachings within the conservative evangelical Christian church, and perhaps my own naïvete, that my prayers, and the prayers of other believers, could influence God’s choices. Pray incessantly. Pray with insistence — keep knocking on God’s door until he grants you what you seek: wisdom, peace, healing from disease, money. (Wait…what? Well, some people believe that, too.) Later, I came to prefer the explanations of believers who took the bible less literally. Their faith was not in their ability to change the mind of God, but in God’s ability to change them. Ahh…now that is a faith that I can truly admire.

quote-skepticism-is-the-beginning-of-faith-oscar-wilde-3552261

                                                                                        I doubt this.

“How does God help you to make life choices?” I asked this question once during a gathering on young Christian college students, because I earnestly wanted to know. So many people in my peer group held a strong faith that if they were to seek God’s guidance, then He would offer it to them. “But how do you know that the conclusion you reach comes from God, and not from yourself, or other influences?” I asked.

“You just know,” was the general consensous. You just know. Like a gut feeling or a lucky hunch. Or intuition, or psychic revelation. I was never satisfied with such a fallible theory. What if the warm, fuzzy feeling about taking Plan A instead of Plan B was just my intelligent brain making a logical decision, and had nothing to do with the guidance of a deity? How can anyone possibly know?

Maybe one cannot know. Instead, one must have faith.

faith-vs-science

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6 responses to “Faith (and Other “F” Words)

  1. Hi,
    I don’t actually agree with some of the statements in your article.
    My first question would be that from the window of your Train how could you so confidently say that the guy with the cycle left his cycle outside because of his faith. May be he was in a hurry. Maybe he used to do that on daily basis, he doesn’t like to lock his cycle.
    It’s easy to crib about religion or almighty because it’s fashionable. I too am a non believer but I have appropriate points to prove that disbelief
    God never helps you in making any choices, it was believed maybe 1000 years ago. Even believers are aware that the belief or faith in God or any religion only gives you strength to make your choices which maybe you don’t have to take yourself. But it’s entirely up to you how you take it.
    I or other non believers just refuse to take strength from religion or God but rather choose to believe our heart in making those decisions.
    I would request you to read my article.. VANITY VS ATHEISM. You would understand better what I meant.

    https://sushantkaushik92.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/vanity-vs-atheism/

    • Hello Sushant,

      I’m a little puzzled by your response, as it appears to be an argument, but we are not in disagreement.

      1. Yes, I already mentioned that the man on the bike may have simply been in a hurry, etc. It was just an action that led me to wonder.

      2. I did not claim to be a non-believer, so this is not an atheist’s perspective nor a “fashionable” jab at religion.

      3. I agree that many people likely find their strength to make choices, etc. from their faith in God.

      Where we disagree, it seems, is in your statement that a disbelief in God never helps you to make choices. Do you mean to suggest that people who do not believe in God are therefore incapable of making good choices, or are somehow hindered from doing so, whereas Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other believers in God have some sort of decision-making advantage?

      Thanks for commenting. I will check out your blog when I get a moment.

      • My point is..Believers of all kind be it Christians or Hindus or Buddhist, they try to find their strength in The omnipresent(as they like to believe) but disbelievers find strength in their hearts which at times is difficult but not incapable.
        I have explained similar kind of ambiguities in the blog.
        Have a great day!

      • I think that the key word you’ve used here is “try.” Believers and nonbelievers alike try to find their strength from whichever source makes the most sense to them. Whether one has faith that the source of their strength is God, or whether one has faith that the source of their strength is from within, or from other people, or from the spirits of their ancestors; the point is that we are all human beings who are trying to make our way. I don’t agree with you that it is more or less difficult to make good life choices based on which you believe to be the source of your strength.

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