“I’m telling you the truth: if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed [a very small seed], you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Yeshua/Jesus, in Luke 17:20, The Kingdom New Testament, a Contemporary Translation
(Preface: Please note that the following is not a discussion about institutionalized, formal, organized religion, but about the universality of religious thinking.)
At its most basic level, faith is trust. Faith is deciding to trust that something is true because you trust the source of the information, or the results of the observations and experiments that provide the evidence for whatever you are accepting as truth.
In the first part of this series, we observed that everyone, no matter their stance regarding God and religion, lives by faith. The popular mind, propagandized by secular persuasion about science not being a faith-based enterprise, has largely relegated faith to the realm of spirituality and personal relationships while not admitting or understanding science’s utter dependence on trusting that the road to truth is via the empirical scientific method .
Scientists and scholars of all stripes, from antiquity to the present, have always operated as much by faith as any fervent religious believer. The honest and forthright ones know it and acknowledge it. Science and engineering are as much faith-based as spiritual and relational activities are. They believe that their faith is in “the facts” derived by the more or less application of the scientific method. But it is really far more in the trust that “the method” will provide the necessary facts, the evidence that there trust is not misplaced, even when the facts are not actually there – at least not just yet.
The etymological meaning of “religion” is “the thing or system which ties or holds things together” – Latin religio: re = once more, legio= to bind, to tie – ergo, to rebind, to tie together. Some people hold things together by reaching out to God or gods or a supernatural side of things. They put their trust in the existence of such a side of reality, a side which is normally invisible and insensible – not normally evident to our physical senses. Some people decide that without such sensory evidence they can only put their trust in what they can perceive via their senses, without recourse to any form of supernatural existence. There is an assumption that there cannot be any “real” evidence for an incorporeal side to reality. In both cases, these are equally “religious” decisions and positions which direct the living of life. They are both fundamental positions about the nature of reality and what can be trusted. In short, they are equally faith-based positions. And, despite the declarations of the dominant Western paradigm that the spiritual side cannot be trusted any more to determine truth, the proponents of that worldview are every bit as religious and faith-motivated as the believers in a God and a “super”-natural element of reality. (“Super” just means above and beyond – again from Latin.)
It is the old story of who gets to decide the meaning of words and inject, indeed impose, their meaning and worldview on the culture and the popular mind. The secular Enlightenment campaign which began in the mid-18th Century with the agenda to take control of the West’s social and cultural narrative has thoroughly taken over almost all of the West’s knowledge and education establishment, and thus has been diligently redefining the meaning of words to even further push “religious” faith to the fringes. There the gullible theists can be ignored and even ridiculed with impunity – and sometimes even sanctioned when they offend the new sensibilities too greatly.
But, whether labelled as religious or not, everything we do in life is based on faith, on trust, on conviction that we know enough truth to be assured that we are taking the right path to find meaning and make some sense of a reality which just keeps exponentially expanding in complexity. We operate on faith in even the most mundane activities. We just don’t think about it. If I’m a God-believer, I trust that He/She will continue to will the universe (and me) to exist and keep operating in an orderly way. If I’m a thorough atheist, I still trust that whatever forces and serendipitous circumstances produced this fantastic and totally improbable outcome of marvelous existence that we experience will keep on rolling along for another 50 billion years or so. In both cases, experience says these are reasonable, even scientific conclusions.
The great malaise of our time is rooted at least to some degree in the oft-professed conviction that everybody can invent their own reality and that all choices are equal in value. Why then are we not all equally happily creating and living in our own private Gardens of Eden? Why is there so much outside interference in arriving in our personally constructed versions of Paradise?
The answer is shockingly simple and obvious, but most unwelcome and barely mentionable in our present intellectual, spiritual, and social whirlpool of “You can’t tell me my version of truth is not as good as yours.” Science fiction and fantasy and quantum multiverse theory aside, there are not infinite realities out there. As far as we can know and experience, there is but the one within which we live and move and have our being. I can fantasize all I want tonight, and even dream wild dreams, but tomorrow I will wake (God-willing) to continue in the same life and reality I know today.
I betray my own “religion” – not just my public “religion” (as in the Latin sense of what helps tie things together for me), but my personal religion – in the simple everyday things and attitudes I manifest as I do normal things more than in any of the high-falutin’ philosophies, ideologies, or theologies I may spout. Atheists and agnostics and sceptics are as equally faith-driven as any disciple of Yeshua, Moses, Muhammad, or Buddha. Paradoxically, we all live our faith both publicly and privately. What I say and do in public is one side of my life and may or may not be consistent with my private faith. Frequently, we are prone to profess some things for public consumption while privately holding divergent and even quite contradictory views in our heart of hearts. Will the real Mr./Mrs./Ms. Smith please stand up? How can I tell what I really believe?
Jesus gave some pithy principles for discerning the mountains of bovine excrement we are being fed and feeding ourselves in the great denigration of “Religion” and faith: “Nobody can serve two masters. Otherwise, they will either hate the first and love the second, or be devoted to the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and wealth.” (Gospel of Matthew, 6:24) Bob Dylan once wrote and sang it as, “You’re gonna serve somebody.” Jesus added, “By their fruits you will know/recognize them” – i.e., what people do says a lot more about who they are and what they really trust in than their affirmations and declarations, both in public and in private.
Our malaise is the disconnect created by the evidence that “it just ain’t so” that we can and must discover our own special version of truth. We are told over and over that we can “actualize” and discover our true selves and thus reach our full potential to “be all that we can be” and arrive, ipso-facto, in our own personal “kingdom of god” (with me as that god/goddess) here and now. We are all entitled to everything. It is a matter of faith.
It is also all patently impossible. “Wishing just don’t make it so.” Instead, we have created a Frankenstein monster which is beginning to destroy its creators.
The need for faith has never been greater, but the proposition that we can choose any sort of goal and ambition to aim at and any vehicle to achieve them has never been so flagrantly false. All choices are not equal, all belief systems are not valid – at least not in terms of outcome or synchrony with the way things really are. You are entitled to choose just about any road, but you are not entitled to force everyone else to accept such choices as beneficial to the general commonwealth, or even consistent with the evidence of history and science. Just because I have the ability and may want to make fantastic choices that fly in the face of being “normal” and “healthy” in any common sense does not entitle me to impose such choices on everyone else as having to accept those choices as normal and healthy.
In most cases your private world is not my business. But when it begins to exert harm around you which brings suffering and destruction to others, it is no longer merely private.
Your faith matters. What you choose to trust in matters. The thing you put at the top of that pyramid of values and beliefs is in fact your god. If that is your success, status, prestige, power, wealth, and pleasure, you are your own god. This comes out even more forcefully when you insist on redefining even human and general nature to conform to your personal system of faith and belief. That is indeed a claim to divine power.
Will this sustain you when you stand at, or lie on your last bed, on the edge of the great divide? At that moment, just about everyone starkly realizes that the personally formed god you have believed in, the personal version of faith you have trusted, is about to die as it meets the One Who Is in the Great Beyond.
The West is in moral, spiritual, and a deepening social and cultural crisis. As the world’s global cultural engine over the last two hundred years, it has dragged the whole world into the maelstrom of its Mr. Toad Wild Ride which shows no end in sight.
“Te morituri salutant!” said the gladiators as they stood before the Emperor in the arenas of ancient Rome. At the end of the battle will the One Emperor’s thumb be up or down?
TO BE CONTINUED