Random Thoughts on Faith

I was taught in Bible class that faith was a gift from God. That means, “if you have faith, it is because God gave it to you, not because you did something to create it in yourself.” Ergo, people of faith have faith because it was given to them; nor is it given to everyone.

I don’t have the gift of faith. Many of the people I love do.

People who do not have the gift of faith can either pretend we do, which would make us liars but accepted by those with the gift, or else we can be honest about lacking that gift and be reviled by the believers for our lack of faith. It’s a lousy choice. Why do those with the gift look down on those without? Is not their faith a gift from God?

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One of my main complaints against Xianity is that it requires me to ignore the evidence of my senses. Paul in Romans says that nature clearly tells us about God, and I agree. My experience of nature confirms the existence of a Creator. Paul also  says that God’s nature is most clearly revealed to us in the man Jesus. That’s something I cannot experience directly. Instead, I must simply accept it and believe it. But without the gift of faith, how am I to believe it? I am forced to depend on what I can know using the only tools available to me: my mind, my intuition and my experience.

The guys who actually knew Jesus in the flesh – Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, Paul and the writer of Hebrews – wrote a good bit about him. How do I know that they wrote the truth?

I can’t.I have to trust that what is written in my New Testament is true. But the New Testament contains internal contradictions and makes claims that stretch credulity and defy experience. In other words, the New Testament gives every evidence of being the work of several men over a number of decades who might have engaged in some wishful fiction. Without the gift of faith, how can I overlook all these very real problems?

The problems go away if I treat the Bible as a magic book, delivered in toto and from the hand of God and flawlessly transcribed and transmitted by the hand of men. But to believe that, I have to ignore the evidence of my senses and my experience. I also have to accept without question an awful lot of flatly contradictory stuff in the Bible. The New Testament is more consistent than the Old, but it still has weird shit like James and Philemon and Paul’s apparent misogyny. (Oh, and the Revelation of St. John? Can anyone say “hallucinogenics”?)

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Most branches of Xianity teach that all people are important to God. Let’s examine that belief against the evidence: Hmmm, according to history, terrible things happen to good people all the time and evil people get away with unspeakable evil all the time. This has been true for all of recorded history. If I treated the people I love the way God treats the people whom He allegedly loves, my loved ones would have every reason to question the truth of my love.  I see no way around this problem. (And yes, I realize “the problem of evil” is not a new issue.)

The only way to believe that  “all people are important to God” is to push rewards and punishment out to some place and time where we cannot observe them. In other words: “No matter how sucky life is now, everything will be made right after death.” So again, we are forced to just take it on faith that – regardless of what our experience teaches us – God cares for us. That’s pretty hard to do without the gift of faith.

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 But there’s another explanation for what we observe in history as it relates to religion:

If I were a Seriously Bad Guy with designs on getting and keeping power, I would create a religion for my subjects that promised them eternal happiness as long as they tolerated an unlimited amount of earthly mistreatment. Unsurprisingly, that describes most religions and is how Xianity in fact functions.

And if I were some poor shmuck who knew my life was never gonna get any better, and that the people in power who oppressed me were always gonna be in power and always gonna get away with everything, I would comfort myself with the belief that “they’d get theirs in the end” and perhaps that I might be rewarded for my “faith”. Again, this is a pretty accurate description of how most religions – Xianity in particular – actually works.

Good deal for the powerful. Sucky deal for the oppressed.

Frankly, that’s a lot easier to believe.

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But what if not all people are important? That would explain God’s lack of care, but would also shoot a big hole in most Xian doctrine.

If only some individuals are important, then the odds are that I am one of the unimportant people. Intellectual honesty requires me to admit that.

Maybe there are only a few people in the world who are truly “important” and everyone else is just filler – bit players in the giant drama called “Life”  – completely interchangeable and completely dispensable.

If that is true, then what the unimportant people do is also unimportant.

It is a dilemma, for either everyone is important, in which case God’s clear lack of care belies the doctrine that He is all loving, or else only a few are important, which belies the doctrine that what we do matters to Him.

(There is a third way: hard-core Calvinism, in which God is a dick. I reject that just because I’m not interested in worshiping a God who is a dick.)

The only other option I can see is to believe in something which is impossible to observe or verify: we get rewarded or punished after death. Which leads us back to the gift of faith, which I don’t have.

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I suspect wrestling with this question is what led the Apostle Paul to write that “if the dead are not raised…, we (Xians) are to be pitied more than all men.” (1st Corinthians 15:16-19)

5 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Faith”

  1. Very cogent analysis, and also the reason why I don’t talk religion very often. I have a somewhat different take on the bigger scheme of things, which doesn’t involve taking Xianity literally or trying to reconcile the contradictions therein, but infers some possible higher reality suggested by the universal draw to religions. It comes back to iMonk’s roadmap analogy for starters.

    One comment: I think your meaning for the sentence “But what if all people are not important?” is more accurately expressed by relocating the “not” to say “But what if not all people are important?” As it is now phrased, it says that no one is important, rather than a few are important and the others not important, which I understood your meaning to be.

  2. The Bibles teaches that people are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). Paul , the author of this letter, appealed to the Old Testament for this view: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). In Paul’s mind this faith is a living faith that “work[s] through love” (Galatians 5:6), yet is distinct from works: “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). This is the faith that alone justifies a person, so that God gets the credit and glory for salvation , so that there is no boasting, and so that the only righteousness on display is the righteousness of Christ. We are justified neither by love, nor by the fruits of faith, but by faith alone.

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