Tuesday, February 5, 2008


In our society, saying someone is "a person of faith" is a stamp of approval. In many parts of the country, there are no further qualifications needed.

"I'm not voting for that guy. He'll raise my taxes, eat babies, and start World War III."
"But dear, I read in the paper that he's a man of strong faith."
"Well, that changes everything! Where do we donate money to his campaign?"

I can't sleep this morning, and part of what's got me up is this whole idea of faith being a virtue. I once saw the British intellectual Christopher Hitchens (I'm reading his book right now) say that if faith were actually a virtue, it certainly is the most overrated one. The fact that he said it loaded on scotch and smoking a cigar only lended the statement gravitas and authority.

So what is faith? And is it a good thing?

Is faith the idea that when we die, if we've been good and accepted (insert your favorite savior here), then we get to go to a much better place? A place that we can't see or prove the existence of, and that no one's ever come back from and told us about, but something we really want to be true, nonetheless? So is faith then merely hope despite a complete lack of evidence or confirmation? And if so, what's the difference between that and making a wish on birthday candles, a dandelion, or a shooting star?

Or is faith believing in something that medical science tells us is physically impossible, like say...oh...I don't know...being born from a virgin and coming back from the dead? Is it virtue to believe there are exceptions to all known natural law, again, in circumstances that are completely unproveable? And if it is, then why isn't believing a magician's act is real and not illusion considered virtuistic? Magic is magic, isn't it?

Perhaps faith is virtue when it's used as my future mother-in-law once explained it to me. Over Christmas a couple years back, I heard her tell her grandchildren that in a couple days it would be "Jesus' birthday." As soon as they were out of earshot (if there's anytime to have faith in stuff, it's when you're a kid), I rejoindered with, "Well, actually, it almost certainly is NOT Jesus' birthday. It's just celebrated then to coincide with the Winter solstice as a compromise to get the Pagans on board with Christianity two thousand years ago." Her response? "Well, that's our faith," in a tone that signalled this was the end of the conversation. I thought of telling her she might check with higher-ups IN HER OWN CHURCH who would wholeheartedly agree with me had they even a modicum of theological training, but decided against it because I didn't want to buy myself 30 years of living hell. In this case, faith seems to be willfull ignorance.

I know I'm in the minority here in the good ol' US of A, but to me, reason, logic, realism, intellectual curiosity, and self-reliance seem like better qualitites to have than any of the types of faith I mentioned above.

Then again, maybe it's best I shut up and adhere to the words of the brilliant pop philosopher George Michael, "Cause you got to have faith-a-faith-a-faith-a." It sure does seem a lot less complicated than all this rational thought.

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