Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nitpickery: Faith and Religion

Hey y'all.  So religion and faith.  These two words get thrown around so much that I'm not sure if they have any meaning left at all.  People use these words, but I don't get the sense that they are understood, especially when they are used by worldly folk.

Let's start with the word faith.  One thing I've noticed as a believer is that this word is used about twenty times more by nonbelievers than believers.  And I don't just mean nonbelievers in Christianity.  I mean people who don't believe in anything, or who claim that all religions are the same and thus feel nothing for any of them.  Those of us who are Christian mention faith very rarely, usually when we're just quoting the verse about the mustard seed or the mountain, and when a pastor is giving a sermon.  In our day to day existence, we almost never say "faith".

As opposed to those who don't believe, who use it as if it held some power.  You know, how there will be some smarmy crap on television when they're trying to be mystical, and they'll say something like, "you just need to have faith".  Or when a non-believing writer tries to give a pastor character something to say, and that pastor will say some crap like "if you have enough faith, it will happen."  Let me tell you here and now: I have never in my life heard a real pastor say that.  Maybe in California or somewhere they have smarmy pastors that say it, but I have a really hard time believing that.  I've been exposed to a few different denominations, and not one of them ranted and raved generically about "the power of faith".

That, of course, is the heart of the matter.  Certain people presume that faith itself is a superpower of some kind.  It's as if just having faith in something mystical automatically makes a person more powerful and smart.  Thing is, if that were true, those atheistic or nonbelieving (there is a connotative difference in attitudes) would "have faith" just to get power for themselves.  Or is that humanism?

Let's get one thing clear.  Faith is not a power or a mystic ability that only certain gifted weirdos have.  Everyone that exists has faith.  No, seriously.  You have faith.  In what, you ask?  In your shoes.  See, true faith is not believing in some mystic oddity, but trusting something with your actions and not merely words.  Like your shoes.  You bought your shoes and wear them because you have faith that they are not going to fall apart the instant you walk out the door.  You have faith in your clothes last a reasonable amount of time.  You have faith in your car to work.  You are therefore, with your actions, choosing to have faith in various inanimate objects.

Faith was described to me once as a guy who tightroped across the Niagra Falls.  I have no idea if this is a true story or just a metaphor, but the story goes that he would go back and forth on this line, and then he started go with a wheelbarrow.  He then asked his audience if they thought he could get across safely with a person in the wheelbarrow.  The audience said yes.  The stunt guy then asked for volunteers.  No one said a word.  So, they technically believed in his ability, but they had no faith in him.  I'm not sure I would either.  The point is, faith is taking action that requires you to trust someone or something else.  It's putting your life at the whims of whatever you have your faith in.  If your foot is in a shoe and you're going out, then you have faith in that shoe to last you the day or for the entirety of whatever event you're going to.

Thing is, it's not about faith, it's about what you have faith in.  If we both buy a pair of shoes, then your shoes fall apart and mine don't, then my faith is good, and yours isn't.  Faith in and of itself has no value whatsoever, then.  You cannot, by your faith in the shoe, make that sole on that shoe stick to the rest of it.  You can with duct tape, but not faith.  Because, however, I have chosen wisely in my choice of shoe (or luckily, in my case) my faith is not misplaced, and I can walk around in my shoes for a year or two without them falling apart.

As my friends can tell you, I hate the show Firefly.  It's just so dumb, especially when it comes to things that Shepherd Book says anything.  Seriously, if you're going to comment about spirituality, do some dang research.  It's like trying to write about England without so much as reading a book about it.  Anyway, during the Serenity movie, Shepherd Book tells Captain Reynolds something like, "it doesn't matter what, just believe in something." This is supposed to be important, or some crap.  What if, however, Reynolds decides he believes Nazism is good?  What if he believes that life sucks and that nothing will ever make it better?  What if he believes hallucinagenic mushrooms are "spirit trips" and won't damage his brain?  All of these beliefs are stupid, and no amount of faith is going to make any of them reasonable ways to live.

Why then would believing in one god be the same as believing in another?  That's just unscientific to assume.  Research into belief systems and experiencing them for oneself are necessary parts of the scientific process, and metaphysics is a science.  Actually doing anything is a science, so long as you're learning.  By reading this rant, you are learning about me, the psychology of nerds, and stylistic usage of the english language.  See, science isn't a magical flying jellyfish that stings anyone that "gets it wrong"; science is the process of observation and investigation.

I better move on before I get too off topic.  You know, God talks to me a lot when I'm shoe shopping.  I guess He sees my anxiety when trying to find suitable shoes.

Anyway, the word religion.  Now, both believers and nonbelievers use this word about equally, but have different meanings for it.  Nonbelievers use it to mean belief system, as in a system of what people believe.  Sometimes believers use this definition too.

However, believers have an additional meaning for it, a meaning that has been around for so long I'm really surprised at least some nonbelievers haven't heard it by now: the spirit of religion, where a person is so uptight about what he believes that he thinks you have to do things a certain way or else "you're doing it wrong".  Now to some degree, there is a "you're doing it wrong" in any belief system where the person is actually doing something wrong.  However, this is not the definition of religion the believers have in mind.  They mean things like, if you don't have a certain kind of ceremony, or you don't confess your sins every week to a pastor, or if you don't believe X exactly, then you're not a true believer.  The spirit of religion is always about taking things too seriously or accusing other people's faith to be incorrect.

So what base definition am I going to use for religion?  Or did you not know that I am a dictionary?  It's true, I got that in a job placement test.  Okay, fine, it was dictionary editor, but when it listed the result as "dictionary, editor", what was I supposed to think?

Well, the Bible defines true religion as helping the poor and widows.  Note that it says true religion, as opposed to false religion or just plain useless religion.  This means that the base definition of religion must encompass true, false, and middling religion in a way that makes sense.  I therefore define religion as "mankind's efforts to appease God, gods, or the spirit realm", because people engage in religious ceremonies to get something from the spirit realm or else entangle oneself in it.

Now, we Charismatic Christians have often made the statement that "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion".  According to the Biblical definition of religion, religion is only one aspect of our belief, not the entirety of it.  Otherwise Christianity is just a charity.  That's good and all, but doesn't enough involve finding spiritual truth.

To get the real point of Christianity, you have to go back to the father of the faith, as they say.  That's Abraham.  See, when you think of a religion in the nonbelieving definition, what composes it?  Why, ceremonies and theology, of course: what you believe, and what you're going to do about what you believe.  However, when God approached Abraham, He offered neither of those things.  It went about like this.

God: Hey Abraham.

Abraham: Yeah?

God: Go that way.

Abraham: Oh, okay.

God never offered Abraham logic or miracles to convince Abraham to believe.  There were no ceremonies, and no theology.  It was about God and man being together like friends.  They hung out together, and during Abraham's time there were no ceremonies at all, other than the sacrifice of animals, and that wasn't necessarily a requirement of believing in God.  That was just something Abraham did.  It didn't become religious until the days the Hebrews left Egypt.

Actually, a note on that.  God had to make a religion of faith in Him, primarily because the Jews were a people group, and it's difficult to get even two people to agree on things.  And thus belief in God became a little more systematic, simply because it's human nature to disagree; we need documents and theology to make sure we know what we believe.  We also to some degree need ceremony, as a way of putting our life aside to worship and hear from God.  Besides, the Jews were a people group abandoning an old way of life when they came out of Egypt.  God had to make sure that the Hebrews remained distinct from the countries and peoples around them, and that they didn't cling to Egyptian ceremonies that they learned when they were down there.

It's actually pretty complicated, when you really get into it.  I would honestly need to do a lot more research before I could really detail the history of how Christianity evolved over time, and why God made the choices He did (so far as I am able to find).  All the same, the Jews were keepers of the faith until the time us humans were ready to go back to what belief in God really is: us hanging out with God.  That's why Christianity itself is so acultural.  It's not really about culture or tradition, but about believing in the God that made us all.  Thus, being a Christian isn't so much about religion, it's getting back to knowing God as a person and having a relationship with him, because that's what originally life was supposed to be about.

Today's rant.  There you go.

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