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Faith: Friend or foe?

August 10, 2019 - Saturday 4:08 AM by E.R. Nartatez

Modern life is fast and quick, majoring on speed. It’s also loud and noisy. A typical day starts early, with an irritating alarm jolting us to crawl out of our precious slumber. We rush through our baths, breakfast, and toothbrushes (not necessarily in that order). We squeeze our way through traffic, seeking roads of least resistance. We get busy at work; pushing papers, attending meetings, beating deadlines, etc., ‘working hard for the money’ sang Donna Summer (some working hard, others hardly working). 

All the while thoughts assault us on bills to pay, groceries to get, food to put on the table, and what have you. And yes, that needed break we’ve been dreaming about (if only we can get our hands on an extra budget!).

It’s a stressful life! ‘Stop the world—I wanna get off!’ someone cried.

People deal with stress differently. Some unload on a TGIF. Others escape the city on a weekend. Still, others quietly go to their churches to refocus on faith and spiritual nourishment. 

But there are others who, even in the busy workweek, find little pockets of time regularly to recharge and re-energize their hearts, minds, and bodies. Others run to the gym. While others add a quickie retreat to their daily routine. They go for quiet moments to regroup their souls. For people of traditional faith, they practice meditative prayer and reflective reading (the Bible or devotional materials such as Our Daily Bread come handy for such occasions). 

And thank God for the internet, soul nourishing resources for prayer and meditation are made readily available for free online. Recently, this article showed up in my Yahoo News feed, ‘15 Bible Verses to Keep You Calm Among the Stress’ (28 July 2019). It was a series of slides of encouraging Bible verses that people of faith remind themselves when the going gets tough. For example, it included Jesus’ call to anyone and everyone, 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mathew 11:28-30)

And who’s not weary and burdened these days?! Who doesn’t need soul rest? I found the piece refreshing; a reminder that there’s hope and that there’s a willing Hand strong enough to help us in times when our strength is in short supply. All it takes is humble faith. Meditating on such ancient sources of faith haven’t just encouraged people, they’ve been instrumental in turning many from a destructive life to a productive one.

Curious, I perused the comment section to check if people actually do benefit from these online sources. Almost 200 people commented. Mostly positive. A ‘Joseph’ said, “Thank you for this article. Although western culture now excoriates it, hopefully, some will find the peace and joy it provides that becomes more and more rare in our society”.

But as they say, ‘you can’t please everybody’, some simply couldn’t resist hurling put-downs against the article and towards those who found it helpful. For example, ‘Boomer’ commented, “There are many sources of mythology and fantasy that have a calming effect, not only the mythology of the bible.” Of course, with the not-so-subtle suggestion that the Bible is just a bunch of mythology and fantasy and thus ought not to be taken seriously.

And here’s one from ‘JohnC’, “still waiting for a cogent, lucid explanation of the difference between faith and gullibility...... Anyone?” Meaning, ‘All you “faith-ers” out there, believing this ‘bible stuff’, you’re all morons; a bunch of gullible people! You see faith = gullibility. Get it? Prove me wrong, I dare anyone.”

To respond or not to respond, I hesitated. I engaged. I guess it’s because I’m growing quite tired of this popular but terribly confused conception of faith. Many swallow this criticism of faith, ironically, without an iota of critical thought. For them, faith is always blind, it’s “believing what you know ain’t so,'' said Mark Twain.

Perhaps the most notorious contemporary popularizer of this misconception of faith is evolutionary biologist and anti-theist Richard Dawkins. He said, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” 

Nobody says it better than Dawkins! But there’s a problem: he’s pathetically wrong. No thoughtful ‘faith-er’ (believer) thinks of faith the way Dawkins defines it. It’s a complete strawman.

That’s why Dawkins was caught committing a terrible faux pas when he tried his mis-definition of faith on his Oxford colleague, mathematician John Lennox. Lennox was patiently explaining the Christian conception of faith, but Dawkins insisted on his own idiosyncratic definition; he protested, “we only need to use the word faith when there isn’t any evidence.” 

Lennox responded, “No not at all. I presume you’ve got faith in your wife. Is there evidence for that on which you base it, yes?

Dawkins retorted, “Yes plenty, plenty of evidence, um…” 

Lennox interjects with a loud, “Hmm.”

Dawkins, “I…” (interrupted by loud laughter and applause from the audience)

Dawkins (smiling), “Let’s generalize it, never mind about my wife, let’s generalize,” (more laughter from the audience, Dawkins laughing along)

The audience laughed because they caught Dawkins contradicting himself, exposing his peculiar definition of faith as untenable.

Faith is not gullibility. People of faith can indeed be gullible, there’s no excuse for that. But all sorts of people—even those without faith—can also be very gullible. 

Here was my response to ‘JohnC’:

“Ok, I’ll bite. Here are fairly accurate ones from the Cambridge Dictionary (examples are mine):

Gullible/Gullibility: “easily deceived or tricked, and too willing to believe everything that other people say”

Examples of Gullible/Gullibility: 

  • Popular scientist says, ‘There is no God.’ Gullible person, ‘Yea, I believe it. He’s a popular scientist, he must be right!’

 

  • Popular atheist says, ‘Christians are stupid; they even believed that the earth was flat just a few hundred years ago.’ Gullible person, ‘Whoa, he’s a prominent atheist, he must know what he’s talking about, I believe him!’

Faith: “a high degree of trust or confidence in something or someone”

Examples of Faith: 

  • ‘I have faith in my best friend.’

  • ‘I trust my Mom.’

  • ‘I have confidence that this plane will fly me to the next city.’

  • ‘I believe in my wife.’

  • ‘I have faith in God in and through all the difficulties of life.’”

(The examples show that gullibility can infect anyone--both people of faith and no faith.)

According to Dawkins, “faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” Extensive studies, however, prove the opposite. Harold Koenig (Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center) writing in the International Scholarly Research Notices journal, summarizes a “comprehensive review of research on religion/spirituality (R/S) and both mental and physical health.” His conclusions: 

“Religious/spiritual (R/S) beliefs and practices are commonly used by both medical and psychiatric patients to cope with illness and other stressful life changes. A large volume of research shows that people who are more R/S have better mental health and adapt more quickly to health problems compared to those who are less R/S. These possible benefits to mental health and well-being have physiological consequences that impact physical health, affect the risk of disease, and influence response to treatment… The majority of studies report significant relationships between R/S and better health.”

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