I have a cousin who is very religious. She came over the other night and we talked about this and that, until the chit chat grew serious and we set off down the path of what’s-really-going-on, at first with some trepidation, but then running headlong, really digging in to race to the bottom of what-ails-ya. My poor cousin has been beset by problems – challenging kids, unemployment, an ugly divorce – and she is sad and feeling defeated and hopeless. I asked her if she had ever been happy. A fat tear dropped from her eye. I asked her if her faith helped her, if it comforted her or gave her strength. She said no, and that’s not the way it worked, ‘it’ being faith, I guess, or maybe religion.
This baffled me.
If faith doesn’t give a person comfort or hope, what’s the point? How can faith not steer someone towards benefit, good or a raison d’etre? I guess some people have faith in disaster, doom, and the forces of evil, but really, who? I don’t have faith in too much, so the concept is not something I think about often, and I didn’t want to push it with my cousin. I didn’t ask her, but I’ll bet she’d say that faith had to do with accepting the word and instruction of God, because God said, and you, the human, exercised your free will to follow the word of God by pledging your obedience, in the faith of the righteousness of the Lord. In others words, yours is not to question why. Still, I question. Is that all there is? Because God says, “I said so?”
To me, faith is belief that is so strong that it defies logic. It is difficult for me to understand the concept, unless it is put into very humanistic terms. For example, despite the voluminous evidence to the contrary, I believe in the good of humanity, even -dare I admit my brazen naivete?- that human beings have a basic inclination towards good as opposed to evil. Really, I can think of so many weighty, monstrous examples that negate such fond, fruitless thought that the very idea that I propose, when looked at rationally, seems ridiculous and downright childish. But, still and all, I believe. I look logic in the eye and say, “Huh? Are you talkin’ to me? I’m sorry, can ya speak up? I can’t hear ya! Whad you say?” I become rationally challenged, and quickly hail the short bus to get a ride to my crafts class. That’s faith.
But, I get something out of that faith. It’s not just a moral high ground, though I do feel like the benefit of the doubt is just and right, and that I would rather die optimistically and deluded than live hopelessly and paranoid. I get comfort from my world view. Where there is faith in good, there is possibility and redemption. There is hope and joie de vivre, regardless of the dismal reality. Of course that very spirit often skips happily hand in hand with denial and delusion, and I do realize that; I guess I’m just not strong enough to face the alternative and embrace the over powering forces of evil, entropy and defeat. I know this about myself, and I can live with it. It may be a tad shallow, but I’m a happy pappy; that’s where my natural outlook falls. Can’t help it. I’m a believer.
How can you have faith without the expectation of personal satisfaction? It’s a mystery to me. If faith means to obey now, and later to get your reward in the afterlife, even if that means you will accept misery in the present life, count me out. I’m greedy and impatient. Also, I’m disobedient. I’m a people pleaser, yes, but I hardly ever do what I’m told, and frankly, I resent being told. Lots of times, I will do dumbass things just to prove that I can’t be told what to do. I am stubborn and foolish, but at least it was my idea to be that way. My freshman year of college my parents told me I had to maintain a “B” average at the third rate state school I got into. Rather than being told what to do, I dropped out. This pattern continues today; I recently took a creative writing class, because I wanted to learn new things and see what I could do, and I paid out the wazoo to do it, but refused to do any of the exercises as they were assigned, on account of I didn’t like the teacher trying to make me do anything his way. Also, whenever he made suggestions for improvement, I thought, “You are a buttface. I don’t like your name and your eyes are squinty and you’re not the boss of me. Blah diddy blah, blah diddy bloo, you are dumb and your breath smells like poo.” That is what I thought every time.
Second, I don’t care about the afterlife. I don’t believe in Hell, and if I did, I don’t think I would go there, because I TRY to be good. If I’m just deaddeaddead, and weasels rip my flesh and worms eat me (Good luck with that, weasels and worms! I’m getting cremated, suckahs! How you like that mouth full of ash, foolz?), so be it. I’m dead, so what do I care? If I get reincarnated, that could suck, because maybe I’ll come back as a pigeon, and then I will hate myself and may be eaten by a homeless person, who, instead of taking consolation in a meal, despises his lot in life even more because he had stoop to such a vile, unprecedented low. That would be bad, but pigeons have brains the size of black-eyed peas, so I probably wouldn’t be thinking about that then.
So…faith? I dunno. It’s a weird game. I guess I’ll play it, but the only rules I’ll play by are the ones I make up.
Pigeons: Unbelievably stupid, or diabolically clever? You be the judge!
BONUS: People who are smarter than I have thought about faith. Here are some of their opinions.
“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” Freidrich Nieztsche
“Skepticism is the beginning of faith.” Oscar Wilde
“You want it all, but you can’t have it.” Faith No More
“Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies. ” Mother Teresa
“To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly. ” Benjamin Franklin
“Faith isn’t faith until it’s all you’re holding on to.” Anonymous smart person
“Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one smart pillow.” Anonymous poetic smart person
“I sit and watch, as tears go by.” Marianne Faithfull
Maybe your cousin will read your blog and take some comfort in your words. Sounds like you may have given her an opportunity for a bit of catharsis anyway. These posts make me so happy and honored to know you.