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What Is Faith?

What Is Faith?

Hello, everyone.

Today – 3/29/13 – is what is called “Good Friday.” That is the day when “Jesus” was supposedly nailed to the cross “to atone for our sins.” For that reason, this week – “Holy Week” – is generally referred to by Evangelicals as “the week that changed the world.” I will discuss this asinine little whinny in a little bit, but right now, I want to talk about faith.

What exactly is faith? It is another one of those abstract nouns that everyone knows the meaning of, but can’t state it succinctly. The noun “faith” is frequently used as a synonym for “religion” or “belief system,” as in “people of all faiths are welcome to attend the seminar.” But that is not the usage I am discussing here.

I would define “faith” as “strong belief or confidence in a known fact.” Here is an illustration.

Suppose that I want to make an auto trip from Grand Junction, Colorado, to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. To avoid spending the money for a Rand-McNally Road Atlas, I look at one at the magazine stand in the local supermarket. I look at the Dallas-Fort Worth area to see what highways can get me there. I see that U. S. Highway 287 runs through the area. I also remember that 287 runs through the Denver area. Great! I will take Interstate 70 over to the Denver metroplex and then get on 287 and go straight through to Dallas-Fort Worth. I am so sure of my routing that I walk out of the store without buying the road atlas. In other words, I have faith in my ability to read a map and the integrity of the route I have chosen.

Faith plays a key role in our lives. When astronauts get into their capsules for trips to the International Space Station, they are placing faith in the truth and validity of Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion. When I get on board a train for a journey, I am putting my faith in the engineer in the locomotive cab, that he is prepared to do his run, that he is well rested, and that he has not violated Rule G. When we swallow a pill that our doctor has prescribed for us, we place faith in him and his education and his knowledge of medical chemistry. When we put our kids on the school bus or take them to school, we have faith in the teacher that he or she will not only educate our children, but that he / she will be our child’s advocate when needed and that he / she will return our child to us at the end of the day in the same condition that the child was in when entering the classroom.

We also put our faith in laws, rules, and postulations. Forty years ago, I taught at a Christian high school in Iowa. When I first went there, I went at a math teacher, and as a result, I taught Algebra I and II, Plane Geometry, and General Math. I loved teaching Geometry because it required the ability to think logically and to draw conclusions. We would be given theorems and would then have to prove that the theorem was true. Once proven to be true, we could use that theorem in formal proofs of later theorems. We also had axioms and assumptions that were assumed to be true. Once we had tested the truth of the theorems and accepted the truths of the assumptions, then geometry was a snap. Many a rough road was smoothed out, thanks to the truth of C. P. C. P. E. – “Corresponding Parts of Congruent Polygons are Equal.”

Unfortunately, life is not as simple as is plane geometry. Watch television for an hour, and you get hit by a broadside of commercials, each of which insists that its product is superior to any similar product. I especially love it when two commercials for the same kind of product follow one after the other. You then have two options as to which is the better product!

The same is true in politics. In the last election cycle, you could get a Romney ad followed by an Obama ad, or vice versa. How do you know which candidate to put your faith in? You don’t. As the old saying goes, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

In all of these examples, faith doesn’t matter that much. We all know that scientific laws and principles have to be proven to be true before they are given the nomenclature of “law.” Even theories like the Theory of Evolution contain sufficient truth that a person of intellect can look at the evidence and conclude that the theory DOES have some validity. In the case of politicians, we all know that they are little more than lying bastards who will say anything to get elected. As for the products, we can try them and then in the empirical evidence of our experiences with the products, we can decide which one works best for us. And as for me and my trip on highway 287: If the road goes in a direction that I don’t think it should go, I can then ask for directions or, better yet, purchase my Rand-McNally Road Atlas.

But there is one area where faith DOES matter, and that is in the principles that govern our lives. And many of these involve the unknowable – the existence of God, the outline of our future, why this happens and that does NOT happen, etc. And I want to focus on this for the remainder of this diary.

In my illustration above, I used the analogy of me taking highway 287 from Denver to Dallas-Fort Worth. In so many ways, this analogy is like life itself. I didn’t buy the road atlas; I simply started out with my faith lying in my certainty that highway 287 would take me to Dallas-Fort Worth. We in life don’t have a road map for lives either. We likewise start out on our life journey with faith in the certainty that we will complete that journey successfully.

Fifty years ago, during my involvement in church music, I came upon a gospel song titled “Life’s Railway to Heaven.” It was written by Charlie D. Tilman, apparently in 1918, and apparently copyright that year. The sentiments about “Jesus” are pretty dipstick in my opinion, but I believe the song as a whole illustrates my point beautifully. Here are the lyrics.

1. Life is like a mountain railroad,
With an engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful,
From the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the hills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Til we reached that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
In thy praise for evermore.

2. You will roll up grades of trial;
You will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor;
On this light’ning train of life;
Always mindful of obstruction,
Do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

3. You will often find obstruction;
Look for storms of wind and rain;
On a hill, or curve, or trestle.
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus;
Never falter, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

4. As you roll across the trestle,
Spanning Jordon’s swelling tide.
You behold the Union depot
Into which your train will guide.
There you’ll meet the Superintendent,
God the father, God the son
With the hearty, joyous plaudit,
“Weary pilgrim, welcome Home!”

Last fall, I made a trip back to Iowa for a reunion with my cousins. Naturally, I went by Amtrak, and as we went through the Colorado Rockies and the Moffatt Tunnel, the words of this song echoed in my brain. We arrived in Denver, backed into the station, refueled, did our business, and then were on our way. The next morning, my favorite cousin met my train in Ottumwa. Oh yes, I do know what this song is saying. We must make the run successfully, whether from Grand Junction to Ottumwa, or from birth to death. We must never falter, always do our duty, and never fail. And we do have to keep our hand on the throttle and our eye on the rail.

And that is where faith comes in. I mean REAL faith – faith in God or no god at all, rather than a lying shill of a politician, a belching bluto of a sales pitch man, or a hairy delusional maniac who had obsessions of grandeur to the effect that he actually believe that he was the “Son of God.” Call it what you will – God, karma, luck – we all need to believe that there is something or someone in charge – a dispatcher, if you will, who sits in front of a board that represents the railroad of life and who knows exactly where we are on the road and what traffic lies in front of us and behind us. We have to have something or someone on which we can ground our lives and which brings order, peace and rationality to those lives.

At the start of this diary, I mentioned Holy Week and the stupid sentiment that this is “the week that changed the world.” I am fully aware that there are people who need to believe on “Jesus Christ” because their minds are incapable of comprehending a life devoid of his presence. I will grant them their “Jesus” at the same time that I pity them for living such shallow lives. But did the death and “resurrection” of “Jesus Christ” REALLY change the world? Not in the least! We had wars – the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta and the Punic Wars between Athens and Carthage – before “Jesus” came to this world, and we have had wars – the Crusades and the two World Wars – after he came. Slavery was a fact of life before “Jesus” came and remained a fact of life after “he” departed. Hate was a powerful force before “Jesus” came, and it is still a powerful force yet today. Even “Jesus” was into this “hate” thing in a powerful way. So this is “the week that changed the world?” HAHAHAHAHA!! Give me a friggin’ break!

So if one feels an absolute need to put his faith in an anti-social, megalomaniacal hairball, that is just fine – so long as he allows the rest of us to put our faith where we choose. Contrary to what the Evangelical may tell you, there is NOTHING WRONG with putting one’s faith in himself, or in karma. Indeed, William Ernest Henley says it quite will in his poem “Invictus:”

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Yea and amen!

“Invictus” is Latin for “unconquered.” Henley lost a foot due to disease when he was but a teen-ager. Yet he lived into his 50s. His faith was in himself and his unconquerable spirit. He needed no hairy “Jesus” to help him live a life of value to others. In reality none of us do. All we need is to find that unconquerable spirit in ourselves and put it to use. I believe that I have done so, and that along with William Henley, I can attest:

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Have yourselves a wonderful day tomorrow and onward.




March 30, 2013 - Posted by | Miscellaneous, Religion

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