Today, the Word on Fire Blog features a remarkable commentary from Heather King on the misunderstandings that surround the "effects" of belief. Be sure to read her insightful clarification on what faith doesn't do, especially in light of what faith does.
I once reviewed a book by a man who had "lost" his religion. This poor man was disgusted by pedophile priests, outraged that God doesn't answer the prayers of amputees by restoring their missing limbs, aghast that televangelist faith healers are often (I would have said always) fakes, and in desperation had conducted a series of social surveys revealing to his horror that people who claimed to have faith acted no better than anyone else. I certainly hope not! was my response. Religion doesn’t mean acting better than other people; it means, if we’re lucky, getting to act a little better than we used to ourselves.
|FAITH HEALER BILLY BURKE
Similarly, there's a huge misconception that faith provides some kind of consolation: that faith assuages fear, dispels doubt, and imparts a phony, infantile sense of well-being that the more clear-eyed among us, as a matter of intelligence and conscience (and if that were the case, I'd add rightfully), reject. Not long ago a friend of mine--great guy; funny, compassionate, smart guy who also happens to be resolutely atheistic--was facing eye surgery. He said, "I was coming home from the doctor's the other day and I was so scared and felt so alone and I thought: ‘Man, I could use some of that faith people talk about. Too bad I don't believe.’" And I, in turn, thought, Wow, do folks actually think that the person who "believes" suffers one iota less anguish at the thought of, say, eye surgery--or scorn or ridicule or rejection or abandonment or loneliness or poverty--than the person who doesn't "believe?" If that were the case, everyone would believe. It wouldn’t be faith, it would be a transaction. It would be a magic trick.
But the interesting thing about belief is that it doesn't make you act better than other people, doesn't make you appear more together, doesn't advance you in the eyes of the world, doesn't relieve your terrible fears and terrible shortcomings.
What does faith do? It helps you to bear the almost unbearable tension of being a mortal human being without cracking. It helps you to bear your fears, your neuroses, your anxieties, your rage, your lusts, your loneliness, so that you don't lose your mind, or start swilling Night Train, or embark on a life spent watching internet porn. If you are very far along the path, it may begin to help you refrain from taking the agony of bearing the tension out on other people. It leads you, or has anyway led me, to ponder the sort of Man Christ was. A Man who, nailed to the Cross, could still be focused not on his own suffering, but on the suffering of the rest of the world. A Man who, in the throes of death, turned to the Repentant Thief beside him with the reassurance: ‘This day you shall be with me in Paradise.’ [Luke 23: 43]...
To read the rest of the article, please visit Heather's wonderful blog, Shirt of Flame, and add it to your list of daily reading.