Faith is one of those words, like Beauty, that we abuse. I mean, we really kick it around. So I'll capitalize that too. (Ich denke, dass die Verwendung von Großbuchstaben auf Substantive eine gute Idee ist!)
I think the mistreatment of the concept of Beauty is getting out of hand. We are all oh so determined these days not to be shallow, that we even say a seriously deformed person is beautiful. Oh, don't get me wrong, I understand the reason behind this. We want them to be treated as equals, we want them to feel included, we want them to feel loved and wanted. If pressed, we'll say the person is beautiful on the inside, or they have a beautiful spirit, or whatever. Yes, I get that.
But by using the word beautiful to describe people who, by all usual definitions, actually are not, we devalue the word.
Do we do this with anything else? Do we say that a car that's been wrecked, or a building that's been blown up is beautiful? Of course we don't. So our reasoning is well-meaning but rather odd at the same time.
I am not beautiful. I was once, then I got older. That's OK. I don't need to be beautiful. I don't need flattery either. I don't need the bollocks. I have above average self-esteem and it's NOT based on my looks. I'd much rather be called quirky or interesting, as a matter of fact, and I work towards that.
But I have the experience of having once been beautiful. I gotta tell ya, it's overrated. OK, it opens a few doors. I know for a fact that one job I got was solely on my appearance. I had a lot of fun doing that, and I'm grateful for the experience. I also gave my genes to my kids, which makes their lives easier too, especially my youngest who has movie star looks. So...I've spent years ensuring they don't grow up conceited, and whaddya know. He's all about humanity and stuff, and he just wants to teach. Good. Really, being beautiful doesn't actually serve much of a purpose.
Tell you what beautiful people are useful for? Looking at. Yep. That's about it. Like a sunset, or a running horse, or a magnolia tree in full bloom. We get a kick out of things that our eyes find agreeable, and that's a good thing. It makes us happy. Happy is good. I will now make some of you very happy.
Others, not so much.
Funny thing, there's another human who'd rather be thought of as interesting or quirky than beautiful, but he doesn't get a choice. And YET, some of you are now going "EWWWWW". Not to your tastes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
Wait a minute, maybe we're not talking about beauty at all! If only SOME people think he's beautiful, maybe this isn't that simple. Maybe this is more about personal taste. Hmm.
OK, try this one.
How about this one:
I don't find him beautiful. I know he's supposed to be, he's a model. But I find very fair men unattractive. I just do. Sorry. I'm allowed to say that with no fallout because he's white, you see. Sometimes it's OK to reject a person's looks based on colour. So, if you do, is it racist? Maybe it isn't.
Isn't this complicated? There are sort of official standards, and there are expectations, and there's personal preference, and there are even taboos. Are we talking about Beauty AT ALL, or are we talking about something else? Or several something elses, maybe.
My point here is that what a word means, what it represents, which is semantics, is only the start of the problem. You and I can look at the same thing and not only disagree on its quality but on what that quality means. How do we even communicate?
Back to Faith then. Before we can discuss it we might need to pin down a meaning. I'll refer you to this to save a bit of time:
(Richard and I go back a way and most of the time we understand one another really well, and then every so often we don't. I consider it to be a sold friendship, because it can withstand the misunderstandings. It is also more interesting to disagree sometimes. I'd never learn anything if I only ever spoke to people who had all the same opinions as me. Anyway, this topic is one where we agree on some bits and not others, so here's my version.)
If we actually look at the idea of having faith in a thing, this is more in the sense of trust. Trust is usually something gained over time (I've done it before, and it didn't kill me), or at the insistence of others. "Go on, it's quite safe...."
It took me a while to trust microwaves, but once I did I found they were really useful. One of the ways I gained this trust was by using one (my mother-in-law encouraged me), and then by necessity (new immigrant, basement apartment, no stove). Having found it didn't ruin food (except eggs, BLEARGH) I then bought myself one and haven't been without one since. I also trust that it's not harmful because I read the science involved.
Can we say I have faith in microwaves? I suppose we can, but I'm not sure if this really is the same thing as the type of faith we are talking about in religious debates.
Now then, I am of the Pagan persuasion, as well as being scientifically oriented. Atheists tend to find this a bit odd, maybe even hypocritical. But I see modern pantheism as where those two adversaries (science and the metaphysical) meet head on. And get along fine.
Think about it. Science tells us that we are on a globe turning towards the east, and that as we do so we face away from the sun at night, which makes it dark, and then we turn towards it in the morning, and get daylight. Because it LOOKS like the sun rises, we call it sunrise. It's all a matter of perspective. Do we have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow? Yes, of course we do. Is that religious faith? No, silly. And yet it was a faith that existed long before we understood why it happened. At that point it was at least a superstitious faith, fear that it wouldn't happen if the Gods were angry was all part of the origin of religious dogma (rituals, prayers, taboos, etc) so there's a link there. The Egyptians believed (or did they?) that Ra sailed his boat across the sky.
The more modern pantheist says "Yep, that's God, right there". Not Ra, but something bigger, something more intangible. I won't dwell on that because it's a bit deep for a Friday morning, suffice to say that the reason the monotheists don't LIKE pantheists is that we don't differentiate creator and creation.
The next step then, is accusations of having faith in science. I suppose it's reasonable. Maybe not even a bad thing to have. But it gets silly when it's likened to religious Faith. I think the reasons are obvious, but I spend a lot of time explaining them, mainly because (here we go, semantics again) the definitions of words like science and theory are not understood. It's for this reason, at least in part, that I reject the idea that the trust we have in the microwave, or the power behind it is actually faith in the same way that we discuss religious Faith. OK. Next bit.
I have Faith that the Universe is unfolding as it should. Do I trust it? Not a bit of it. It's very unpredictable and Nature could kill me without warning. Meteor strike, boom. Or just something within my own body like an aneurysm. Poof, gone. No choice, no pleading possible. Random. Shit happens AND I LIKE THAT. I like that when I cease to exist, the Universe will carry on just fine without me. I like that I am just dust in the wind. It's how it should be. So where does Faith come in there? Well, it is reliably unreliable. Change is the only constant and all that.
Does that sound silly to you? Does it sound like I'm excusing the utter randomness of an uncaring Universe? OK, so what's different between that and "God moves in mysterious ways?". At least I admit we are powerless. I'm used to that powerlessness, and I'm good with it. I don't expect the Universe to change for me.
Maybe you can see where I'm going with this, but let's step aside for a moment and look at that other definition of faith.
We use it, wrongly in my opinion, as a synonym for "denomination". "Which faith are you?" I used to be heavily involved in the religion section at MSN, I moderated the "Earth-Based Faiths" forums and chat room (FREE INTERNET AS PAYMENT!!), and was also a regular contributor to "All-Faiths". There was "all-faith" discussion. Curious use of the word, but common enough.
Well, they say ya gotta have faith. In something.
In business it's very necessary. My particular business ideology is "if you build it they will come" which translates pretty much as "if you sell it they will buy it" and that takes CONSIDERABLE faith. If you've never run your own business, you may not understand, but it's a game. You have to guess what people want, and if you're wrong you lose. And people are weird. And fickle. Trends come and go, and you can never relax. It's not for the cowardly. You absolutely must have faith, and it's not just faith in your own ability as a retailer or whatever. It's a nebulous thing, which is about as close to religious faith as it gets, in my opinion. You may as well wish on a 4 leaf clover.
But without it, you'll never succeed because you will dither and dally, and you can't. Yet with all the faith in the world, sometimes you'll fail anyway. Shit happens. So you rush forward knowing at any time you could be running right over a cliff. I sleep well at night because I accept this. If it all goes tits up tomorrow, I'll do something else. I have the same fatalistic attitude as I have to my own demise.
So, this whole idea of religious faith then, of the standard type, the type known to most of the world, especially the Christians and Muslims. What of that?
I don't have it. Despite everything. Despite Church of England schooling, a culturally "Christian" upbringing, a positive attitude, and indeed sharing many of the values that Christians have. I don't share their faith. By any definition.
I don't share it out of fear. I don't believe that lacking that faith will doom me to hell. I don't believe in hell. I don't believe I need "saving". I could go on at length (oh trust me, a whole book, a long book) as to why, but you don't need that right now. I'm leaving out a whole lot here I could say, in an effort not to tear down anyone else's Faith. That's really not my objective, but it can happen easily if we start explaining our differences. Let's stick to the positive.
But there's one final thing.