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Matters of Faith

2006-12-26

Category: philosophies

The laundromat at which I do my laundry has cable television and is usually tuned to some sort of crap with the volume turned way too high. Occasionally, a religiously-inclined individual will set the channel to a religion station and turn the volume extremely high. That is when you see some truly odd things.

In the first program, the authority figure spoke on the matter of material wealth. He said that you don?t have personal wealth because you aren?t sufficiently faithful. You could, however, call the number on the screen and they would send you a book explaining how to use the bible to get very rich with worldly goods. He talked about how God promised worldly wealth and he sited several biblical passages to prove it. He even quoted Jesus a few times for good measure. This struck me as different from the old story of one?s reward being in Heaven and material wealth being meaningless.

The second program was much more agreeable. A very excited man (not that kind of excited) talked about how he used to suffer. He said his suffering was terrible. Then one day he found God. God said to him [paraphrased], ?Hey, stop doing stupid crap.? Then the guy stopped doing stupid crap and his suffering ended, Halleluiah!

The third program was still on when I left. This was the more typical televangelist healer sort of thing. It had been some time since I last saw such a show and the changes amazed me. One could send away for some magic spring water and you would be healed. That seems like quite a deal.

But wait, there?s more! It seems that this water would not only heal you of physical maladies, but it could also ?heal? your credit card debt. This miracle water was so powerful with ?God?s Love? that it could make your delinquent car payments. Lo ! And He spoke unto the money lender , ? I cast thee out and thou shall not collect on this car loan .?

I am, in general, in favor of faith. People really should have faith, but that faith should be well placed. If you must attach religious significance, have faith that God created medicine and science to heal you. Have faith that God made credit counselors to help guide you out of excessive debt. If you must, believe that the devil makes you desire video games, large screen TVs, and hundred dollar sneakers. Believe that the devil tempts you with super-duper sized fast food meals. Say no to the devil. Cast off the extra gravy.

Of course, faith is a difficult thing to discuss. I?ve met many people of many religions. When really forced to describe why a person believes in something, it usually comes down to sensations. There is calmness and yet an energy. There is a sense of connectedness. Some feel it strongly in their hearts; others feel it their heads. Regardless of the religion, the description of faith is always the same.

The problem with this is that it describes the human response to having faith but it doesn?t say anything about the focus of the faith. How can one claim the absoluteness of Deity A by using the same sensation that someone else has for Deity B? This has long been a dilemma for humanity, and a source of conflict. This is why modern, ?civilized? people usually have to admit that there is no used arguing the matter and that everyone should just get along.

There are limits to this of course. For example if Hindus were to still go around sacrificing children to Kali in hopes of having a productive next year, many of us would probably feel the need to interfere. [NOTE: I realize that this practice went away a very long time ago and mean no slur against Hindus, most of whom are rather peaceful, non-violent people. I just needed an example.] When we find a person with strong faith that his pudding cup endows him with the power of flight, we also interfere. Beyond these extremes, we tend to leave people alone about their religions.

Finding that point where interference is required can be difficult sometimes. The television programs described above are a difficult case. At what point does miracle water change from a matter of faith to a matter of criminal fraud? Do we have an obligation to stop the foolish or uneducated from wasting their money on objects of faith? Should we just assume that those capable of learning from the experience will do so while those without that capability cannot be helped? Would these customers of faith be better off if they had better education as children? Do we need to worry that a charismatic leader could make these people a threat to themselves and us?

I have faith in many things, to varying degrees. I would not want someone deciding that he or she knew better than I and then make me stop having faith. You can?t really make someone give up faith; you can only make a person pretend to give up. The exception is when one is particularly convincing and the other person is searching for answers. We can only hope that the answers they receive are honest, reasonable ones.


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