When Faith Becomes Fatal

Photo Credit: fabiogis50 +2000k Thank you!!!! via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: fabiogis50 +2000k Thank you!!!! via Compfight cc

Last week, I wrote about why faith is not a virtue and that generated some interesting discussions from people I know, both online and offline. Aside from the usual threats of hellfire and damnation (which is getting boring, really), I got some objections that I defined or understood “faith” wrongly, that life is basically uncertain and that we still need faith in some circumstances.

A certain Alfred Fajardo posted a comment on my blog and said:

Mr. Andy, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, and I often find good insights and new questions to ponder on from it. But for tonight, I hope you won’t mind a little dissonance as it hopefully will provide a new kind of resonance.

How about interpreting Jesus’ words of providing for us not as literal protection from natural and man made phenomena like failing a test or germs getting to us but rather as pointers to the natural, as figurative language? When he says he provides for the birds and trees, I see it as him talking about how they don’t “worry” the way humans do. How all these organisms, as they live and die, form the biogeochemical cycle which will sustain the earth until the earth itself is destroyed.

As a whole, perhaps faith is something transcendent beyond our daily worries, not faith in certainties, but faith in uncertainty, that at the end of it all, we’ll become a better race.

Thanks Alfred, I don’t mind dissonance (I seem to be creating a lot of it anyway). Yes, we can reinterpret the word “faith” as you suggested, just as people reinterpret the word “God” in different ways. However, I think you would agree with me that most people do not think that way. The common usage of the word “faith” in the Philippine context is not figurative but literal, just as the word “God” is synonymous to “Jesus” for around 80% of Filipinos. For brevity and quick comprehension, I chose to use those words in the way they are most commonly understood.

Like you, I am all for humanity becoming a better race. However, I would suggest a better word to express your desire — not “faith” in uncertainty, but “hope” that things will be better in the future.

Faith is not the same as hope although a lot of people tend to confuse the two. Faith is a false sense of certainty of something you have no idea about. Hope allows for uncertainty but wishes for the best. Faith makes people do irrational acts. Hope allows for more rationality, second-guessing, and planning for the worst even while expecting the best.

For the faithful who are unconvinced of how I define faith, let me point out how the Bible talks about it. Hebrews 11 is well-known as the Bible’s Who’s Who of faith. The chapter begins with the grandiose statement: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.”

A popular Christian song echoes this sentiment with the lines, “to hear with my heart, to see with my soul; to be guided by a hand I cannot hold; to trust in a way that I cannot see, that’s what faith must be.”

Hebrews 11 then proceeds to commend certain individuals who “lived by faith” such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and other Israelite heroes.Their stories involve hearing a command or receiving a vision from God, and acting on it even without proof or evidence of its reality, even if the act is absurd (building a huge boat on dry land) or downright abominable (killing one’s own son).

Those are not figurative but literal and concrete acts that seem to defy reason and the Bible upholds these actions as commendable and these characters as worthy examples to be emulated. How does that translate to modern times?

How about the story of Madeline Kara Neumann, age 11 (reported in ABC News last March 27, 2008)? When Madeline became severely sick, her parents didn’t take her to the doctor because they had faith that God would heal her through their prayers. She died soon thereafter and the parents were eventually convicted of reckless homicide. But these were not evil parents. I believe they loved their daughter with all their hearts and wanted her to get well. They were just following what their preacher preached: “We are not commanded in scripture to send people to the doctor but to meet their needs through prayer and faith.”

Or how about the story of Mark Randall Wolford, a pastor from West Virginia (reported in NBC News last May 30, 2012), who believed that in order to prove their faith, Christians should handle snakes, and he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the talk as well and handled snakes himself. He died, unsurprisingly, from a snake bite. What is surprising is that he persisted in this belief even when as a teenager, he himself saw his father, also a pastor with the same snake-handling belief, die of a snake bite. But they were not insane, they were holding on, by faith, to what was proclaimed in Mark 16:17-18: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

These are not isolated incidents. There are many similar stories such as these. The Huffington Post reports that “At least 303 children have died since 1975 after medical care was withheld on religious grounds.” That’s only the reported cases in the United States. How about those that go on in other countries?

However, whatever else you may say about these people, you cannot argue that they did not have faith. They did. In fact, they had more faith than most people. They had conviction to follow through on their beliefs. They were willing to put their lives and the lives of those they loved on the line, very much like Abraham or Noah. But their faith went unrewarded and proved both fatal and tragic in the end.

That is why I do not believe that faith is a valid way to look at or interpret truth or reality. Faith is pretense and false assurance. Nothing more.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

This article also appears in Filipino Freethinkers.

Andy Uyboco is the Meetup Director of Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter and is inviting Davao residents to join their next meetup on January 25, 2014 (Saturday) at 7:30 PM Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City. You may email him at andy@freethinking.me.

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