Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Of God & Man: Why Faith?

I was just over on Current, and came upon their new Humanism channel. Right under a picture of the classic “Thinker”, is a quote from Nietzsche: “Faith means not wanting to know what is true". Ouch. They also have this gem: “"Man is the measure of all things" from Protagoras. Humanism is certainly not a new idea, as evidenced by these quotes and other infamous ones such as “Religion is the opiate of the masses” an English translation of the opening lines of a book by Karl Marx in 1843.

According to the Current Humanism page, Humanism is “…an optimistic stance that entails self determination and the dignity and worth of all people. More than a negation of the supernatural, Humanism is a process by which truth and morality is sought through human investigation.” Ok, well that doesn’t seem too bad. But the definition continues: “Tools of the investigation are reason, science, and the scientific method. Humanism rejects tradition, revelation, and/or mysticism (the supernatural) as appropriate or legitimate tools for determining what is true and moral.” So basically, Humanism admonishes that we turn inward as opposed to religion or spirituality to find the truth and standards for morality and ethics. In pursuit of the truth, Humanism allows for the use of reason and science. This definition of Humanism is, in my opinion, quite good. Except for that “optimistic” part.

But what is faith? To the humanist, it is inappropriate and illegitimate for determining truth. However, for billions of people worldwide, from many different religions (or none at all), it is what they base their lives on, their reason for being. Yesterday, I was having a Bible study with my friend Clarissa, and the topic was actually on Belief in God. Questions asked were, “Why believe? What did you believe as a child as opposed to now? What do you believe?” Faith came up as well. We discussed how even when we aren’t conscious of it, we step out on faith every day. When we get behind the wheel, we have faith our car will work (sometimes it doesn’t), our seatbelts will stay fastened, and other drivers will drive responsibly (and as a lifelong Jersey resident, I can tell you, many times they won’t). Yet we have faith these things will happen. It seems for some people, it is much easier to have trust in material things or perfect strangers than in a Higher Power. So what is theological faith? According to Hebrews 11:1, it is “… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In plain vernacular, The Message explains the verse this way: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see.” As opposed to Nietzche’s quote that faith is not wanting to know what is true, faith is a desire to know the ultimate truth, of why we are here and also giving meaning to our lives while we are.

One of my biggest problems with Humanism is in turning to man as “the measure of all things”, we’ll be bound to continually come up short. Although religion is often blamed to be the root of all evil by many a secular humanist, it seems to be obvious that man is the source of history’s biggest tragedies. This is not to say religion hasn’t been misused repeatedly over millennia. In the name of God, people have enslaved, raped, destroyed, tortured, maimed and murdered. But even when religion is not a factor, grave injustices have been committed. Race, class, sex, ethnicity, tribal feuds- any difference can light a fire of hate. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” No one, regardless of their beliefs (or lack thereof) in God, is sinless or perfect. So if we’re seeking a good measure in which to judge morality, how can we turn to ourselves? Our very nature is that of unrighteousness.

So maybe, as a collective, humanity hasn’t been so great, a humanist might argue, but there have been outstanding individuals we can use as examples. This is true. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa*- many people would uphold them as exceptional people. But please note, I wrote MANY people, not all. Therein lies another problem I have with humanism, which is relativity. What’s good for me might not be good for you and vice versa. I just finished President Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, and he details the polygamy that was common (and expected) in his father’s Kenyan tribe of the Luo. Polygamy is accepted in many cultures, but not (for the most part) in Western society. Who’s right? The polygamists or the monogamists? Or we who hold to the monogamist view being bigoted against polygamy based on a superiority complex? Are polygamists trying to hold on to an unnecessary custom that is outdated and anti-women? Or do we just say all is relative, which means we can never have an absolute standard for morality?

I mentioned previously I have a problem with the Humanist definition which listed it as being “optimistic.” If Humanism is really against faith or hope, I can scarcely see the positive in it. The thing is, though, from reading numerous comments on the Humanist page, I see a form of faith, not in God, but in fallible mankind. Far from being just a religious theme, faith can be seen throughout our culture. Coming second only to the theme of “Change”, President Obama’s 2008 campaign trumpeted “Hope” to the masses. Hope- a belief with one definition of “to put trust in”- is linked to faith. People have a natural inclination to hope, to believe “that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” Singer India Arie, in her song, “There’s Hope”, describes having no money and then making a million, but not finding joy upon earning it. Instead, she sings happiness comes from “the size of the FAITH in your heart.” It is the faith in God in my heart which brings me not only happiness, but forgiveness for past mistakes, security in my present and guidance for the future.

*While it was not intentional on my part while writing this to choose three people who were strong adherents to their particular religious faith- King to Christianity, Gandhi to Hinduism, and Mother Theresa to Catholicism- I think it is quite noteworthy that they were. Their respective faiths were catalysts for them to do good.


Living, Loving @ Laughing said...

Alisha, very compelling information, really like your site, thanks for following! I am following you as you follow Christ! Be blessed my Sister!

Alisha De Freitas said...

*Smiles* Thanks! Your blog is very inspiring. You have a beautiful spirit, sis, and I look forward to reading more!

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