Faith is a word that gets tossed around a lot in various guises. It’s generally considered something a person ought to have. Keep the faith. Gotta have faith. “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed …” and so on. (That last one led to a small cottage industry of jewelry and pendants embedded with mustard seeds.) Let’s look at some common uses and meanings:
- Sometimes the word “faith” is interchangeable with “confidence.”
- Example: I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. This is faith based on experience and it’s measurable. You can check to see if the sun rises.
- Example: I have faith that my mother loves me. This faith is based on a lifetime of experience and hundreds of examples.
- The word is also used to mean “religion.” Example: My faith is that of a Southern Baptist.
- Skeptics tend to define the word as “belief without evidence,” and that’s a fairly accurate description of the way many people use it. Example: I have faith that a god will take me to heaven when I die so I won’t really be dead. Equally compelling is faith that a golden unicorn will fly me to the moon, but people actually believe the former statement.
- Faith healing is a subset of belief-without-evidence. At revival meetings, faith healing is theater. In other situations, it’s the typical deal: if someone gets better, proclaim divine intervention. If they don’t, that’s also divine will but don’t think too hard about it. Caution: do not use faith healing for amputees. This technique is absolutely useless when it comes to re-growing limbs. No matter how much beseeching is involved, you’re not likely to be able to claim a miracle.
- Faith is often a coping mechanism. Example: Have faith that it will all work out for the best. This is closely related to the power of positive thinking, which can have a real benefit for getting people through hard times. The blind faith that someone is watching out for you is slightly different, and related to “there’s a reason for everything.”
- Some claim that it takes more faith to be a non-believer than to be a believer. Let’s think about that. Does it take faith to not believe in leprechauns? Of course not. Does it take faith to say you don’t know why the universe exists or even if that’s a sensible question? Nope. Same thing for not believing in gods.
- Rhymes with: eighth, wraith, and saith, as in “so saith the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”
With the presidential election a few days away, you have to wonder whether you really want to vote for people who hold the belief-without-evidence type of faith, as both current candidates do. I look forward to a day when it won’t matter to voters if a candidate doesn’t swear fealty to an invisible being.