Necessity of Faith

We’ll consider this post a sort of follow-on to the previous one I posted in the wee hours of this morning.

Because, frankly, there were some other things from the Bill Maher-Jon Stewart interview on the on The Daily Show a few days back that have been rolling around in my mind.

And we’ll start with the question I posed at the end of the previous post, “Necessary Dogma?

That question was: Why do we insist on looking to (and for) a higher power now that we no longer need to explain why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change, why people get sick and die, etc.?

Bill Maher brought this up in his interview when he noted that it was understandable and forgivable for ancient cultures to create gods (or a single God) because they had no other way to explain what was happening in nature and in their bodies and so many other things. He also mentioned that when someone is hopeless and without any real resources like, say, a guy in prison, that he understands why a person like that might say “All I have is my faith”—and Maher was uncharacteristically sympathetic with that kind of plight, noting that he wouldn’t want to take that away from someone in that kind of situation.

But I think this misses the point a bit, and still paints religion in a bad and—in my opinion—highly inaccurate way.

It seems to me that critics of religion want to make like faith is a crutch for the weak-willed or hopeless. I agree that it is often used as such, but not to the extent they would like to think. I myself am far from a weak-willed follower. I’m not an easily lead automaton who is looking for someone else to tell me what to do. Also, while my life is crappy in a lot of ways right now, I don’t feel hopeless, and besides, I became born again at a time when life seemed pretty damn good, really.

I think it is a mistake to discount people like me, whom I am pretty sure represent a decent sized chunk of the faith populace (maybe not anywhere near a majority or even half, but a significant slice nonetheless). I am one of a number of people who are reasonably intelligent, educated, well-read and didn’t have some gaping void needing to be filled. And yet we came to Christ anyway (or to other faiths). What does this say? To me it says that religion and faith speak to something deeper than just need. They speak to something separate from the intellect.

I was raised Catholic and grew to loathe going to church. I didn’t, in fact, for most of my college years and several years thereafter. I was happy to sidestep the people handing out religious tracts on the street and preaching from soapboxes outside storefronts. I didn’t have any problem ignoring the Bible and I didn’t much think about God. And yet there came a point at which I was exposed to the Word, in going to church once again (for the sake of the woman I was dating, who was a churchgoer, and not for my own), and it finally clicked for me. It made sense. Now, if I wasn’t experiencing a void or loss of some sort, and I wasn’t seeking God, then why would it click? The only explanation I have is that the spirit does exist, the soul is real, and I connected with my spiritual side for probably the first time. And I still didn’t jump into things blindly. I read the Bible, I thought as well as prayed, and I considered things. And I didn’t find any good reasons to disbelieve. And when I had my born-again moment where I really knew, it wasn’t even in church. In fact, I was driving down the street, thinking about where I was going to go shop.

So, getting back to Maher. What about the need to explain things, which is no longer necessary thanks to science?

I would argue that most major religions don’t try to explain anything about nature. Not anymore. They try to explain matters of spiritual connection. I mean, really, outside of a few stories in Genesis, does the Bible try to explain nature? The vast majority of the Bible is about the power of faith and the problems of disconnecting ourselves from God. That’s complex shit. We’re not talking about trying to explain why it rains or who moves the sun. The Bible simply tells us that God created it. It doesn’t even really make out like God has to do much to keep things moving. And considering that Judaism and Islam spring from the same Abrahamic and pre-Abrahamic origins as Christianity, I figure the same much be true of them. And are the Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto or any other major faiths trying to explain base reality much? I don’t think so. So to knock religions as mythology by comparing them to ancient faiths that were trying to explain nature instead of spirituality, is to already be starting off on the wrong foot.

One final thing about Maher’s comments. Jon Stewart was trying to swing things around to a “well, aren’t there valid issues about religion as a legitimate source of comfort” kind of tack. Maher shot back with a lines that went kind of like, “sure, aside from all that stuff like slavery and wars and oppression of woman and everything else.”

I know I’ve said before that it is unfair to knock religion as being the source of so much trouble when in fact religion was simply used as an excuse, and in the absence of religion folks wanting to do nasty things would have found some other way to justify their actions.

But more than that, something hit me when I heard Maher make that comment.

It’s a cop-out.

It’s just as bad as when someone says “The Devil made me do it.” We ridicule someone for saying such a thing, and it is, in fact, ridiculous because I don’t believe Satan can make anyone do anything that the person isn’t already quite willing to be convinced to do or already rip-roaring ready to do. But it’s equally silly to blame religion for crap that people do. Just like it would be silly to blame politics or economics in and of themselves for the world’s problems.

Because, when you get right down to it, what’s the difference between “the Devil made them do it” or “Religion makes them do it,” huh? Not much.


4 Responses to “Necessity of Faith”

  1. October 6, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Bill Maher makes me angry. His attitude and mannerisms are insufferable. I have been thinking about writing something about this for a while. I need to get my thoughts together though.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    October 6, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Yeah, the only reason I’m cutting him SOME slack in these past couple posts is because I’ve even seen a religious person give his film a decent review, admitting that some decent questions are posed and that Maher isn’t totally dickheaded in “Religulous.” Plus the fact he was somewhat restrained when he was talking to Jon Stewart.

    But overall I still find him pretty annoying. I mentioned in one blog that I will laugh at many things he says, but then feel kind of nauseated afterward for having done so.

    Particularly on matters related to relationships, women and religion, he is smarmy and obnoxious to the Nth degree usually, but he was not as bad as I expected him to be on The Daily Show. Fairly pleasant, actually. I started wondering if they put something in his coffee cup.

    Might be that he just wasn’t feeling feisty; might be a sign that he’s mellowing with age. Who knows?

    But overall, still probably more douchebag than decent in his presentation of his views.

  3. October 6, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    I find Bill Maher funny, irreverent, and many of the other terms you have used to describe him. Yet, he’s doing Christianity a great favor. He’s challenging our belief systems.

    We may not like it, and wish that he keeps his mouth shut, but we should be willing to let him have his say and be prepared to counter, if we so choose, his misgivings regarding the Christian religion, and religion generally.

    And you have done a fine job addressing some of his concerns.

    The worse thing we can be as Christians is intimidated by his challenge, and the next to the worse, insulted.

    His challenge should be a call for us to redouble our devotion to the Christ, and actually begin to carry forth, and to carry out, Jesus’ vision of what constitutes a believer, and a follower:

    Mark 16:17–18: “17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
    18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

    For those that speak in tongues, so be it, but, in the above passage, Jesus references “new tongues.” I believe this to be an important distinction.

    If we as Christians don’t take up the challenge, I wonder if we deserve the title, Christian. I know that that is a harsh statement, but, as a Christian, it’s one that weighs heavily upon me as well.


  4. 4 Deacon Blue
    October 6, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Actually, I’m not remotely threatened by him. I really just am frequently annoyed by his misogyny, his complete anticommitment stance to relationships, etc. So it isn’t even just about the tweaking he gives religion. Hell, I loved George Carlin and never found him to be anything but insightful and pointed and funny, and he was every bit as hard on religion.

    It’s really just the general attitude of Maher. Granted, I haven’t watched much of his current HBO series and have generally avoided him since his days on “Politically Incorrect,” so it’s possible he’s toned things down in recent years.

    He just seems way too proud of himself most of the time. Bugs me.

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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

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