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October 30, 2017


Crooked man has faith in crookedness.
Pious man has faith in piety.
Womanizer has faith in sensuality.
Miser has faith in money.
Saint has faith in saintliness.

Vinny has faith in vinnyness...jk

Not that I’d ever presume to judge someone who tried
to cope with the loss of their child in whatever way they saw fit, with drink or drugs or faith, but I’m afraid this does not really work as an argument in favor of faith per se.

Hm, I'd argue that it does. We live with pervasive doubt and fear and it's life-preserving at times. It's a healthy, discriminative armor that keeps us from being duped by others; from hanging onto our pet theories and illusions long after we know they're moth-eaten; it nudges us with distress signals when we throw caution to the wind; or whispers "Oh no, you don't..." when we start to chase after the next shiny object.

But, doubts and fears are mostly those of the other kind. You over-analyze, procrastinate, fault-find, or, overwhelmed, fail to act at all. You see phantoms and imagine dark scary things where none exist. It afflicts not just the paranoid and obsessive.

How often is a major step, a crucial time-critical decision overlain with a thousand "what if's" or "if only I had". Even inconsequential ones. Make any choice, review any action, devise any plan and in retrospect, an objection, a tweak, a make-over will flash before you that could've improved the outcome. Or imagine disasters because perfection wasn't achieved.

A life affirming faith --whether religion based or not-- can be the counter-balance to the negativity of our minds, to those doubts and fears that can be our best friend but more often are our own worst enemy.

Quote Dungeness :
… A life affirming faith --whether religion based or not-- can be the counter-balance to the negativity of our minds, to those doubts and fears that can be our best friend but more often are our own worst enemy.

Dungeness, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with much of what you say in your comment (only part of which I've quoted here).

But I’m afraid I have to disagree with the conclusion you draw. After all, what faith can possibly be truly and wholly “life-affirming” unless it is based on life itself? Unless it reflects life as it actually is? Unless it is a representation not of some fantasy but of reality?

The difficulties you describe are very real, Dungeness. True, the world can be scary, at many different levels. True, over-analysis can paralyze decision-making, and constant (over-)cogitation can lead to chronic indecision and therefore inaction. Also true, some aspects of some particular faith can, at particular times, support us and help us out of these difficulties. But the problem is, unless that faith is firmly and wholly rooted in reality, then that faith, while useful in particular situations, can end up becoming dysfunctional in other situations. And since to the faithful their faith is their only rudder (indeed that is the whole point of this faith, in the context that we’re speaking of here), they will not know when that faith has ceased to be useful and beneficent and instead has turned dysfunctional.

(And if there is some exceptionally wise person who is able to use faith only when it is useful, and to discard it when it starts becoming dysfunctional, well then he is already using some discernment and some source of strength that is separate from his faith in order to judge that faith. Why not, then, cut out the middleman altogether, and rely directly on that discernment and the inner strength?)

And, as you see, that sets us circling back to what I’d said in my original response to Spence.

In fact, while the difficulties that you talk of are very real, the difficulty that Spence had described was surely even more stark and even more difficult to bear? To repeat what I’d said to him, sure, any short-term measure that keeps you alive and functional through such hell is great, be it drink, be it drugs, be it faith. Only, when you think it through, perhaps the best way is to try face reality squarely and to try to draw on one’s inner strength directly?

Which, I realize, is far easier said than done.

And yet, what other way is there, ultimately? Band-aid measures (like drink, and drugs, and faith) are just that, band-aid measures. They are good for some situations and for some time. And dysfunctional at other times. And they come with their own cost. And that cost is, I suspect, often far greater, cumulatively, than the original cost that they helped one to tide over to begin with.


I’m fascinated with this question that Spence had raised. It isn’t as if I had my personal answer all down pat and ready-made. Not like I had some particular pet theory of mine, all worked out already, that I had to defend. Like I said, my first impulse was to agree with Spence, given the horror of that particular situation that he describes. Some more thought led me to the view I’ve put down here, and this thinking is very much a work in process. I realize that my thinking may well lead me in a different direction going forward, given differing insights that are adequately compelling. It could be that my thinking thus far may have been wrong somewhere. And yet, as far as I can see at this time, the faith-based answer is, at best, chimerical.

What is faith, after all? Yes, we’ve gone a long way here without first defining that term. Here’s my tentative definition. “Faith” is some belief (or belief system) that is adopted and internalized when the available evidence does not actually warrant accepting that belief (or belief system). That covers it, I suppose, in the present context? This is not Spence’s personal faith, as he has discussed it elsewhere on this site. His personal faith is very similar to mine. Faith, to him, is no more than a practical and tangible support in his spiritual endeavors, adopted only conditionally, and adopted specifically as a tool for exploring (subjective) reality. That kind of faith is a whole different beast, and that kind of faith I am fully and whole-heartedly in support of. As I’ve already stated earlier. What we’re talking about here, now (and what I have tried to define above) is different from that. For instance, the faith of those Pentecostal Christians that he spoke of.

It is this faith, a faith in things that (as far as we know) aren’t actually true, that I’m arguing against. There is, to begin with, the question of whether you want to be saddled with such a ‘false’ faith at all, quite irrespective of any practical benefits and costs. But leaving that question aside, for the moment not worrying about ‘truth for the sake of truth’, and seeing this issue only from a purely utilitarian angle : I’m saying that, as far as I can see, the support and help that such faith gives one is chimerical at best, much like drink and drugs. It is no more than a tool that helps us channel our own inner strength. It has nothing to offer in itself, all it does is to help us to draw on focus our inner strength, that we already come equipped with. Which, obviously, is of great help, especially in time of adversity. But in the process it short-circuits our thinking in fundamental ways, and ends up as grotesquely dysfunctional in the long run. Far better, I would think, to (try to) directly draw on that inner strength of ours, as best we can, rather than relying on band aids like these.

Therefore, as far as I can see, even in the very limited context of Spence’s argument, that is, even within the very limited scope of helping one to tide over very specific kinds of adversity, faith seems, ultimately, to fall short. (And obviously, that also applies to lesser -- or at least, less intense, less dramatic -- adversities, of the type that you yourself spoke of.)

SPENCE, if you’re reading this :

Although my view turned out to differ from yours in this particular instance, I’ve always found your comments very insightful. Any thoughts or critique you may have on what I’ve said here, both in my original comment addressed to you and in my subsequent comment addressed to Dungeness, will be very welcome. It is your comment that I've tried to expand on here, and any further thoughts you might have on this will no doubt help me to better see my way clearly through this question.

And, as you see, I’ve taken the liberty of discussing your own personal faith here, based on what I’ve seen of your comments elsewhere on this site. I hope you don’t mind my having done that. I believe that that faith, your personal faith, is very close to my own idea of what faith ‘should’ be. And very different from what faith often actually is, in practice. Certainly very different from the faith of your Pentecostal Christian friends. If I’ve ended up misrepresenting your personal position in any way, then do please correct me.

A simple Prayer I have prayed just about every day of my life, as long as I remember, and still do, daily, in addition to any other, or additional Mantras, Prayers, or Suppositions I have Faith in.

Master Charan Singh always prayed to,...” The Father” as Master Jesus did, because the same Christ Spirit was in him, that was in Charan Singh, that is also in ME, and every Believer that has ever put their Faith in Christ, regardless of how they imagine Christ to be, or manifest, as God, The Word, The Son, Shabd, Anami, Radasoami, or The Holy Spirit.

This simple Prayer, is the most Powerful Prayer I have ever experinced, that delivers Spiritual Magic that only Believers may witness

I challenge all of the Readers here, regardless of their faith, non faith, exer or inner, Atheist or Scientist, to give it a try, for a month or more, to experience the positive changes that will enter you lives!

I know many recovered Alcoholics, who got sober thru the AA Program, who’s first Motto is,....” We came to believe in a Power Higher than our selves....”

I can assure you, that Power has always been Christ!


Nice article...thanks, Brian. I would humbly say that no one is without faith. Individual consciousness IS...therefore, faith exists even if only in oneself. What I believe we should apply ourselves to discovering is the SOURCE of our conscious awareness, which exists and existed before any sensory or intellectual excitation. This internal study is not new - various yogas, including surat shabda yoga, have been developed to attempt to satisfy this perpetual quest. The beauty of the search for SOURCE is that it is wholly internal and individual, free of any doctrine, church or organization.

For most others (including, probably, the Pentecostal Christians in your particular example, so bravely battling their horrific situation), faith equals blind faith, and is no better than some deadly narcotic that momentarily dulls the pain but can -- and often does -- end up consuming their whole life.

I hope Spencer will forgive me for hijacking a thread addressed to him. But, I want to disagree with the above follow-on comment that the Pentecostal Christians are "probably" succumbing to blind faith or that their affirmations are chimerical, or mere band-aids, or purely narcotic.

It seems to me at least somewhat off-the-mark as well to suggest they should be internalizing something more evidentiary, that they're hoodwinking themselves instead of summoning their own internal strength, or that they're consuming their lives with the "quick fix". Hopefully, my own bias hasn't crept into this perception.

It does seem to me though that Spencer's conditional faith may well be no different from the Pentecostal's at all. A Pentecostal believer's practice could be just as rigorous. He may believe and feel strengthened by each act of faith and measure success in whatever benchmarks he sets for his spiritual growth. He may look critically at his preparation, examine his sincerity, or redouble his effort if those measures fall short. To seemingly posit he's not doing that, that his faith is blinder or somehow more flawed that another approach which resonates with us, is a problem with the lens we're using.

In the case of a child's death, I view Spencer's observation about affirmations in its aftermath is a beautiful statement of Pentecostal faith :

...to have faith that somehow life was worth continuing, that we should all be kind to one another and move forward, that there was a greater power watching over even the child who died, their soul, were powerful psychological tools that kept these people moving forward in difficult, horrific circumstances.

Evidence doesn't exist for the goodness of "God" or the efficacy of platitudinous prayers for the "departed". But neither is there evidence to posit the universe is governed by some cruel, arbitrary system of chance that's completely unknowable to mere mortals and only partially to the brightest and best of scientific minds.

In these circumstances, Spencer's tribute seems very apt:

A town of Pentecostal Christians I knew for many years held that faith was more important than evidence. Faith was a sign of character. Faith in the midst of doubt.

Thank you Brian, Appreciative Reader, Dungeness, AL and Jim.

You understand and reflect upon what I wrote with your own take, which I have also considered.

As a Jew by birth (whose parents rejected Judaism and more specifically Zionism) when I was very small, there was one practice that my family adhered to, from the Jewish tradition. No one actually knows God, so everyone's view is legitimate, if open too debate.

The Talmud is filled with such dialogues among ancient Rabbis, and often the questions were never answered conclusively. But Talmudic copyists preserve with loving care all sides of the debate, so that each reader could make up their own mind.

That tradition seems in full flower here. And is, Brian, a worthy accomplishment.



Quote Dungeness : … It seems to me at least somewhat off-the-mark as well to suggest they should be internalizing something more evidentiary …

In what way, Dungeness? Could you elaborate?

Let me emphasize again that I’m not criticizing these people and their simple faith. That would be stupid beyond stupid, and in any case in staggeringly bad taste. Anyone who’s been visited by adversity of that magnitude is fully justified in using any and every means to assuage their pain.

In fact, even without the adversity, even without the pain, I wouldn’t dream of poking my nose into what people did (or believed) in their own space in their own time with their own money. As long as they don’t harm others and keep to themselves, their private beliefs are no business of mine.

However, since this is specifically what we are discussing at this time -- discussing faith, I mean, and as it happens with some reference to their particular faith -- it does therefore seem apt to critique that faith. Not criticize, certainly not condemn, but critique it.

I’ve tried to explain, in these those three posts of mine, why and in what ways I think this faith is ultimately dysfunctional.

You disagree. That’s fine, I respect that. You’re fully as entitled to your private opinion as I am to mine. But could you explain why, as you say, it seems to you at least somewhat off the mark to suggest that they should be internalizing more evidentiary beliefs than their proudly non-evidentiary faith?

I’m very interested in what reasons thoughtful, well-read, intelligent people find to weigh in on the side of blind faith.

… It does seem to me though that Spencer’s conditional faith may well be no different from the Pentecostal’s at all. A Pentecostal believer’s practice could be just as rigorous. …

I agree, I’ve been guilty here of making assumptions that may not be valid. I was aware of this, actually, which is why I used the word “probably” there (and I suppose that high-ish probability that I implicitly assigned, subjectively, was a function of my knowledge of the belief systems not of those particular people but of others like them, many others like them, many of whom I’ve had the privilege of discussing personal faith with in depth). You’re right, my observations are not free from the effects of the lens I was (and am) using.

But again, could you extrapolate a bit here? Either from direct personal knowledge (whether first-hand or second-hand, or even third-hand) or even from simple imagination, can you set out the circumstances that might actually support that particular kind of faith?

I ask because I expect that some amount of critical thinking would likely puncture that apparent cause-and-effect chain very easily. But that, as you said, could well be merely my particular lens talking. Which is why I’m interested in what kinds of circumstances you have in mind that might ‘justify’, that might ‘validate’ if you will, this kind of faith.

… Neither is there evidence to posit the universe is governed by some cruel, arbitrary system of chance that’s completely unknowable to mere mortals and only partially to the brightest and best of scientific minds …

(a) You’re building strawmen here, I’m afraid. “Cruelty” does not enter into it at all. Not even “arbitrary”, not really, when you think about it. Nor “some system of chance”. At best you can express what I suspect you were thinking as ‘it is what it is’. But how is that different from a God-governed universe? That too would be (if at all it actually were to be) simply “what it is”, isn’t it, except with a God (or Gods, or Gods and angels and demons and what-have-you, as the case may be) thrown in?

(b) Apparently one reason why you’re objecting to this alternative is that you don’t like the idea of a system that is “completely unknowable to mere mortals and only partially to the brightest and best”. At least that is the sense conveyed here. But is a theistically governed universe any different? Isn’t the Christians’ imagined world also, as you say, unknowable to mere mortals and only partially knowable to the best? If you think it fit to object to a non-supernatural worldview on those grounds, wouldn’t you object to a god-driven-and-supernatural worldview also, and equally, basis that reasoning?

(c) Finally, an “it is what it is” worldview doesn’t mean that the world is unknowable to mere mortals like you and I. Not completely knowable, perhaps, but certainly bits and pieces of it are knowable. And those bits and pieces keep on growing bigger every day. We don’t necessarily have to make some discovery ourselves in order to benefit from such discovery. Neither in terms of technological benefits, nor in terms of knowledge.

… Spencer’s tribute seems very apt …

Dungeness, that was no “tribute”! That was merely a simple factual description.

Spencer was saying that those folks “held that faith was more important than evidence”. They believed that “faith was a sign of character”. At least that is what his words conveyed, and that is what I took him to be wanting to convey.

That was simply a description of the nature of these people’s faith, a description of what they believed, of how they ‘rated’ their faith. While I have not had the pleasure of knowing those particular people, I have nevertheless met and spoken with many others who hold similar ideas about faith.

That you seem to think this simple description is a “tribute” might, perhaps, speak more about your own ideals/models of faith than anything else?

A more flippant -- and I use this flippancy here deliberately, to simply make (and emphasize) this point, and not, most certainly not, to deride or belittle that faith in any way -- a more flippant but perhaps equally valid description of this kind attitude towards faith might be the ability to “believe six impossible things before breakfast”! The better you are at it (the higher the number of impossible things you’re able to believe, and the stronger your belief), the “better” your faith is, by this yardstick!

And also : doesn’t this wholly fly in the face of what you’d said earlier, that their practice “may be just as rigorous” as other, experiential practices? Because if they are, then they are indeed trying to use “evidence” to shore up their faith, after their own fashion, as opposed to standalone faith flying in the face of evidence. If it seeks evidence, if this faith is in any way bolstered up by any kind of evidence, then that faith cannot (by this rather weird yardstick) be seen as a sign of character, can it? Can’t have it both ways, can we?

Finally, Dungeness : You didn’t really address, in your post, any of the points I had raised. I tried to show how this kind of blind faith, while occasionally useful and supportive, is ultimately dysfunctional. Given that you seem to think differently (going by that last comment of yours), I look forward to hearing any counter-arguments against (or even general thoughts around) what I’d said earlier, if you’d care to present them.

Not challenging you in any way, Dungeness, let me stress. And I thank you for your thoughts thus far! But since we’re discussing this, I’d enjoy (and, just perhaps, profit from) your more detailed thoughts. Your bald opinions, as presented in your last comment, are fine too ; but your reasoned arguments for those opinions are what I’m asking for now, should you care to continue with this discussion.

Quote Spencer : “ … No one actually knows God, so everyone’s view is legitimate, if open to debate. …”

But are they all equally valid? That is the question, surely?

The fact that we don’t know something perfectly, does it really mean that anything goes, anything at all? That all things said about that unknowable thing are equally valid? Especially when one of those points of view (of which we’ve seen a number of strands within this thread) expressly eschews all appeals to ‘validity’ itself, and indeed glories in its lack of validity as a virtue in itself?

I can understand being generally apatheistic and generally uninterested in these things. I can also appreciate that one may not, at some particular point in time, be inclined for a detailed discussion about some subject that one is otherwise generally interested in ; so that one is content to lay a discussion to rest with platitudes.

This remains a subject of abiding interest for me, however. Perhaps because my own views on this are very much a work in process. If you’d like to comment on the views I’ve tried to express here (which are probably nothing remotely novel or new after all), I’ll be happy to listen.

To briefly recapitulate : When you put your faith in some system that is not based firmly on reality, you’re essentially deluding yourself. That may be beneficial at some particular times, but is likely to be dysfunctional in the long run. And when you hand over your personal rudder to the directions that come attached to that faith, then again, while at some particular times this may help you channel your inner strength and face up to unspeakable adversity, at other times it may lead you down less beneficent paths. And the sum total of this kind of faith is, I’m subjectively evaluating, likely to be a net negative, given the whole scale of time and effort and resources one is likely to devote to doing pointless things as a result, and also given, in some extreme cases, the very real risk of sometimes being led down downright dangerous paths, like strapping on a suicide vest (since the radical Muslim’s faith is no less ‘real’, after all, than the peaceful Christian’s). Not, of course, that that last is my main objection, since I realize there are ways to effectively contain that possibility (at least in theory) without necessarily dismantling the whole superstructure of faith : it is merely an added risk -- and a very real risk, for all its luridness -- that makes the blind faith proposition even less defensible in my eyes.

(And, as I was saying to Dungeness just now, in my comment just preceding this : no criticism implied here of anyone! Just a general critique of faith in general, although touching as example on the particular instance you brought up : faith not so much as a means to an end but as an end in itself, faith seen as a virtue [or a sign of character] in and of itself.)

Dungeness, that was no “tribute”! That was merely a simple factual description. Spencer was saying that those folks “held that faith was more important than evidence”. They believed that “faith was a sign of character”. At least that is what his words conveyed, and that is what I took him to be wanting to convey.

Since this is a 3-party line, I'm including Spencer's lead-up paragraph:

When a child died in a tragic auto accident, the desire to question "why" or to claim the world was not worth living in, arbitrary and cruel, to stop functioning, stop living is strong. The capacity to have faith that somehow life was worth continuing, that we should all be kind to one another and move forward, that there was a greater power watching over even the child who died, their soul, were powerful psychological tools that kept these people moving forward in difficult, horrific circumstances. That was when I stopped criticizing them for being ignorant.

I think in the context of these earlier remarks, the "faith is more important than evidence" becomes more tribute than simple factual description. It becomes a coda to Pentecostal affirmations in the face of loss. The positive tone resonates with us and becomes more meaningful than a simple statement of unsupportable faith.. Most telling to me is Spencer's final sentence: that was when I stopped criticizing them for being ignorant.

At the very least, the Pentecostal belief in the power of faith is suggestive of hope and positivity - not blind dogmatism.

Err ... sure, blind unquestioning faith can lead to "hope and positivity", absolutely, but ... well, but what-I-said-in-the-rest-of-my-post. You've still not addressed any of that, at all.

Which is fine. I'm happy to discuss this if you (and Spencer, and others) want to, in order to better clarify and test my own views ; but no big deal, I'm very happy to let go of this if you don't. No issues.

As for what Spence meant, well, you and I can only conjecture about that. Only he knows definitively what he meant to convey. But that wasn't my main point at all! My point was this : that you (or he, or anyone else) would think of a faith that 'overcomes' evidence as a "tribute", only if you thought of that kind of thing as an ideal, as something unqualifiedly beneficient. And my argument, throughout, has been that such apparent benefit, while no doubt welcome at all times and especially when faced with adversity, might, in the long run, end up being exactly the opposite of beneficient. See my last comment addressed to Spence, where I've tried to recapitulate the gist of my argument in one single short(ish) paragraph.

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