Faith And Realism

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about faith. And, of course, whenever I think about faith, I look at this classic Penny Arcade comic celebrating the release of the Xbox game Ninja Gaiden back in March 2004:

Penny Arcade - High Employee Turnover

In that comic, the head ninja attempts to use faith as a motivator. And that’s really what faith is, isn’t it? It’s a motivational tool. However, the way in which you use this tool can either be very practical or highly dubious. If you’re standing in rising water, clearly about to drown, and you have faith that you won’t drown, well, you’re pretty much fucked, right? But if you see the water rising and instead of simply standing there you have faith that you can swim and make it to higher ground, well then your faith is more likely to help you survive.

So a realistic approach to faith and how to use faith would be the more desirable option.

But faith isn’t only a motivator for life and death situations. It’s also the foundation of a lot of what we think we understand. If you look at the basics of physics, the concepts are pretty faithless. Throw a ball into the air, it will come down. That’s a basic thing that takes no faith because it always happens. When you get into what we call gravity, though, that takes faith. We don’t know what gravity is and we don’t know what causes it and why. We can only guess. And you can say “educated guess,” but that’s still just a guess.

It takes faith to trust that we are right in a lot of things we think we understand about space and time and how it all works. I don’t have as much faith in that area which is why I’m looking forward to the day when someone makes a breakthrough discovery that gets people saying, “Wow, Einstein took some good educated guesses there, but…”

This leads me to a trap that a person with faith has to be careful of not stepping into: a closed-off mind. As with anything else, an extreme take on faith can be dangerous, as shown in the example of standing still in rising water. We can see examples of this in many different areas. A physicist with too much faith in Einstein may miss what could be a breakthrough discovery simply because the concept of it goes against Einstein’s thoughts on the universe, and so rationalizes something contrary so that it fits with Einstein’s work. A believer with too much faith in what his religion teaches him could take the encouragement of killing God’s enemies off the deep end and start murdering people simply based on different beliefs they hold (while not believing that it’s murder).

And of course, having too much faith in the existence of a real person named Santa Claus can do some emotional damage to a kid who inevitably discovers the truth. (I think using the spirit of Santa Claus to teach the importance of giving would be a more valuable lesson than teaching kids to expect presents to be brought to them every year. But that’s just me.)

There’s nothing wrong with faith, only in how we use it. Faith doesn’t solve problems; it’s not a solution to anything. What it can do, though, is help you to feel like you can find a solution or that an idea you have could work. That’s faith. That’s all it is. It can motivate you to believe that God is with you in your struggles. It can motivate you to not believe in God, but yourself. It’s a point of motivation leading to peace of mind. It’s jumping out of a plane knowing your parachute will open.

A crisis of faith occurs when someone begins to believe evidence contrary to what they’ve been taught to believe. If people were jumping out of planes with parachutes consistently not opening, that would cause a crisis of faith in the next person to jump. But as this example demonstrates, the crisis isn’t as much in faith as it is in a perception of reality. A person who understands why parachutes aren’t opening and inspects his own parachute with the idea to fix it is a person who is answering a crisis of faith with his understanding and skill to find a solution. In this case, his lack of faith in his parachute opening is the motivator.

Faith is a motivational tool, either for you or for someone you wish to plant a little faith into, as shown in the Penny Arcade comic. But as with anything else, faith must be kept in a proper and realistic perspective. It can help you to live your life in a way beneficial to you and the people around you. It can help you to take a risk in a field in which you already possess knowledge. Or it can help you to make it to higher ground while in the midst of a flood.

Just remember that you are the one who has to do the swimming.

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