Faith: A User’s Guide

Two faces of Buddha.

Can it be less than a year since I talked about faith/religion/and spirituality? What the hell kind of writing blog is this anyway?

Mine. And I have something to get off my chest.

Some of you might remember my earlier post on faith, Let’s Talk About Sects, Baby. If not, I’ve provided the link. It’s not necessary, but I’m going to reference a few of the same points here without being too repetitive. After all, that post was talking about how important it was to have faith, even though (and quite possibly because) it’s nutty. With this post, I’m going to try and provide something of a practical working guide to faith (you in the back, stop snickering).

My intention isn’t to tell you what to believe. I’d never presume to do that.

My intention isn’t even to tell you how to believe. Not exactly.

My intention is to offer tips on how to live your faith without being perceived as a sanctimonious prick and bully by those around you.

Why is this? Well, quite simply, because I keep an eye on the news. And it seems a lot of people in positions of authority could benefit from these tips. So buckle up. I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.

So let’s start with a quick primer. What is faith? Faith is, at it’s very root, a deep belief in something that guides our action, helps us determine how we live our life. Most importantly, and this is in the definition, faith is a strong personal belief in something that can’t be proven. And herein lies our first lesson. Let’s look at that description of faith because it’s important. I’ll highlight the important words for you.

Faith is, at it’s very root, a deep belief in something that guides our action, helps us determine how we live our life. Most importantly, and this is in the definition, faith is a strong personal belief in something that can’t be proven.

You see the key features there? Personal. Take for example abortion. (Like I said–I watch the news. And it is what prompted this post.) The only time faith should be a factor in the decision whether or not to have an abortion is if you’re the one having (or not having) it. You can believe with all your heart that abortion is murder, and that the mother is making a huge mistake and going to hell for her decision. It doesn’t matter. It is her decision. And quite frankly, it’s none of your business.

Because, and say it with me here, faith is personal. And the minute you start using your faith to make decisions for other people, to impose your faith on their lives, it’s no longer about faith. At that point, it’s about control.

Now, at this point the conversation tends to degenerate into quoting scriptures. One side uses quotes from their book to prove a point. The other side will either discount the book entirely as outdated and irrelevant, or summon up ridiculous and dated quotes that are also in the book.

We’re not going to do that for two reasons.

  • One: the fact is that for all the lip service, a lot of people haven’t read the whole book–they just cherry pick the parts they like, or have passages quoted at them so many times they figure that’s good enough. After all, the guy they trust to interpret the book for them read it, right? He can Cliff Notes it. The book is long and confusing and difficult to read. It’s kind of like Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco in that regard. You can struggle through it and try to make sense out of it, maybe apply some of it to your life. Or you can trust someone else to tell you the important stuff. The differences being, the person telling you about Foucalt’s Pendulum isn’t using it to further some ideological agenda, the other book is hundreds of years old, and, no offense to Eco, I was able to at least finish the other book. The point of the book is to read it and interpret yourself, using it as a guide to make sense of your own personal stuff.
  • Two: it’s still none of your business. At the end of the day…heck, the end of the universe…no one gets the right to tell anyone else what to believe. Anyone. Ever. Period. If someone don’t have your beliefs, if they don’t share your faith, then let it go. You can certainly talk to them about faith as long as they’re willing. But you can’t force it. And if you are, you’re being a bully.

And that’s ultimately the core thing you need to know about faith.

It’s yours. Use it. Faith is there to make your life easier. It’s there to give you comfort when you need it. It’s there to give you guidance when you’re lost. It is a warm blanket against the long, cold night of the soul.

Secondly, don’t try to hide behind faith to justify your attempts to get people to do what you want or live like you want them to. If they’re not harming you, you just don’t have the right. But taking away the right of women to make their own decisions is, at best, condescending. And using your faith to justify it cheapens both you and what you profess to believe in. It makes you seem clueless and out of touch. It makes you seem unsympathetic. It makes you seem, quite frankly, a bit of a dick. It makes you a bully.

And no one likes a bully.

I suspect there are a great number of people who are going to find that out in the next election.

3 thoughts on “Faith: A User’s Guide

  1. Being bullied by government is rather an expected consequence of having it these days, so I am a bit more circumspect about how much I can take from our bureaucratic overlords. The question that always comes up in my Philosophy courses however, is when Faith is sufficiently pervasive that it CAN become a foundation for bullying a minority. Sure, these days, it may well be true that the only person who should care if abortion is a murder is the one doing the deed. But what about rape? It seems pretty agreed in our society at least that this imposition of the majority’s view is super reasonable and righteous. Yes, these are the two extremes of a spectrum, but there are countless issues in between. The difficult question is when enough of the majority’s position on an issue of Faith is of generally accepted belief that it becomes okay to bully the minority into accepting it.

  2. Thank you, Nathan, for your thoughtful post. I’m an observant Christian and I agree with you. No one knows another person’s inner life.

    Interesting that you compare the Bible and Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. I did get through The Name of the Rose, so maybe I’d better give Pendulum a try.

    1. I genuinely wanted to like Pendulum, but found it impossible to finish. But everyone is different. There were other books I could have used, but for some reason that one stuck out.

      Thanks for your reply! 🙂

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