What is faith?

Red sky at dusk

These three remain: Faith, Hope and Love. But the greatest of these is love.

That's a verse that meant a lot to me when I identified as a christian. Given I was in a relatively moderate group, and not a fringe sect, it probably makes sense why I would gravitate to that particular verse. We weren't fire and brimstone people; we wanted you to believe because of the good things god had in store for you.

Hope, to my way of thinking, was a human thing. God already knew the future, so how does one have hope when you already know everything that was going to happen? Clearly that was lesser, because god could love but he couldn't hope.

Faith was a curious one; the entire belief system is focused on a human believing in god, specifically in how christians believed in one. If you had that, you were in the club, but if you didn't, see that burning in hell thing. Yet, again, faith was a human thing, because its how we responded to god. God didn't have faith in us miserable sinners, we had faith in him.

So of course, love had to be the greatest because of the three, it was the only one that god could experience. Nevermind the fact that why the author of that line only included those three and no others; I mean, the scriptures were divinely inspired so surely those were the big ones to god, too, right?

Hope is fairly easy to define, at least in concept: a sincere belief that something that can happen will. Its envisioning a possible outcome that you want to become the actual outcome. We hope for things all the time: that we wake up in the morning; that our missing cat comes home; that we get that special gift for christmas. We are a hopeful species.

Love is similar: a mutual strong feeling or bonding between two individuals. We love our family, our friends, and maybe even our pets. We spend time with them, we get to know them, and we fear losing them. We value them for who they are, not for what they bring to us.

Which leads me to an interesting, yet unrelated, question... is it really possible to have a love relationship with a god who doesn't interact with you? Seriously though, think about that question... even a pet shows affection towards us, but a being with whom we never interact? What kind of bond can there be?

The more I think about it, love plays no part in belief of a god. Religions of old, like the beliefs of the Native Americans, were intimately tied to the world around them. You could love the land, the animals in your area, and the seasons, as you were there expereiencing life with them on a daily basis.

But christianity? Look, you could love the people in your congregation. You could love the ceremony that comes with the practices. You could love the hymns you heard. You could even love your leaders (in more than one way), but the diety? No, that's not love. It may feel like it, but it can't be, because there is no relationship there. It is all one-sided, on the part of the worshiper.

What is it then? Infatuation might be one way to think of it, just how many people are infatuated with people they don't know but see in a movie. I may be infatuated with Scarlett Johansson, but I'm sure not in a relationship with her. I may feel something, but she does not return that feeling, so it is not love. We have not, and likely never will, meet. Even if we did eventually (like how christians claim they'll meet god in person after death), and did build a relationship then, you can't claim that right now, long before that meeting occurs, there is love. That just is not how love works, but it might be how faith works.

The most common definition of faith that I have heard in my life, is one that now seems absurd in the extreme: evidence of things unseen. Pause for a moment and break that down. Evidence is something you can interact with; something that can be perceived with senses or validated thru logic. If something is unseen, it inherently cannot be evidence. This is a nonsense phrase meant to give faith a veneer of scientific legitimacy, but the sentence itself, when examined closely, can't even stand up to basic scrutiny.

(This is where christians will start coming out with the concept that faith can't be proven, which is another complete line of garbage, which is beyond the scope of this post. I'll acknowledge that someone will be thinking it though, and consider another post in the future to explain exactly why this is garbage.)

So then, what is faith? As I've been thinking about this for a while now, trying to understand exactly what and why I chose to believe, and what exactly changed in me to then stop believing. Trust me, I did believe, even if I did always have doubts, and I worked //hard// at believing. My life would have been and would be so much easier if I did believe. I would still have many good friends, a strong community around me, and a false hope of life after this one. Yet none of those was worth it, compared against the things that religion forced upon me as a consequence of belief.

What was it then that I got out of having faith? Its been a journey to figure this one out, and I don't claim that this applies to anyone but myself, yet the more I watch the behaviors of people who claim to have faith, the more this seems to fit them, too.

Faith is nothing more than anxiety reduction. That's it; that's the whole thing.

Afraid of dying? Religion has an answer in an afterlife.

Don't understand why bad things happen? God's got a plan; you just don't understand it.

Can't explain why certain stars seem to move backwards? They're angels watching over you.

In every case I can find, when a human doesn't understand something, religion is there to provide you a convenient way to not worry about it. It isn't that religion provides answers; it provides you a way to decrease your anxiety over not knowing why. That's faith: you believe so that you can live your life without a crippling amount of anxiety.

We humans hate our anxiety; it can be debilitating in the extreme. Even small doses of it are enough that we run from it. Understanding what causes it, why it effects us and what to do about it, is so far beyond many of us that we simply outsource it all onto a cosmic being who is bigger than the anxiety that is everpresent in our lives.

If we hate our anxiety, we claim to love anything that allows us to escape it. For some, that's vice and for others its religion. They're both addictions; they're nothing more than different sides of the same coin. (More accurately, its probably something like a 100 sided dice, with many more ways to relieve that anxious nature, but that's yet another topic for another time.)

Faith, hope, and love. In the end, they're all part of what makes us human. Yet not understanding them more deeply leads us to place more emphasis on the empty faith than on the hope or the love. Faith is nothing more than a coping mechanism, where the other two can provide true relief. In the end, only two really remain.