This was originally a comment written to John Halsted in response to his post: The role of faith and hubris in Paganism.
Unfortunately, it has since blown up in my mind and I felt that I had enough relevant things to say, given recent topics, that this was worth a series of posts. So, I will try desperately to stay on topic, which is something I seem to be rather bad at in such discussions.
This is a word many people hate to hear. For some, it dredges up memories of being trapped within a church while some strange man screams at you about how your only hope in life is to put a blind trust in a God, who you may not even understand or relate with. Faith cannot be forced upon people, you either find a place for it in your heart, or you don’t. Unfortunately, many religious paths, not even just Christianity, try to push this upon people. The concepts of “You must connect to God as I do” or “You must understand God as I do” are not only fundamentally wrong, but impossible. Everyone comes to faith in their own time, partially because we all come to it damaged, for a very good reason:
Faith is independent of religion.
Faith does not begin with any God. It begins with one another. It is born and cultivated within society and faith is the fulcrum upon which society rests. Faith has a place in all things, whether they are an interaction with something tangible or intangible. It begins with our parents, or whoever raised us up from infancy, and grows, changes, shatters, and redevelops as we and our relationships mature.
For example, I have faith in my fiancé. He is completely tangible. But, I have no guarantee that he will never raise his hand to me or our children. I have no unbreakable promise that he will not lie, steal, cheat, or burn down our household. He is fully physically capable at any point in time to do any of those things. But, I am promising a space in the rest of my life to another human being because I have faith that he will honor his vows and is an honorable person.
One might say that this is a rational assessment based on an evaluation of his reactions and personality traits over time. But, I smile at this because: a) nothing we do, as humans, is rational. We are rational thinkers with emotional responses with many millennia of colorful history to cite as a reference, and b) that same assessment cannot explain why, despite the assumed possibility of this reasoning, the divorce rates in America are ridiculously high.
But then, how does this differentiate from trust?
Faith is the bridge on which trust meets action. You can trust someone, but not put any faith in them. But, you cannot put honest faith in someone without trusting them.
Trust is thinking your neighbor is a nice person. Faith is inviting them over to watch your kids when you’re not home. Trust is thinking a person can keep a secret. Faith is sharing with them a fact that might damage your reputation in your community if misused. Trust is thinking that God is ok and probably helpful. Faith is giving God a place in your life, etc.
So, if someone says that when God says “Jump”, they say “How high?”, it doesn’t mean that this person is mindlessly obedient. They just have faith that if said God/Gods can be distracted from what they are doing long enough to tell them to jump, there must be a damned good reason.
I remember a woman talking about Santeria at a spiritual convention a few years ago and how guests would be frustrated by really unclear messages in divination.
For example, a practitioner would get a message saying, “Don’t stand on the corner of First and Broadway at midnight.”
The recipient would be frustrated and ask, “What the hell does that mean?”
The only answer was simple: “I don’t know, but if they took the time to tell you not to do it, and you do, don’t be upset if you get hit by a bus. They told you not to be there.”
I’m not one that believes the Gods have any vested interest in arbitrary dogma. If they take the time to ask us to do something, it’s for our own benefit. Yes, sometimes they seem to set up laws for their own egos, like the hubris taboo in ancient Greecian culture. But, if you look at anyone who breaks the Gods’ laws, they do not do so to be a good person. If you look a history of hubris, such as that of Niobe, (Who proclaims that she is surely better than Leto, the mother of Artemis and Apollo, for she has fourteen children and Leto only two) those people are setting themselves up not only above the Gods, but above the rest of humanity in the same process. If you’re better than Leto, you’re also asserting superiority over any other mother who does not also have fourteen children. This erodes relations, trust, and therefore faith between people, and thus erodes the bedrock of society.
There’s a favorite telling of mine about the coming of Ragnarok in Gruber’s Myths of the Norsemen. The heralding of Ragnarok occurs when both Sunna (the Sun) and Mani (the Moon) are swallowed by the wolves that chase them, Hati and Skoll. It is said that Angrboda, the Mother of Monsters in the Ironwood, feeds these wolves on the bones of dead thieves, murders, and oathbreakers. Thus, the end of the world comes not because of some seer’s prophecy, but because people cannot stop being assholes. If there were not enough thieves, murders, and liars within the world to feed the wolves, they would never be strong and fast enough to swallow the Sun and Her brother.
While I have not found this corroborated elsewhere in the lore, its basic premise is maintained by the concept of frith in modern and ancient Heathenry alike, which is, as a loose definition, peace maintained through a community by trust and right action. Effectively, when faith and trust have broken down between tribes and families, this is what heralds the end of days.
This is also paralleled in Hinduism. Many Hindu scholars believe that we are now within the Kali Yuga, or “Era of Discord”, according to the writings within the Surya Siddhanta. This is the last of the four Yugas that occur within the world’s lifecycle before it is unmade. Not unlike the situation above, the Kali Yuga predicts a time when human beings are deceitful: families turn on each other, rulers are grossly unfair, oaths are broken, and material needs and sexual relations become tantamount to love, trust, and God.
These are recurring themes in many other cultures.
So, in summary, faith is not something to be afraid of or revile. Regardless of what theology you subscribe to, you’ve been practicing faith all of your life.
The people who testify about faith in a God or some other higher power do not do so out of blind following or as a method of zealotry, but because they have cultivated a trust with deity, and I’ll get further into my thoughts on that in a later post.
But, there seems to be some fear that faith in God somehow leads to violence. I present very few things as absolute truths, but I believe very strongly in what I am about to say. Belief in God does not make anyone kill others over that belief. Zealotry occurs when someone forgets that mythology, scripture, etc. are metaphors, not meant to be taken literally or to kill others over because they don’t believe as you do. Even zealotry in itself does not cause religious warfare. Hurt and damaged people cause warfare. Someone decides to kill another person because somewhere along the way, that person’s trust was so damaged that they can no longer extend it to another human being who does not believe exactly the way they do. Some people are psychologically broken from it, and just want to break the world. Look at the history of some of the world’s greatest killers. It’s a repeating pattern that you see.
If there is a great killer within the psychology of men, it is not faith, it is fear. The only remedy to that is not atheism or attacking spiritual believers, but instead healing the damage within ourselves and practicing faith within our fellow humanity. Not everyone takes that trust and emotion to God, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that the ones who do have had some break with reality, their perspective is just a little different from yours. If you truly worry about the impact of faith on this world, be excellent to one another and give doubt a little less of a foothold between humanity. It’s not faith in God you’re really fighting: it’s the fear of each other.