From my discussions with others I am convinced that many do not realize how wide-spread faith is, even in the modern, scientific era. So we extend our discussion of faith’s personal relevance by placing it in the larger context of its importance to humanity. In other words, we can perceive the relevance of faith better by noting the broad human experience surrounding faith.
When one ponders religious faith broadly, it is found to be surprisingly imbedded in all cultures. Religious people are sometimes criticized for being sheltered from real life, but many nonreligious people (as they describe themselves) have been sheltered from the depth and prevalence of faith too. For many people, their upbringing, schooling, contacts, and exposure to media have not adequately educated them about faith. Indeed, many secular minded people today are astonished when they realize faith’s influence, elasticity, and staying power throughout human history.
Faith is an undeniable force in the lives of hundreds of millions, even billions, in the world today. This power and influence is not unique to the modern world. It has permeated every century of human history from the beginning of recorded time forward until the 21st century. As far as archeologists and historians have discovered, no continent or island where humans have trod or put down roots has ever functioned apart from religious faith of some kind. In most cases, religion and faith were central to societies. A casual survey of past cultures proves this:
- The Aboriginals practiced their religious faith by worshipping a number of deities.
- The Mayans worshipped and sacrificed. Their temples, central to their society, are still partially preserved.
- Ancient Egyptians took seriously their burial rituals and beliefs about the afterlife.
- Native Americans fervently believed in a master spirit and life beyond this one. Some were and are polytheistic. They passed along their beliefs through stories.
- India’s religions go as far back as its ancient civilization.
- China’s earliest religions practices divination and took burial procedures seriously. Ancestor worship was also practiced.
- Remaining structures in Mesopotamia testify to the intensity of various religions there.
- The Greeks and Romans are well known for their polytheistic dedication and temples.
- And the early Hebrews worshipped the God of Abraham, El Elyon, the Most High God from which Christianity and Islam are derived.
As long as humans have traveled upon earth’s sod, there faith traveled alongside.
Our ancestors knew faith was needed for the journey, but do people today?
For the most part the answer is, “Yes.” There are no signs that faith is dissipating in the modern world. Christianity, which flourished in the west for centuries, is presently growing rapidly in places like Africa and Asia. Furthermore, some 90% of South Americans still identify with the Christian religion. Three-fourths of Australians claim to follow a religion, most of it Christianity. Islam too is an expanding religion worldwide with over a billion adherents. Many of the smaller splinter religions are gaining adherents. Eastern religion is gaining in popularity in the West and maintains its stronghold in the East. Over 95% of India claims to follow a religion. Newer religions such as Mormonism, the Unification Church, and Scientology are also rapidly expanding. This is not an endorsement of any of these religions. It simply proves the prevalence of religion in the modern world.
So far, nothing stops faith. Nothing even seems to slow it down. For example, rather than increased knowledge stifling Christianity, some of the church’s great moments of expansion occurred in the wake of the Enlightenment. Many careful observers believe science has only served to point more conclusively to the reality of a Designer and Life-giver. As evidence, they point to many discoveries like the information embedded in DNA, the uniqueness of planet earth in the known universe, irreducibly complex biological structures, and the undeniable super-complexity of the human brain.
Postmodernism and globalization have not reduced worship or spiritual interest either. Indeed, moderns have shed many superstitions, fairy tales, myths, and even entire old religions, but it does not look like they will shed faith anytime soon. Even now we are told that 50 -100 million Americans attend religious services regularly. That equals 35-40% of Americans. Currently there are 300,000 churches in the USA or more. Religious schools and colleges also abound. Many who do not attend weekly worship services are still invested in faith in less traditional ways. Faith also is a constant theme on the internet and social media. If you have noticed, it is regularly part of the world and U.S. news. Then, of course, when death strikes a family member, still the vast majority of citizens turn to a faith ceremony for meaning and comfort.
There can only be one reason for faith’s staying power. Faith is not a fad or trendy fashion. Nor is it a passing stage of evolutionary development. It is not a social structure forced upon the younger generation by their parents or the powers that be to maintain control of the masses. It cannot be explained as a tool to manipulate guilty consciences by charismatic personalities. Nor has faith only been cultivated amidst scientific naïveté. Humans exercise faith because it is ingrained in the human spirit. Faith makes sense to us. It is logical. It explains life. We appear as if we were created to believe in a Higher Power, and no explanation apart from faith satisfies our inquisitive minds.
In fact the attempts to explain life and meaning apart from faith never succeed. They fall woefully short. Education is incomplete without an understanding of origins and the spiritual aspects of humanity. If this were not so, the ardent attempts to eliminate religion in some societies would have been much more effective. In Russia today less than half claim no religion despite that country’s ardent attempt to eliminate religious belief in the past through communism. In China, which is officially atheistic, it is estimated there are over 65 million Christians. Other religions also flourish there. Time and skeptics should have put an end to the nonsense of faith, if that is all there was to it. Yet, behold! Here faith stands (to the chagrin of many social engineers) unashamed, unabashed, undeterred!
Widespread shared experience and testimony show that the human mind naturally searches for meaning in life’s journey which cannot be supplied by science or cold facts alone. Science is a useful tool, but it is limited to empirical research in the present. That’s why when people share their inner thoughts or spiritual convictions, invariably they reveal a belief system of something out there beyond themselves – something they cannot fully explain – something or Someone greater, transcendent, very powerful, very smart, purposeful – above and beyond their lives, not accountable to science, which makes sense of the universe, undergirds science, justifies knowledge, and gives their lives a higher meaning.
Through an exercise of faith men and women of all ethnic backgrounds, ranks in society, educational achievements, IQs, occupations, interests, personalities, and ages have brought meaning and energy into their lives. Faith permeates every division of humanity and penetrates every category of life. Faith has inspired jubilant family celebrations and has cemented strong societal structures. Faith in the divine has moved people to tears of joy, inspired their awe of the universe, challenged them to attempt great feats, bestowed peace in the face of danger and death, given birth to great statesmen and philosophers, motivated rousing speeches, and led to courageous new discoveries. No wonder it has been the recurrent subject of song and dance, plays and theatricals, sermons and edicts. Faith is central to human life & culture. Faith lives! Faith breathes! Faith remains vital and active! Faith is an undeniable, constant, dynamic force among the human race motivating much of the events of human history and forming much of human culture. Faith cannot be stopped!
I don’t mean to sound too rosy or pollyannaish about faith. I realize that faith to many people seems rather unnecessary, nebulous, or irrelevant. These people (maybe even you) ask legitimate questions, “Why would someone waste time pursuing things associated with faith when the world has so much to discover empirically and concretely – that is – without faith?” “Why should I pay attention to faith and its supposed benefits, especially since some faiths seems to add burdensome weights which bog life down rather than provide wings with which to soar?”
Some people even think faith is dangerous, narrow-minded, and disruptive to peace. They conclude that faith holds humanity back from advancing into a new age of reason, tolerance, and progress. They surmise, “Sure, it’s been around a long time and done some good, but look at all the deception and damage it has done also.” Consequently, their message to what they call “people of faith” recently has been, “Tone down your belief. You may believe, but don’t wear it on your sleeve. And by all means don’t try to convert others to your faith. Live and let live! Coexist!”
To those people I would heartily exclaim, Faith is far greater than you think, and the implications about faith are too great to settle with simple slogans! You would be wise not to diminish it, pigeonhole it, or dismiss it.
To be fair, far too many have corrupted faith, misused faith, and wrongly presented faith. However, that is not a knock on faith itself but its abuses. There is a faith which enlightens, delights, rescues, and emboldens. There is a faith which harmonizes with reason and moral excellence. There is faith which steers humanity into its intended glorious destiny. There is a faith which rescues each person from corrupt morals and enslaving habits. There is faith which honors the Originator of humanity and peers back to the Source for joy and guidance.
This is the faith we should all set our sights upon acquiring. Quality faith rescues life from the meaninglessness, aimlessness, and hopelessness of existence.
Faith also stands as a surer foundation for ultimate knowledge. It is faith, not science, which justifies education, ethics, compassion, and justice, because science itself has to be based on something besides itself. So faith is more than a nicety. Try to take it away or hold it down, and it simply bobs back to the surface. It is a necessity.
I will address these faith-themes, including the benefits and dangers of faith, the perplexities and certainties of religion, and the benefits and costs of belief in the divine. We will learn that what we believe matters even more than the fact that we believe. We will also look at some roadblocks to faith and how to overcome them.