What is Faith?

It is inspiring to read about well attended Catholic masses here in the West and Southwest, with four Sunday masses conducted in Spanish, the dominant language, and one in English. It’s a good picture of peace and community.

But all theistic religions must come to terms with the fact that they are founded on impossibilities. There isn’t the first shred of objective evidence for deities or powers, whether they be called God or some other name. Religions can have valuable personal and social benefits for people, but it’s because of what people themselves do, not because of what an imagined God does. The value of religion comes from guiding people to do the right thing.

The religious assert that God exists, and that he created the world we know and has complete control over it and everything about it. But in order for this to be true, we must accept without question the understanding of the universe people had during a period of gross ignorance several thousands of years ago, long before the telescope, long before science and its demand for objective proof.

If you accept that antique belief, no part of the contradicting scientific knowledge we now know to be true and factual can be accepted. This is why fundamentalists are so out of touch with reality. Even counting tree rings tells us the earth is older than the 4,000 years they claim. Carbon dating is accurate to 50,000 years, and other methods can date objects to millions of years past. The stars are vastly larger than our little planet. They are not nearby sparkles in the sky, but light years away, and their numbers are literally beyond counting. This is all recent news.

How old is God? Older than modern humans, who came on the scene at least 200,000 years ago? Guessing the age of the Earth as 4,000 years was a good shot at the time the Bible was written, but we now know it’s actually 4.54 billion years old. Did those early humans “have” God? Is God as old as Earth? Or perhaps the universe, 13.82 billion years? What duties did God have before humans came on the scene this recent 0.000014 of the age of the universe, barely a heartbeat ago?

Will God outlast humans? It’s very possible that babies being born today will be the last human generation, because we may have already destroyed the systems on which our lives depend. For example, planetary temperature is rising rapidly, and we know humans cannot live when the temperature reaches 125ºF because we will overheat, and cannot sweat enough to keep cool. Will God exist when there are no longer humans to believe in him? If not, what is the reason for belief now?

All religions tell us that death is not death, but a crossing to a new kind of life. This belief has caused far more human misery than it has relieved. Humans have often felt free to kill each other because we don’t really die after all, but go on to live in greater glory, a concept very popular with Muslim suicide bombers.

These unsupportable beliefs in magic create political havoc, and make life difficult for people who don’t share them, particularly when the faithful are in the seats of power. In the US today, Christians not only hold the power, but they make it a point to denigrate or demonize those who don’t share their specific beliefs. Their power is such that virtually no politician dare say he isn’t a devout Christian, or at the least a devout believer in God. But even the Pope doesn’t expect everyone to be a believer. He has made it clear that it is how you behave that matters, not whether you believe in God. But that’s not what Republicans say; they were a bit confused by the Pope’s words.

American Christians forget that they are a dwindling majority in the US. Some 80 million Americans and counting are non-believers. That’s a lot of people. Further, there are additional millions who are listed as followers of a theism, although they are either indifferent to religion or forthrightly hostile to it. The number in this camp is rising rapidly, because many people are simply unable to swallow the contradictory magical tales that count as belief. On the contrary, they see religion as the cause of most of the world’s problems.

The concept of God is not necessary, but perhaps it’s a useful comfort. Would that all followers were as tolerant as their religion tells them they should be. Would that all followers treated every one of the world’s citizens as human, just like themselves. The world would be a much better place if nobody could use God as an excuse for bad behavior.

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