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Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “faith” as:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

None of these is satisfactory for how I will use “faith” in the postings here, although I can find elements of some of my thoughts in some of the definitions.

I think our society tends to use the word faith only in the religious sense. We can see that influence in these dictionary definitions. Unfortunately this tends to relegate the term away from the things we focus on in the main stream of our daily living. This leads to serious misunderstandings about life, living, and choices.

“Faith,” as I will use it in these writings permeates every thing we do. Illustrations:

Our exposure to aircraft (TV, movies, books, school) convinces us that these big, heavy machines do fly, and reliably so. Commercial airliner crashes are so few that it doesn’t diminish our faith in flight safety sufficiently to relegate our travel only to ground transportation. We even have faith that the pilots (whom we have never met, nor do we know their qualifications, nor even their state of health) will operate the plane safely, even in stormy weather which we also know little or nothing about when we make reservations for our next trip. Yet we have enough faith in air travel to walk on that airplane and have a seat.

Every time we drive to work or the grocery store, we have faith that each one of the multitude of drivers we will meet on the road will stay in his lane and will stop at stop lights/signs, that is, will drive according to the rules. Highway accident statistics are terrible yet our faith in auto travel is unshakable. Why is that?

We also have faith in institutions, like banks, hospitals, nursing homes and schools. We have faith that they will keep our checking accounts with honesty, heal us, care for our loved ones, and teach our children truthfully.

Perhaps it is in individuals where we place our deepest faith, for example, doctors, pastors, friends, family, parents, and spouses.

Instances of faith in the daily stuff of our lives is almost endless. This is the sense in which I will use the term “faith” in these articles. In only a moment of reflection each of us will realize that “faith” saturates our lives, whether intentional or not. How does it happen that we have faith in something or someone? We’ll discuss that.

Notice how easily we can substitute the word trust for faith without changing meaning. Even the dictionary definitions do this. Indeed, trust is a true synonym for faith, certainly so in the contexts of this blog. However, we must be more careful how we use the word belief. We can, and often do, believe some information about something or a person without trusting them or having faith in them. It is important that we make these distinctions carefully.

So now we’re close to being able to think correctly about the question “is faith sensible?” First we need a few minutes with the question of how we come to place our faith in something or trust someone. But that’s a good place to start the next posting.

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“Faith is a choice” many will say. “I don’t need a lot of information.” Many others will say, “I won’t trust something I don’t understand.” People are different. Before we will trust something or someone, each of us needs to come to our own level of prerequisite factual information, whether through study, knowledge, first-hand experiences, or simply listening to a loved parent or respected clergy. The spectrum is wide. The consequences of our choices?  Maybe trivial. ‘Depends on what the choice is about. Maybe life or death.

My guess is that the choice to fly or drive a 1,000 mile cross country trip is, for most of us, based on how much time we have and the cost. Beyond time and cost, consequences aren’t really thought about. The chances of being killed in an auto accident are about 1 in 5,000; in a commercial airliner, 1 in 11 million, or 2,200 times safer, based on US Department of Transportation data (1999-2000). Yet which do we usually choose? In which do we have greater trust/faith?

It has long seemed odd to me how little our society thinks about risk. Especially when the consequences of a choice are great, why don’t the overwhelming majority of us ask ourselves the obvious question, “what am I risking in making this choice? Is the risk very much different if I do this rather than that?” Generally, I think we just don’t know much about risk.

Perhaps too many of us are inclined to replace a thoughtful reflection on facts and risk with what our friends or colleagues think, or what ‘everybody else is doing’ when making similar choices. Peer pressure from friends or work as well as the news media and activist groups strongly influence our sense of risk, choice, and trust in many cases. For example, did you know that each year, 10,000 to 50,000 Americans die from respiratory diseases due to coal fired electric generation plants, and 300 more are killed in mining and transportation accidents? In contrast, no Americans have died or been seriously injured because of a reactor accident or radiation exposure from American nuclear power plants. But what perception do you think most of us have?

So is faith sensible? I have a hunch our choices to trust someone or something could stand a lot of improvement. For example, how do we choose to trust a person? By their place in society (doctors, scientists, pastors)? Are they a part of our social group (neighborhood, Rotary Club, school team)? Surely skin color (ethnicity) has nothing to do with trusting them or not! And let’s not even get into how we choose a mate.

Maybe a lot of our faith choices are just based on what “feels right” or what we really want to do. I think our advertising industry capitalizes on this. For example, do we choose to buy a specific car because it looks cool or because it is the most reliable and safe? Yet we’ll drive that car in snowstorms through remote, potentially hazardous, areas and spend more money for it than anything else except our house. Is our faith in those choices sensible?

You probably won’t be surprised then when I tell you that I’m not at all impressed by the arguments that fill so many books and often get so heated on talk shows about the so-called “war” between faith in religion and faith in science. Remember, I’m talking about “faith” as being an accepted truth based upon factual evidence. No, no – wait – check those immediate reactions our minds have become conditioned to have about claims of  “factual evidence” on both sides of this “war.” If we are so defensive of our past choices that we can’t look fairly at the other guy’s factual evidence, there’s no point in going on to the next posting(s). But before you turn away, think a bit about the consequences and whether your faith is sensible.

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