New Webpage - 1 November 2005
Faith as a spiritual or religious exercise is complete trust and confidence, "firm belief especially without logical proof", and "spiritual apprehension of divine truth without proof" . As such, faith can be an extraordinary exercise of human credulity and/or rampant gullibility. It is also -- pardon the pun -- pretty much of a two-edged sword.
It is important, for example, to distinguish between faith which has no basis in evidence whatsoever and faith which has some evidence (mimimal, indirect or otherwise). Furthermore, there are aspects of religious (and/or spiritual) faith which provide comfort and nurturance as a result of one's beliefs, and there is faith which entails serious negative implications in terms of how one lives one's life and its effect on others.
Consider the matter of one's destination (if any) following one's death. Reincarnation, for example, might assume that one will be checking out the current and future fashions of earthly space suits in preparation for one's next incarnation. Others might suspect that a distinctly warmer clime might be in store (considering all their nefarious deeds in the lifetime just ending), while still others might be looking forward to some serious cloud floating in any number of versions of hereafter styled heavenly bliss. There is also the possibility of death being an end. Period. End of the line. The Party's Over.
Curiously, there is a significant amount of evidence regarding the hereafter - whereever and whenever (or even however) it might occur. Near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, birth experiences, remembrance of past lives, and even communication with the other side have yielded a wealth of direct and indirect evidence for what might lay beyond -- even when such descriptions are not without controversy. [One of the bigger controversies, of course, is the lack of credible evidence of anything resembling an inferno style hell. Too bad in case you were looking forward to it for yourself or certain of your specific acquaintences.] When added to an immense amount of philosophical ramblings over the ages -- much of which has to be taken seriously if one is to be even remotely open minded -- the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests a hereafter, and furthermore, a hereafter which might be entirely pleasant (albeit for any number of reasons, some expected and some not).
Suffice it to say, there are articles of religious and spiritual faith which do have some evidence to support their existance as legitimate, logical, and rational beliefs.
Part II -- Faith of the Beneficial Kind
There are also articles of faith which have distinctly less evidence to support their beliefs, but which have a beneficial effect in our pre-death lives. Manis , for example, has written:
The good news is that believing there is justice in the hereafter has a beneficial effect on the believer -- despite the fact that justice of the instant or instant karma kind might have some unexpected implications. Nevertheless, certain beliefs of the afterlife would appear to be the kind of faith that warrants the exercise thereof.
It is also noteworthy in Manis' statement that proof, incontrovertible evidence, or even evidence beyond a reasonable doubt has its limits, and that sometimes intuition or other illogical means may warrant serious consideration. Keep in mind that logic is wholly dependent upon the available evidence, while intuition is not so constrained. The fact that unconstrained intuition can also sometimes get one into serious do-do is also true.
Meanwhile, intuition and/or leaps of imagination are really only quantum jumps in the sense, perhaps, that we simply don't consciously know or perceive the possible continuity or logical progression that made up such a leap. As St. Augustine is reputed to have said :
It is often our lack of information or knowledge, or ability to perceive effects which lead us from a logical, mechanistic view of a clockwork universe to faith in a theory which attempt to understand the (possibly currently) inexplicable. It may be that given time, we will begin to fully understand the universe and logic will again have its day.
In the interim, there may be the necessity for at least certain aspects of faith. This is both the necessity of belief in something which has no proof or even direct evidence, and in addition the necessity for the suspension of disbelief. The latter is something typically required for our enjoyment of a movie, play, or performance. And inasmuch as many think of life as nothing but a play -- "full of sound and fury and signifying..." whatever -- this suspension of disbelief is the only thing that will allow one to be a participant of life -- rather than being merely a disinterested observer. The latter can be a good way of coping with life, but tends to lack in purpose -- purpose being something which most seem to require to justify all "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."
As another example of beneficial faith, consider the spiritual belief that:
The "evidence" for this belief is derived from the fact that from a distance (of space and/or time) everything that happens is funny. This "from a distance" scenario has been shown to manifest itself in virtually everyone's life -- save the terminally anal retentive -- and applies to most all of our past experiences. Furthermore the process of approaching the proper distance is such that one can have faith that those items in one's life which currently appear distinctly unfunny, may become funny at some future point in time (or after being relocated to an entirely different point of view). So faith in this belief can be said to be warranted. But there's more.
Besides having some reason (evidence) to believe in such a scenario, there is also the result(s) of such a belief. In essence, no matter had disastrous, how horrifying, how... well... yukky... something appears in the moment... Given some distance of time and/or space, whatever happens will turn out to be really quite hilarious. The key is that the implication of believing this article of faith turns out to be beneficial -- not to mention enjoyable and wonderfully comforting... at least from a distance.
There is, of course, always the fear that by making light of something, we will be severely punished -- as might have been the case when we laughed out loud at dear old Dad falling on his face on that particular snowy day. But fear of the future is clearly an unprofitable emotion. There is nothing about it which creates happiness in the here and now. And inasmuch as our bodies were allegedly designed by some deity to feel good, one would be inclined to believe that beliefs which feel good are the best way to go.
But in the hereafter? Well... Voltaire has said that "God is a comedian playing to an audience too scared to laugh." That might represent one article of faith of the "from a distance" spiritual sect. As would Douglas Adams' version of God's last message to his creation: "We apologize for the inconvenience." But the result is laughter, and since this feels good... Q.E.D.
The unresolved question of course is whether the creator of the universe is a comedian or a wrathful, clearly dysfunctional being demanding worship and righteous living -- one who will quickly send you to an eternity of torture and misery for any failure on your part to comply with a whole set of largely incomprehensible and torturous, ancient, taken-out-of-context laws. Heaven in the latter case sounds sufficiently like hell that the only logical choice is to assume that "God" is in fact a comedian. (He may also be a mathematician, but that's another story -- and/or belief structure.)
The point of this discussion is to suggest that many religious and/or spiritual beliefs provide us with the kind of feedback that benefits our lives -- and almost inevitably benefits the lives of others. Laughter, for example, is contagious -- and without all the baggage associated with viruses.
But there are also belief structures or articles of religious faith whose strict adherance leads to pain, anguish, terror, and a whole host of other unpleasant experiences. It is these articles of faith which need to be tossed upon the garbage pile of obsolesent beliefs, and which are the primary subject of the third part of this essay.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that there are two ways we can fool ourselves: 1) belief in something which has no basis, and 2) refusing to consider anything which contradicts our previously held beliefs.
Part III -- Faith of the Not-so-Beneficial Kind
Why, for example, would anyone believe something which has no real evidence - direct or indirect - no justifiable reason or reasoning, no logic, no rationale, and most importantly no advantage or benefit which might be derived from such a belief? In terms of religious faith, why would anyone in their right mind believe something where the holding of such a belief was in fact highly detrimental to the quality of their lives or the lives of others?
For example, why in the name of heaven (pardon the pun) would anyone in their right mind accept on the basis of faith alone that they are born in sin, have no means of internal or divine validation of their own worth, and must do all manner of irrational, disgusting, unhealthy acts (mentally, emotionally, and physically - not to mention spiritually) in order to avoid eternal torment thereafter in the alleged hereafter?
Perhaps the answer to this perplexing paradox is the phrase, "in their right mind". If the people who have faith in wholly unsupportable, contrary-to-their-best-benefits beliefs... if these people are considered insane, i.e. not in their right mind, then perhaps we have stumbled upon the answer. Yea!
This could be an extraordinarily significant finding in that there are currently several billion members of the species Homo sapiens who for wholly unexplainable reasons have faith in alleged truths which have no viable evidence to support them, and which in fact have a whole host of points of evidence arguing against these alleged truths! Most importantly, these beliefs are often highly detrimental to their lives -- as well as to those around them -- and conversely such beliefs do nothing to improve the quality of life of anyone (other than possibly the priests, clergy, clerics, mullahs, rabbis, or alleged holy men profiting financially or status wise thereby).
However, when one considers the fact that "sapiens" is defined as "wise", then one must conclude that your average religious fundamentalist cannot in any manner justify the addition of sapiens to his species title of Homo. Therefore, from a strictly logical point of view, this fundamentalist and everyone like him or her should be more accurately referred to as. well. a Homo. The fact that said fundamentalist is often of the mind to put each and every male Homo to death [in accordance with Leviticus 20:13 ]. this fact may constitute irony at its most exalted pinnacle. [It also causes one to absolutely love the delights and strangeness of the English language! Whoever concocted it has got to have a warped but entertaining sense of humor!]
[Fundamentalism: "strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion" (1) This as distinguished from so-called moderates who assume that certain tenets of a religion were born of necessity for the times in which it was formulated, but which no longer appear relevant and which can thus be safely ignored.]
Of course, to be fair and fully literate - as this website is occasionally prone to do-- sapiens also includes in its definitions: "aping wisdom; of fancied sagacity."  Thus your average Homo aping sapiens / fundamentalist is at least attempting to foist upon others the idea that they are at the very least, pretending to be wise. I.e. they are "aping" wisdom, even while denying any possible connection of any kind between their species and those of [other?] apes. [I just love this English language!] Meanwhile, the fundamentalist's abject failure at even approaching the country wherein wisdom might reside must give pause to every legitimate thinking member of Homo sapiens .
Ah, yes: we have discovered another clue: thinking. Many artilces of religious faith have the unique quality that they never lend themselves to thinking or common sense. There is no discrimination between reality and wild imaginings - not even an attempt to apply rationality. In fact thinking is for the most part considered anathema for the true fundamentalist -- except in those cases where the religious zealots are conjuring up various tortures, inquisitions, and terrifying deaths for those practicing original thought.
Religious faith in general requires and demands that one does not consider any piece of evidence which might contradict what someone is alleged to have said thousands of years ago in a barbarous and seriously dysfunctional world -- and furthermore as interpreted by others with their own special, often demented agendas. This means that for some there must be a totally closed mind; no thinking must ever be allowed to surface or arise out of the murky rain forests of the fundamentalist mind; and as a result all hard, factual, and incontrovertible evidence must be summarily dismissed without so much as the most minimal consideration. Worse yet, such factual evidence must not only be dismissed, but met with a counterattack worthy of the Battle of the Bulge. This is not merely burying one's head in the sand, but blasting away at the truth carrier with every weapon at one's disposal.
For example, consider the stirring words of Professor Totten from 1890:
It is just this sort of thing which likely accounts for the ancient Turkish proverb: "He who tells the truth should have one foot in the stirrup."
It should be noted that faith in any other non-religious arena is almost always open to modification. If one has faith in the fidelity of their lover, but then observes him or her in a blatantly obvious sexual coupling with another member of the opposite sex (or even of the same sex), then such faith will be recognized as misplaced, and the alleged fidelity will have been proven to have been built upon the foundations of shifting sands. If one has faith that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, and then observe that it quickly sets in the east (as happened once in Central America, circa 1500 B.C.E.), then one's faith will require modification of their faith in sunrises to account for special circumstances. While one might wish to re-establish faith in sun rising in general, there will always be the allowance for alternative scenarios.
This adjustment of one's faith based on newly discovered or realized evidence is too often denied in every respect when it comes to religious faith - in particular by the fundamentalist (who is neither having fun nor using their mental capacities). This is especially true of those tending toward Dominionism, wherein one can commit any crime -- even one specifically prohibited by their own religion -- simply because of the alleged inference that one is "defending the faith". One might say that these people and others like them are seriously listing to starboard.*
If the reader who considers him or herself to be a fully fledged member of a religious faith, and is simultaneously highly offended by the foregoing, then perhaps - just prior to blasting off an e-mail via the Feedback Loop on this webpage -- complemented with such clever lines as "Get thee behind me, Satan" - try reading about the results and the implications of blinding following certain aspects of faith.
For example, to be a fundamentalist Christian, Jew, or Moslem, one should be intimately aware of the punishments for straying from the straight and narrow. For example, if one has:
...the punishment is death. In the case of a man taking a wife and her mother, all three are "burnt with fire." [Leviticus 20: 10-16]
Meanwhile in other areas of interest, if a Muslim woman is raped (i.e. against her will), then her brother can reestablish the so-called honor of their family by killing her. He will of course go unpunished and in fact will be honored for his act, despite the fact that the rapist is getting off without so much as a reprimand.
If sex is not your bag (and thus you're unlikely to stray into this particular religious minefield), then note that death is also the prescribed punishment for:
It's a good thing that your psychiatrist is not reporting your problems with your mom to the Theocratic Authorities!
Part of the problem of excessive responses to the breaking of inane and questionable laws is perhaps best exemplified in the Ten Commandments. On the one hand the penalty for breaking any of the Ten Commandments is death. There is no flexibility, consideration of the circumstances, or reference to mitigating circumstances. At the same time there is confusion and conflict between the two versions of the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20 and 34. 
Keep in mind that these commandments were given by a jealous, revengeful god who among other things has created evil:
Jealousy is routinely defined  as: "fiercely protective. afraid, suspicious, or resentful of rivalry in love or affection, envious." These are qualities of the same god who -- in the true spirit of insanity -- claims to be:
There is no evidence here of a merciful, loving god, but rather a seriously dysfunctional being at best, and at worst an insane and demented anal retentive. Furthermore, any one claiming to have faith in such a being is similarly dysfunctional or insane, and in all likelihood has been repeatedly lied to my various control freak promulgators of the faith.
Then there's the idea of 70 Virgins awaiting the Islamic martyr in heavenly splendor just for managing to kill himself along with as many innocent individuals as possible. This is obviously insane. But is there a significant difference between expecting a reward for what amounts to genocide, and punishing children for the sins of their great, great grandfather?
[Non-Sequitar has noted that the Devil is the in the details, by portraying the 70 virgins awaiting the Islamic martyr has all have PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) for eternity.]
Now for someone imagining (or aping) themselves as a "religious moderate" this may seem that we limited our discussion to the realm of the extremely stupid fundamentalist. And of course, these same moderates -- being the highly intelligent and perceptive individuals that they are -- will quickly recognize that such fringe lunatics are not the mainstream of their religion. They are in fact enormously more cosmopolitan, sophisticated and astute.
Parvez Ahmed has said , for example:
On the other hand, while the religious faithful may still believe in a virgin birth, that Abraham was a simple shepard [***], or that martyrdom is something to be prized (with the martyrs actually being prayed to as intermediaries), they are nevertheless - allegedly -- above mindless killings, torture, and burning of books, manuscripts, and fellow human beings.
And yet, they are by means of their willful ignorance (i.e. their choosing to be ignorant about matters of the gravest importance), aiding and abetting others to commit all manner of crimes and injustice in their name. They - the average Christians in the United States for example - voted for the most demented President and his fundamentally (pardon the pun) corrupt administration in the history of the nation.
Well. not exactly voted in terms of a majority, but rather in terms of an appointment by 5 of 9 members of the U. S. Supreme Court who thereby violated the basic covenant of the Constitution they had taken an oath to protect.
One of these conspirators, incidentally, Associate Justice of the United State Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, who is a devout Catholic, has supported "the use of capital punishment even in cases where the defendant is acknowledged to be mentally retarded."  Scalia, now in the running as a current finalist for the title of Third Anti Christ, has also said :
Here is a Supreme Court Justice stating in clear language that the United States government will "execute wrath upon the evildoer", but who somehow failed to mention how one determines who is and who isn't an evildoer. Nor did he describe the Supreme Being, who might be the dysfunctional Jehovah, the actual Creator of the universe, or perhaps, Barney the Dinosaur. In any case, wrath is to be visited upon those deemed by the self-proclaimed authorities to be "evil" - be it individuals or nations. Justice Scalia is obviously insane.
[It is also curious that Scalia's words are very similar to Professor Totten's words (above), which had been written in the 19th century. If there is one thing you can say about non-thinking, non-changing fundamentalists, they're consistent -- albeit consistently stupid and/or demented.]
Equally obviously, by the standards of the barbarous Leviticus, the punishment is death for most of the population. One would also have to conclude that Iran, with its own fundamentalism (albeit Muslim), would also come under the category of evildoers (every man, woman, and child) simply by virtue of their current residence. (It's the old "Axis of Evil" scenario.) In turn, the citizens of the United States are conversely evil by their acts of invasion and genocide against Muslims in the Middle East. The specter of a religious war between the insane and the moronic religious fundamentalists of various stripes seems more than a little likely. Furthermore and very importantly, this grotesque scenario is not being challenged by the religious moderates as the madness that it is.
This is terrifying. And even more so, when a dumb as a fencepost President chooses to replace both the deceased Supreme Court Chief Justice Renquist and retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner with individuals in the mold of Scalia. And ALL of these people have been confirmed in office by the average, highly ethical, moral, and sophisticated Christian voter in the United States -- apparently believing that any good ole Christian boy from Texas can't be all that bad.
Meanwhile, the equally corrupt and insane Tom Delay (also from Texas -- which based upon increasing evidence, should be quarantined), as the recently defrocked Republican Majority Leader in the United States House of Representatives, has made his support of Scalia's demented view clear by saying, "Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world. Only Christianity." In other words, not Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, or even Sesame Street. No. Only a Tom Delay-approved Christianity,
Accordingly, Buddhists are advised to return to the Communist run ghettos of Tibet . It will undoubtedly be safer there for such non-Christians than in the coming Theocracy of America.
The point of this momentary aside into the elite circles of Dominionism at the pinnacles of the United States' hopefully temporary (but clearly illegal) government is that one must inevitably come to recognize that religious faiths of all manner and kind have in their midst fundamentally insane individuals. Furthermore, the so-called religious moderates are allowing - without significant objection - these same fundamentalists to place the world on a path of unbelievable pain, suffering, death, and quite possibly worldwide catastrophe for the human race -- including in particular all genuine thinking members of Homo sapiens.
As just one simple example of the rampant madness, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club and allegedly a Christian -- but obviously not constrained by the Ten Commandments or any of Jesus Christ's teachings -- has recently called for the assassination of the President of Venezuela. 
When one is intolerant of all other religions -- while at the same time refusing to allow any challenge to the most idiotic notions of their own religion -- such an individual has created the inevitability of a clash between their fundamentalists and any and all fundamentalists of other persuasions. One must also recognize - and this is fundamentally important -- that there are still other fundamentalists waiting in the wings to take out the winner in the initial fray.
Instead of going around saying, "Jesus loves me," it might behoove one to first extract out of the teachings of Jesus and other wise individuals those recipes for living a moral and ethical life, and than apply them in a positive, consistent manner to the way one actually lives their life. That is to say, apply those lessons without the baggage of such wretched fantasies as virgin birth, deity status of any and all prophets, sages, saints, and wise men/women, 70 virgins for the martyr, and a seat on the right hand side of God - where the standing room only crowds will reportedly be astronomical in numbers (all with "confirmed" reservations to a seat).
It might also be a highly instructive exercise to acquire a copy of Sam Harris' The End of Faith . This is an excellent book, well written, and very thought provoking. It is highly recommended in that it presents the irrationality of religious thought in much greater and more convincing detail. It is in large part the inspiration for this essay.
[Keep in mind, however, that Sam can not be held accountable for my own ravings. I might also say that, "The Devil made me do it," but that would be counter-productive, misleading, and wholly false. Actually the guy calling himself the Devil hinted that the fundamentalists were doing his work much better than he himself could have managed, and my essay might actually diminish that effort. This guy in fact rather objected to my writing and posting this essay. But then, I played my CD of "The Devil's Sonata" and he merrily danced away to the accompaniment of the violins. Music definitely has charms to sooth the savage beast.]
The final aspect is to discard as a crutch the fulcrum of evil, i.e. faith, recognize its inherent obsolescence, and then live a life whereby one honors the sages and wisdom of the ages by living a life of service to and tolerance of others.
Notes unworthy of a separate webpage:
* "Seriously listing to Starboard" implies leaning far to the right side of the boat, which in turn implies an extremely conservative viewpoint, i.e. "averse to rapid [and in many cases, any ] change."
**Apparently it's okay for the man to lie with his daughter (e.g. Lot and his daughters after the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah). There also appears to be no injunction against a female lying with another female. But inasmuch as the females are already roundly condemned by virtue of their so-called connection to Eve and original sin, then it might be considered to be superfluous for specifying punishments for those already in the blocks.
***"And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan." Genesis 14:14 (One might suggest that 318 armed and trained men was not the standard complement for a simple shepherd or herdsman.)
 Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder, The Reader's Digest Association, Pleasantville , New York , 1996.
 Manis, private communication, 1 October 2005.
 Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe, Harper Perennial, New York, 1991.
 C. A. L. Totten, Joshua's Long Day, Destiny Publishers, Merrimac, MA, 1968.
 Parvez Ahmed, Interview, Utne Reader, Nov-Dec 2005, page 89.
 Sam Harris, The End of Faith; Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason , W. W. Norton & Company, New York , New York , 2004.
Or forward to:
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]