Should we have faith?

By Israel Drazin

 

The humorist Ambrose Bierce wrote in his The
Devil’s Dictionary
that faith is: “Belief without evidence in what is told
by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” Unlike most people,
I agree with Bierce. I am convinced that religion should be based on reason,
not faith. People should study, understand the laws of nature, and use that
knowledge to improve themselves and society.

 

The notion of faith is not in the Hebrew Bible. The Bible teaches how people should
behave, to follow certain laws. The word emunah,
which is used in Modern Hebrew to mean faith, means “steadfast,” “firmly,” and
“steady” in the Torah. When the Israelites were attacked by Amalek, and Aaron
and Hur helped Moses hold up his hands, possibly as signals to the Israelites, “and
his hands were emunah,” in Exodus 17:12, the Bible is not saying
that he was showing faith, his weary hands were now “steady.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) said that if one uses
the term faith, understand that it means “being faithful to Torah laws.”

 

The concept of faith was introduced into Judaism and Christianity by Paul in the
first century. Paul wanted to convert as many pagans as possible into Judaism.
Paul lived during a time when what we now call the early Christians were a
segment of Jews. Paul realized that Judaism requires certain behaviors and that
many pagans would not accept these behaviors, such as circumcision and
abstaining from non-kosher foods. So he taught a new idea: God doesn’t want
behaviors, he wants faith. He created a wedge with traditional Judaism and secured
many converts. He also confused traditional Jews, who wanted to keep the ancient
practices, into thinking that faith is important. Today, when many Jews live in
cultures that emphasize faith, they think that faith is a fundamental Jewish
teaching.

 

Paul wrote why we should rely on faith: “God’s
foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” He was arguing, in essence, that since
God is wiser than humans, humans should surrender and rely on God’s wisdom, not
on their own judgments. This is not a good argument. Even accepting that God is
superior to humans does not require people to ignore their intelligence, their
five senses, their life experiences, and logic. Certainly, God would want us to
use them. If not, why did he create the human mind? What distinguishes humans
from animals and inanimate objects is intelligence. To abandon the use of
intelligence is to act like an animal or a stone.

 

I recognize that most people feel comfortable having faith, that half of
Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve steps encourage surrender to a higher being and
have faith and that this system helps people. But I think that study and
knowledge is a more practical approach to life, to improvement of self and
society.

 

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