Finding Functional Faith

IMG_0012.JPGLife as we understand it, life as we know it, is largely a construct of human invention. Steve Jobs commented on the importance of breaking out of the scaffold of invented human life such that we can begin to drive our lives instead of our lives being dictated for us (video link below). One aspect of invented human life that we appear to be entirely constrained to, yet is an invention of humans and requires the constant faith of other humans in it to continue to work, is money.

Looking at the lives of those around us, those in the news, and within our own lives, we can readily see how important money can be. Even when money is not an obsession, it drives our lives in important ways. We exchange our time, our lives, for pieces of paper that we trust can be turned into objects of value at a later time. We save up these paper promises, invest them in portions of companies or promises of returns at a later time (stocks, bonds, etc), and base much of our lives around the hope that, decades down the road, other people will consider these representative notes to be of sufficient value to give us items of actual value at that time. To the end of gaining more of these pieces of paper we work long hours, put ourselves in dangerous positions, and in some cases, risk our freedom by attempting to obtain them through illegal means.

I have always been baffled by the athiest-agnostic argument against religion which is often stated as “faith is irrational, I only believe in concrete truths and science.” Allow me to make two primary objections  to that argument, although the focus is on the first:

  1. While I appreciate the sentiment of this, an honest observer must admit that so much of life as a human being relies upon some manner of faith, whether that be faith in our monetary system or faith in other figments of human imagination and construction. 
  2. While one may aspire to only believe in concrete truths and science, we as a scientific community and as humans with a limited capacity for processing and remembrance, cannot possibly claim to achieve this.

In our limited human capacities we strive for objectivity, but are dominated by subjectivity. Consider that the monetary system we have today, especially the stock markets, are not well understood not just by the lay person, but also by the expert. Original monetary systems worked in a similar way toChuck-E-Cheese’s where you could use an object of no value (tickets) to trade for something of value (let’s be honest, nothing at Chuck-E-Cheese’s has value). Now, with much of the world’s wealth in stocks, bonds, and the like, this system has become vastly more complicated with even the sharpest financial analyst or economics expert admitting that we have a system that we do not fully understand. Our faith in our financial system relies upon the fact that we expect others to value those pieces of paper as much as we value them. If Chuck-E-Cheese ‘s stopped accepting tickets in exchange for prizes the system would collapse. Conversely, if the child stopped working (playing the games) for paper promises and instead demanded the actual item of value the system would collapse. Faith in our financial markets and system is the basis for the work we do, the retirement we plan for, the security we strive for, and yet few people who balk at faith in religion give more than a passing thought to placing enormous faith in a volatile and finite financial system. Money is not the only place this is apparent; rather, as Steve Jobs asserts, these systems and constructs of human invention surround us.

The problem then is not with faith itself, but in the reliability of the object in which we put our faith. Our financial systems may very well be a good object in which to put our faith for handling wealth. The test for faith is whether or not the system, the object, is reliable and effective. I have faith in money because the paper from my wallet seems to be accepted in exchange for the items I would like on a regular basis. If I ever doubt this, a short jaunt to the store will reprove this point to me. Faith in religion must be handled in a similar way. Given that a plethora of options for faith exist in the world, we must continually seek and redefine our faith in our religion based upon the functionality and reliability of the object of our faith. If our faith repeatedly and reliably causes us to love God and love others more genuinely, more sacrificially, and more generously then this is a faith worth returning to. If our faith repeatedly and reliably finds us peace in a tumultuous world, hope in a hopeless struggle, and love in an otherwise dark world, this faith is worth returning to. 


Published by JR Stanley

I am an MD, PhD student, training to be a physician scientist, with a deep interest in science, faith, and living life as an adventure. Join me as I entertain ideas from new findings in science, evolving interpretations of faith, and experience life one day and one adventure at a time.

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