In the movie Serenity, the preacher Shepherd Book asks the doubter Captain Reynolds:

"Why when I talk about faith, do you always assume I'm talking about God? "

I met a pair of singers recently who pulled a bait-and-switch on me, with the result that for the first time in my life, I have some sense of the positive value of faith. They started their set with songs from their youth on the usual song topics, romance and heartbreak. By the end of the set, their songs were focused on their fundamental trio: love, hope, and faith. After their show, we talked over drinks.

To me, faith had always meant believing a claim that could not be justified through observation and logic. To them, faith means believing that you can make things work, even in the proverbially darkest moments. That's not illogical; people _have_ achieved success even after dwelling at the bottom. Indeed, despair is often illogical, since it often assumes time-invariant conditions. To these singers, their religious figures serve as symbols that help them keep faith rather than literal statements of the nature of the world. Their faith helps them trudge on when their goals _feel_ impossible, which is not the same as being literally, physically impossible. And improbable ain't the same as impossible. They said things that I would have written off as hogwash if I had heard them out of context, but in the context of the conversation I could translate into concepts that I accept. As a trivial example, one of them talked about feeling a person's "energy". What he meant, in my terminology, was the act of interpretting subtle non-verbal information such as body language, summarizing into a general perception of the person's emotional profile, and noting his own subtle emotional response to the profile. It didn't bother him that I would have called it something else - he didn't insist that people literally have an aura. Tomayto tomahto.

They expressed respect and curiosity for science, and they condemned stances on political issues that I believe are religiously motivated, which made it easier for me to open my ears and listen to what they were saying. I talked to them for a long time, and left feeling the high of new friendship. I bought their CD's and listened to it a lot, not because of the music but because hearing their voices re-captured that feeling. It was a rough time in my life, and I needed that pick-me-up. I listened to those CD's enough that it was almost ritualistic. It was comforting. Faith and ritual... from _me_.

I'm still missing something, because I haven't figured out how "hope" and "faith" (as they see it) aren't redundant. But heck, what's a little redundancy among friends?

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Comment by Moonbeam on February 8, 2009 at 2:37pm
I don't think you're missing anything. Hope and faith are not the same thing. Betting against the odds and winning is not the same as believing in made-up things. Having very little evidence is different than having evidence to the contrary. And so on. Maybe a small difference in many cases, but when you're talking religion, that's all it is, and that difference is the whole problem.
Comment by Shoe on January 6, 2009 at 3:53pm
And since I see that you're an Obama supporter, I'll add that I think he created the beginings of such a cultural mechanism just by saying the word "Hope" a whole lot.

Religious folks slander science for not offering hope, which leaves me scratching my head because that's not the job of science. It's like bashing Baskin Robbins for not offering steak. I wouldn't say Obama opened a steak house, but he started serving some steaks at his burger joint. So we don't have to get our steaks from the kool-aid stand where the steaks are lousy and the "ice cream" is rat guts.
Comment by Shoe on January 6, 2009 at 3:39pm
I agree. Truth is the domain of science and reason, and religion co-opts the word "truth" for blatant lies.

I think we need a cultural mechanism that isn't based on lies, to offer people who need symbols, rituals, traditions, etc. as a replacement. Until there's an alternative, I don't expect people to release their non-sensical religions. (Not that I expect many people to jump on board an alternative either, but it would be nice if it were available.)

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