The Opposite of Faith Is…


This meme posted by the United Church of Christ, based on a quote by Elie Wiesel (US News & World Report, October 27, 1986) has shown up in a few news feed posts of late. The complete quote:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”

At best he gets one or two out of four right. Love, beauty, and faith are all social constructs. They must be pretty clearly defined before we can know what their opposites are, if opposites of social constructs like these can even be said to exist. Scott Peck defines love in The Road Less Traveled as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Given that definition, that love is a choice, an extension outside of self, or work, I can roll with the opposite of love being indifference.

In another book, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Peck also takes on the nature of evil. He cleverly points out that “evil” is “live” spelled backwards, and has this to say about it:

“When I say that evil has to do with killing, I do not mean to restrict myself to corporeal murder. Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life — particularly human life — such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may “break” a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head.
Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”

So it seems that at least according to Peck, the opposite of life is neither death nor indifference, but evil – rather an active and proactive force, “that seeks to kill life or liveliness.”

In my Songwriting classes I feel I owe it to my students to try to define objective measures by which to evaluate the quality of their songs, their relative beauty. It seems a fool’s errand, but there is Thomas Aquinas at least, whose components of beauty include symmetry or coherence, structural integrity, and clarity. This works for songwriting. I could argue that the opposite of beauty is confusion, obfuscation, poor quality and incoherence rather than indifference. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, and for my purposes here I will take a pass on this one.

His inclusion of faith however is curious and sinister. There are multiple definitions of that word faith as well, and the religious often try to point out that even atheists have faith. The problem is that the religious use the wrong definition of the word. The Oxford Dictionaries lists two:

1) Complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one’s faith in politicians

2) Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
2.1 A system of religious belief: the Christian faith
2.2 A strongly held belief or theory: the faith that life will expand until it fills the universe

Now it seems pretty clear to me that the first definition is based on some level of experience, or empiricism if you will, data. There is the “this” in the example sentence, after all. Same with the idea that I have faith that the chair I am sitting in will hold me up or that I may have faith that my friends will not let me down. I have experience that leads me to believe all this, and that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow.

But the Wiesel quote clearly implies the second definition. There is only heresy in religious faith, in the second definition where doctrines are involved. Oxford uses the word “proof,” in contrast to this kind of faith. So no, the opposite of religious faith is not indifference, but reason, evidence, data, empirical support.

Those of us who have abandoned or dismissed religious faith as a substandard, unreliable, untrustworthy, insupportable and unauthoritative view of reality, as a so-called virtue, or even as simply a filter through which to run the total human experience can not be wholly written off as “indifferent.” This is just one more way that even liberal theologies, as pure and virtuous as their intentions might be, cannot help stepping in it and marginalizing whole classes of people many of whom are actively working to bring love, beauty and life to the world. We are anything but indifferent. Doctrine simply must be abandoned or at the very least marginalized to the point of irrelevance if we are to ever have an inclusive, equitable and just world.

(At Least) Seven Ways God Had Around Hell

0202gateI’ve often said that the idea of hell was the lynchpin that once removed, led to the final undoing of what had been a slowly and steadily eroding faith, one that truly had died a thousand deaths. Having been intelligently challenged on hell over a two-day discussion was only the last straw.  Continue reading

From Certainty to Uncertainty

God Rules Cover cropped 2I’ve often said that I cringe at some of our earliest lyrics, even if I still enjoy the youthful and musical exuberance in the songs.   It’s pretty easy to grant myself some grace in growing up. When I was a child I spoke as a child, after all.  I can put those early works in perspective.  Here’s one such lyric: Continue reading

Huffington Post Interview – Extended and Unedited

The interview I did with Bert Montgomery earlier in the year ended up appearing in The Huffington Post, the Burnside Writers Collective, Faithlab, and on Bert’s own blog. He’s resourceful!  The version that appeared in all these publications was about half the length of the whole interview.  The unedited full version, done initially in two parts, appears below and includes a whole bunch of other important stuff on religion and faith, CCM, Undercover and even a bit on The Fugs!  Now what interview would be complete without that?

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My Talk at the 2011 FFRF Convention

Last month the Freedom From Religion Foundation put a printed edition of my presentation at their annual convention in Hartford, CT in their newsletter.  For those who are not members and who do not have access to the newsletter (which alone is worth the price of membership in the organization) the printed transcription is now available on their website here. Continue reading

On Your Deathbed…

© KIK-IRPA, Brussels

I suppose the deathbed question was inevitable and it finally came my way.  I will be as painfully honest and thorough as I can in answering it, but I also have plenty to say about the nature of the question itself because I see it often. Continue reading

Responses to Leaving The Faith – Andrew Hackman

Andrew Hackman is a blogger on matters of religion, politics and education.  He was a Christian for at least 26 years, but recently left the faith. I’ve watched as he documented his path on his own blog and invited him to write a guest editorial for mine.  He has been an elementary teacher for 20 years, performs in local theater, and lives with his wife and two children in Salt Lake City.  You can find his blog here, where he says of himself, “I am an ex-evangelical, post-Christian, hopeful agnostic. I believe loving our family, neighbors, and enemies is the only way to bring peace to this world.” Continue reading

Undercover, Sky-Circles and Me

Sometimes, those we know and love throw us a curve ball so simple, innocent and innocuous on the face, but almost devastating in poignance. They can show up in the strangest of places, at the most unexpected times and perhaps they don’t even realize what they’ve done.  I got one yesterday from my friend, Continue reading

Yes, I Believe!

Oh yes, my brothers and sisters, I believe these things. Truly and without guile I bear witness, I testify, I can give you a hearty “Amen!”  I want to be the purple stripe. “Don’t tell me then ‘be like the rest.’” 

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