I have recently mentioned how the internet brings old friends back into my life, even though we are now completely incompatible. For the most part, I keep up with these people because I still care about them and have a genuine interest in their lives. This interest isn't necessarily too great, which is fine, because Facebook, Twitter and blogs make it very simple to keep up with them on a superficial level. The first thing I do when I find an old friend on Facebook is to read their personal information. If they have a blog, I subscribe to it, which is how I came across The Blue Notebook.
I am not writing this to argue with the blogger, but I do wish to take a point from her recent post and comment on it. In it, she discusses faith as an antidote to fear, and links to a chart so you can see at what points your faith may be lacking.
This was interesting to me because I have not thought about faith in this way in a while. Obviously I have little use for faith, (as defined biblically) so I don't think about it often anyway. Nevertheless, faith as an antidote to fear is an interesting concept, and from my perspective, it is transparently obvious as a kind of placebo or security blanket. Consider the items that come up in the list: Fear of poor health, fear of dying (!), fear of failure, fear of poverty... it goes on listing pretty much every general human fear, including the catchall: fear of the future. I'm no psychiatrist but these seem to be universal concerns and, when taken in moderation, healthy. It's good to be concerned about the future, to keep death and poverty in mind. Of course, fixating on these negatives isn't good, but it isn't really good to fixate on anything, positive or negative.
This is an undeniable benefit of religion. I suppose that I would love to have a place where I could shelve all of these anxieties and responsibilities, a place where I could dissolve my guilt and shed my burdens. Religion provides this, but it's only really a mind trick. The problems aren't gone - they're just ignored, assumed to be taken care of. And to some degree I have no quarrel with this. Many of our problems are imagined, or at least self-contained. Poverty, for example, is a valid fear, but it really only directly affects me. It also affects my family, but my wife is relatively self-sufficient and anyway, even if she is taken into account, it does not become a global issue. Death is the same way - I can worry about death, but once I die, the problem disappears with me, as do the rest of my worries. Without religion, I do not have access to the mechanism of dispelling fears and shrugging them on to god. I have to take care of them myself. And I do - I worry about things but I don't fret about them. I believe that I have a relatively balanced and healthy view of the world. Sometimes my fears overtake me, often when I am overtired or over-caffeinated and I can't think rationally.
I really have no problem with using faith as a way to get rid of fear, except that it is not used judiciously. It is applied with a broad brush to paint over everything in life. Faith is not the antidote merely to fear, but also to real moral issues - why think when you can consult your Bible? Why worry if you're wrong? You prayed and assured yourself that your preconceived notion was god's will.
I said above that I would like an artificial palliative to ease my worries. So why don't I just adopt a religion? Because I can't. I can't believe in a god any more than you can believe in Santa Claus. I would love if Santa was real as well, because then I wouldn't have to go shopping and spend hundreds of dollars ever November and worry that I didn't get the right things or spend enough money. But I know that I have to take care of my Christmas gifts on my own and I know that I have to take care of my worries and responsibilities and guilt in the same way.