Interrogating faith in the 21st century
Faith, we are taught by Dr. Paul the Apostle ‘is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ It is a blind belief in something without any physical reason to believe in that thing. In this sense faith can be said to be based on nothing. We could therefore say that out of nothing there could be something – much against the logic of scientific reasoning; except that we really would be wrong to say that faith is not something. Faith is something in itself for believers. It is not an abstraction. So the keyword is belief! It is true that faith as a religious practice is being eroded by the modern state, seen as a private experience except for states that have been founded on theocratic ideals.
In Christian theology, faith is the anchor of belief, of hope, and of salvation. Salvation itself is designed for the third world, the world without end. For some salvation means going to heaven while for others salvation is in the universal kingdom of God covering both heaven and earth. If we were to subject belief to empirical data or to physical reality, we would have doubts. Faith abhors doubts. Without faith we could even question the existence of the Supreme deity in the cosmos. But we are also taught that once there is wavering in belief faith will not work. By its very nature, faith contradicts science. Whereas science is based on fact, on data and empirical deductions, faith thrives on acceptance of phenomena without facts, without proof without figures. Faith is proof in itself, for itself.
Faith in the major religions presents God as a constant. Unchanging! God is forever through his principles, that is, divine principles. We are taught these principles were written into our hearts even before the laws were codified. The laws are revealed through conscience, that which finds us guilty when we do wrong. We may try to push it into the background, to suppress it and rationalise. But it remains locked there. It is this sense that conscience is said to humanity’s policeman. Doctors say that patients who have faith during treatment tend to heal faster than those without faith.
Faith became the most pronounced anchor of Christianity after the mission of Christ. For the mission, that is, the redemptive mission of Christ which the crucifixion represents is the hope of all Christians. Before then the prophets did not preach faith; but they believed and underneath that belief was faith. The same Paul the Apostle dwelt extensively on faith in the book of Hebrews when he mentioned the patriarchs who through faith ‘subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword…’ Even Rahab the harlot receives an honourable mention from Paul because of faith on account of protecting the spies to the promised land! The import is that faith has always been a constant in man’s relationship with God even if the word wasn’t used as in the New Testament.
In the 21st century faith has been challenged, is being continuously challenged by extreme liberalism. Especially in the West, the revolution which technology has engineered has smashed to smithereens previous assumptions and beliefs. And believers are often at odds with some of the emerging trends even in liberal Christianity. Some nations have endorsed anti-Christian ethics and codes of social relations. Indeed some of the fundamentals of belief systems encoded in Christian theology have been successfully altered by the highest court in some countries in the West. The bible is being reinterpreted as a book, not for all time, but for a season. The season, extreme liberalists claim, has come and gone! Christianity must reform itself in consonance with the dynamics of the 21st Century. And change again if the 22nd century develops new paradigms for humanity. Perhaps this century as well as the next would need a new God, shaped by liberal perception of His ways and will. This in my view will be a danger to mainstream Christianity by moving man away from God as we know Him!
Faith in the 21st Century! Science is no longer an abstraction. It is real. It challenges existing notions based on faith. If it is true that barring accidents man could live forever how does this fit into faith as received in the great religions? One of the most revolutionary outputs of science in our time is the driverless car. Robotic engineering has developed profound ways of engagement. It has become a metaphor for the contemporary. Everything is now computerized. We are used to computer created-characters who have more than one life. Science also wants to transfer that to man as a being. In other words, in the brave new world we have found ourselves in (radically ahead of Aldous Huxley’s predictions in his novel Brave New World), science could create a being, infertility is not a problem, no barrenness if one can afford to pay – test tube babies are available. Surrogate mother hood. Birth by inducement thereby obliterating birth pains for the woman. Impotence can be, has been treated. The revolutions in stem cell technology which can grow human parts and the 3Ds are challenges to received notions. Dolls as sex companions are common. Cloning is also a threat; it could further the quality of life but it also challenges creation once the technology is deployed to creating human beings. Are we sure, for example, that science has not created some cloned beings already in some laboratories? They have all the features of the human, the flesh and blood woman. Same sex marriage which the bible as a received document abhors has gained currency even within some Christian groups.
The truth is that faith is being methodically and harshly interrogated at different levels. Whereas for the doubting Thomas these revolutions are enough to question the fundamentals of their faith it is a sign of the end of things for the ardent believer. In other words, more than ever before, in spite of the advance in science and its affiliates the need to cling to faith is indeed greater. To be sure, the current times are predicted in great detail in Christian eschatology- in the last days perilous times shall come and men shall depart from the faith giving heed to seducing spirits. And if mankind must survive as the superior of all beings on planet earth, faith is the answer. Not faith in man and his inventions- for they are materialistic and give no permanent joy- but faith in the abiding power of the Creator of the universe whose doctrine of justice will be, is the final arbiter in the existence and future of all mortals.
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