SUNDAY SERMON: Facts versus Faith

The “Mahatma” part of my screen name is just a joke a friend of mine thought up 30 years ago after watching “Ghandi” on TV. I’m not a theologian, clergyman, or mystic. I am not credentialed in any faith or denomination, and I’m not starting my own. I am, however, prone to editorializing and it struck me as funny to pretend that any thoughts I had on a Sunday constituted a sermon. So here we are.

Remember: I’m nobody. Do not risk your soul on anything I say. I’m just telling you the way things seem to me at this particular moment, which may or may not be full of crap.

Ok, that said: Today’s “Sermon” is about “Facts versus Faith.”

In Paluxy, Texas, there’s a place where fossil dinosaur footprints cross modern human footprints. This proves evolution isn’t true. This was drilled in to me in Christian school as a kid. The Bible is literally true and Evolution was a filthy lie. That’s what I believed.

When I got older, I got to wondering about Paluxy. I mean, if it’s true, then why isn’t this singular disproof of evolution more famous? Why aren’t bands of athiests, dynamite in hand, attempting to blow the place up, so that they can continue to spread their lies? That would seem to be the thing to do, right? So why aren’t they?

Turns out they’re not lying. Paluxy is.

There were dinosaur tracks, yeah, but there were never any human ones there. Or at least never any natural ones. Back during the Great Depression the locals sold dinosaur footprints to people passing through because, hey, it was the Great Depression. Anything for a buck. Many of these were forged with a hammer and a chisel. Some of the real dinosaur footprints did look kind of human, but they weren’t. They were dinosaur footprints that had kind of collapsed in on themselves. You know how a footprint in the snow will look much bigger a day or two later than your actual foot? Same process, different medium. Several people also carved human tracks in to the site, I’m told, either to “Prove” their faith, or simply to sucker tourists. Though Young Earth Creationists frequently cite the Paluxy tracks, no one ever mentions that some of them are 18 inches long, because the old timer who carved ’em was a member of some weird-ass cult who believed that before the flood all men were giants who spoke with God directly, or some such nonsense.

There is a man who I will charitably say is insane, because the only alternative is that he’s a bold-faced liar. He’s a Scientist/Christian, or so he claims, though his degree comes from an unaccredited diploma mill. He’s been caught several times faking evidence of Young Earth Creationism, and he’s set up an institute to take donations which will help him preach “the Truth” about how Evolution is a lie, and Genesis is exactly, completely, literally, specifically correct. Don’t even get me started on his crazy theory about the flood, which violates (Off the top of my head) two, possibly three laws of physics and at least one specific quote from the Bible itself.

This man has managed to worm his way in to the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. While ACE is laughably bad, it’s also the most widespread Christian homeschool curriculum and there’s scads of actual physical ACE schools, so basically this madman (or possibly conman) is pumping nonsense (or deliberate lies) in to the minds of children and making money off of it.

I am not cool with that.

Now this is where it gets tricky, so stay with me: this is not an article about Evolution. I couldn’t give less of a rip about that. What I’m actually talking about is a disturbing phenomenon in the low churches (Anglicanism, Baptists, Churches of Christ, some Methodists, basically all the smaller, less formal Protestant denominations. The ones prone to Bible Thumping). That is this: the need to PROVE articles of faith are true.

Put it another way: the Bible says that God created the world in seven says. A person says, “Well, that must be true.” Then they’re confronted with proof to the contrary. “Well, that can’t be true,” they think. From that point on the three most common reactions are,

1) Try to prove the contrary opinion is wrong

2) Decide “Well, this is all crap, I’ve been wasting my life, I’m gonna’ go get a hooker and a six-pack of Miller”

3) Shrug your shoulders, say “Well, I’m sure there’s an explanation, but it’s above my paygrade,” and go on with your religious life as normal.

Number Three is the healthiest of those options. Numbers one and two are the products of overly literal minds.

Option Number One is, in my mind, the least desireable option. Worse than number two, even, for reasons I don’t feel like get distracted with right now.

Why is One a problem? Because people tend to confuse “Facts” and “Faith.” They are not the same thing. They’re not even close, actualy. One is “Believing,” and the other is “Knowledge.” The Apostle Paul defines “Faith” as “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Putting it less poetically, it means “Faith is believing in stuff you want to be true without a shred of evidence.”

If something you have faith in turns out to be demonstrably true, that’s coincidence. For instance, for a long time people believed that there were particles smaller then atoms, and others who believed atoms were as small as you could get. Then it turned out that there were scads of subatomic particles, and that went from “Belief” to “Knowledge.”

Now, from my reading of the Bible – which may be incorrect – it appears to me that God places a lot of stock on faith, and not so much on actual knowledge. Jesus tells Thomas that it’s good he saw and believed he was back from the dead, but says in no uncertain terms that it’s far better for people who didn’t see that, yet still believed. Why does God do this? I dunno. I have a theory, which I’ll tell at some time in the future if anyone is interested, but I can’t claim to know the mind of God. I only know what the book says, or at least what the book appears to be saying when I read it.

Now, speaking as a Christian, and as a onetime History Major, and as a friend of a few archeologists, I can tell you that the amount of evidence to support the Bible as a whole is pretty scant, and external evidence supporting the New Testament is The Big Goose Egg. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true, just that it didn’t leave any fingerprints that we can positively ID.

I tend to think this is deliberate.

Think about it: if God places such stock on faith over knowledge on spiritual matters, then it kind of makes sense He’d cover His tracks, so to speak, right? For whatever reason, God wants us to Believe, not to Know.

It is our instinct to think we Know, and get upset when people make us doubt that. We want to prove them wrong, we want them to Know that they’re wrong. We want Paluxy river to be true, and we want that lunatic (or charletan) to be right because that makes life sooooo much easier on us if it is. It is, after all, much easier to know than to believe. Knowledge is easy. Belief is risky. You might be wrong. You might be right. You won’t know until you’re dead, and it’s a little unnerving when you think about it like that.

However, for whatever reason, that’s the way God set up the system: We are to Believe, not Know. Did we evolve? Did God create the world in seven days? Is there some third option that you haven’t thought of? Does it even matter? Personally, I don’t think it does. My reading of the New Testament (Which, again, is unlettered and may be wrong) is that salvation doesn’t depend in any way on whether or not Genesis is literally true. Or Exodus. Or Job. Salvation is based on Jesus’ sacrifice, and the Grace of God, and our Faith. That’s pretty much it. You may want more, but you can’t have it.

Think about that a second: you can not have more than that. No one can. No one is supposed to. Why? Because if you knew, then it wouldn’t be faith anymore, it would be fact. Remember: God prefers faith, and doesn’t really give brownie points for knowledge of these matters. If salvation comes through faith, then any attempt to prove the literal truth of, say, that pesky talking donkey in Numbers chapter 22, is actually attempting to destroy faith, and presumably inadvertently ruin our shot at salvation in the process.

“But, hey, no, it’s not like that, you’re wrong,” you splutter. Hey, I may very well be, but I think it’s more important to concentrate on feeding the sick and caring for the homeless and widowed and orphaned and showing the love of Christ than it is to come up with “Twenty five reasons that the Big Bang didn’t happen.” That’s just me, maybe.

My point is that The important part is the thing that God wants us to believe, not the puny question of whether or not it actually happened or not. Faith is God is strong enough to weather any observable objective reality. My faith that it’ll all make sense in the end is pretty unshakeable. I totally understand being the other way – fearful and trembling, and desparate to prove the 9th grade science teacher wrong – I used to be that guy. I get it. But I was wrong and immature then, and I’m pretty sure I’m not either of those things now.

I have faith in the things I want to be true, and since it’s faith it is not dependent upon any fact you can throw at me. As stupid as that sounds – and I admit it sounds stupid – that’s the way it’s supposed to be, because scripture specifically says that’s the way God wants it to be.

So relax. Don’t make things so hard on yourself. Believe. Be baptized. Let your life be one of good works, good thoughts, and good deeds, reflecting Christ insofar as is practical. Maybe try to convert someone, if you can do it without beign a jerk. That’s really all there is to it. Have faith, and nothing else matters.

So why make such a big deal out of things that don’t matter?

Here endeth the lesson.  I don’t think I did a very good job explaining it, though.

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