Oh Cruel Faith

There’s a certain bitterness when you see people using faith in cruel and hurtful ways. One almost has to wonder whether they genuinely believe the non-sense they’re peddling or it’s just a cynical attempt to fleece the unwary of their hard-earned cash. My opinion leans toward the latter, but let’s look at this trend for a second.

We start with the main inspiration for this post: Cindy Jacobs.

So, what we have here is a discussion of miraculous healing done through faith on a woman who may or may not have wanted to become pregnant. Did this really happen?

No, of course it didn’t happen. If it did, the evidence would have been published in medical journals, spread around all over the place, discussed by doctors the world over to try and figure out what had happened. Instead, we have the assurances of a couple of hucksters who like to blame other people for God’s judgement during natural disasters that after talking with an unnamed woman, she suddenly regrew her lady parts. They’re lying. They’re lying because people donate money to people who they think are good with God. So they’re lying and stealing.

What makes this particular lie so cruel, however, is the thousands of women around the country who want to be pregnant and can’t be for one reason or another. How many women right now have seen this fable and started praying for the same miracle to happen to them? How many will spend hours on their knees, begging God to suspend the laws of biology for them, feeling worse about themselves when it continues not to happen? This is passive victim-blaming at its finest, the implicit belief that not getting what you pray for means you’re not praying hard enough. Or, you might be praying the wrong way, so I’m sure Mark and Cindy Jacobs would be delighted to show you how to do it, for a small fee. Either way, this is sick. I would call it thoughtless, but I can’t bring myself to believe that the possibility that people might believe their horrendous and evil lies never occurred to Mark and Cindy.

But not all examples are as clear cut. Let us take, for a moment, the Pope’s Christmas Eve homily.

It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they and we may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.

 

Now, I quite like the last part. I mean, I don’t like the idea that God apparently is waiting for people to ask before dealing with that whole “poverty” thing, but when you strip away the call to pray instead of donate a few bucks to a homeless shelter or serve in a soup kitchen, it’s at least getting people to think about those who are less fortunate and that has a chance of convincing people to actually help in some material fashion.

And “material fashion” is where the problem comes in. You’ll notice that through the rest of the above quote, the Pope calls for us to forget the material, what can be “measured and grasped.” He asks us to abandon reason in favor of superstition and stupidity, to “see with the heart.” How remarkably cruel is it to ask your followers, over of a billion of them, to stop thinking!

I admit, others may not be with me on this, but I find it hard to contemplate a request more depraved than calling on people to embrace ignorance and obedience as virtues with such calm flippancy. May I be protected in his saucy embrace! This is little different than the efforts in previous centuries by the Church to depress literacy, limit education opportunities, or silence dissenters. What is this other than the “soft-power” version of what was done to Gallileo? In a world where they have lost, where education is supposed to be cherished, it is no longer permissible to actively smash printing presses, so instead we have the Bishop of Rome blithely advising people to ignore education and embrace non-sense without question because it makes you more like an infant. I can’t even properly parse that thought, let alone support it.

There are a lot of travesties in the world, but few of them enable more horrendous crimes and behavior than willful ignorance. Whether it’s Benedict XVI or Cindy Jacobs, there is something remarkably vile about telling people to ignore what they know to be true and put their trust in another authority. What they are asking for is for people to enslave themselves, to willingly give up their sense of individual worth for the sake of miracles that will never happen and comfort that will never materialize. And before anybody says that nobody actually does this or believes these sorts of things, I encourage them to ask the millions of people dying of AIDS in Africa whether they “really believed” it when the Church told them not to use condoms because God doesn’t like contraception.

Knowledge is a good thing. It is how we understand our world and how we can begin to understand each other. Art and literature spring from knowledge as much as science and math do; they are methods by which we try and make sense of a complex and confusing universe, like an ironic simile used to demonstrate a point.

When you suggest that somehow knowledge is a bad thing, or at least that the rejection of reason is somehow virtuous, you deny all that comes from it. It is people who didn’t follow his terrible advice that permitted Benedict’s message to be broadcast around the world in real time. Similarly, it’s knowledge that prevents even more people from falling for Cindy Jacobs’s disgraceful storytelling and heartless lies.

Of course, that means that for people like Benedict and Cindy, knowledge cannot be permitted, so they glorify ignorance instead and rake in the donations.