Faith vs. Fantasy

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen – Hebrews 11:1, KJV

I’ve always thought that was a pretty good definition of faith. Perhaps that’s because my father liked to quote that verse and I remember hearing it often… but my father quoted a lot of other scripture I disagreed with both then and now. In any case, it explains that faith is something of substance and is based on evidence. That evidence is not “proof” and it is likely to be subjective and intuitive – not necessarily the kind of evidence that would stand up in court. But it is there nonetheless.

Faith is the firm belief that things will work out OK, even if we can’t see how or when. Faith sustains us through hard times and gives us confidence to take the risks we need to take to learn and grow.

Faith based on the evidence of things not seen is one thing. Fantasies concocted to avoid responsibility are quite another.

Minnesota state representative Mike Beard is advocating mining more coal to generate more electricity. Here’s a short piece on him from Huffington Post, and another from a Minnesota publication. Beard doesn’t worry about the environmental damage done by mining and burning coal, saying “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.”

That attitude didn’t work out so well for the inhabitants of Easter Island. Actually, it hasn’t worked out very well for any people or any species at any time. The laws of basic mathematics are simple and inviolable – when you use something faster than it can be replenished, eventually you will run out.

Creation is anything but stable. Remove the predators and rabbits will multiply like rabbits… until they eat the vegetation faster than it can grow back. Then the rabbits starve and the population shrinks again.

Rep. Beard’s “faith” isn’t based on any evidence, seen or unseen. He doesn’t believe things will work out OK one way or another, he’s convinced himself that things will work out exactly like he wants them to work out. His “faith” is a fantasy made up to allow him to ignore the reality that coal is a dirty source of energy and that fossil fuels will be exhausted sooner or later – perhaps not in my lifetime, but certainly within a couple generations.

Beard said “It is the height of hubris to think we could [destroy the earth].” Here he’s right. The Earth has seen five “mass extinctions,” the most recent being the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. None of those events have ended life on Earth, and nothing we can do even in our worst moments of arrogance and stupidity is likely to change that. Life on Earth will almost certainly continue until our Sun runs out of fuel in about 5 billion years.

The issue here isn’t whether or not we can destroy the Earth, or destroy all life. The issue is what kind of life we will have if we continue on our current course.

Rep. Beard said “How did Hiroshima and Nagasaki work out? We destroyed that, but here we are, 60 years later and they are tremendously effective and livable cities.” So as long as we end up with nice cities it’s OK to incinerate thousands of people in a nuclear blast? So as long as we have cheap electricity it’s OK to demolish the land and breathe dirty air and pump ever more CO2 into the atmosphere and push the climate even further toward inhospitably warm temperatures?

Who cares if global warming raises the sea levels by a few feet? I live inland, and the people in Florida can move. Never mind the fact that millions of people live in low-lying areas and are so poor they have no means to relocate. I just want cheap electricity for my McMansion and cheap gas for my monster truck.

So long as I don’t have to sacrifice, I don’t care what sacrifices other people have to make.

It would be a mistake to chalk this attitude up to nothing more than selfishness and arrogance, although it certainly is that. Rep. Beard has been led to this position and supported in it by some decidedly unhelpful religion.

The height of hubris is not to think that we could destroy the Earth. The height of hubris is to think that the Earth, a 4 billion year old planet in a 14 billion year old universe, is here solely for the benefit of some creatures who have been around in our present form for perhaps 200,000 years. To put that in perspective, if the Big Bang occurred on January 1, modern humans arrived at 7 minutes till midnight on the following December 31.

In the words attributed to Chief Seattle, the Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth. And so do the people who live downwind of coal-burning power plants, and the people who live in Bangladesh, and the polar bears and the chimpanzees and the wolves and the ducks and goats and geese. Humans may be the most intelligent and most powerful species on this planet, but the difference between us and other creatures is one of degree, not of kind. We all grew out of the Earth.

Once we understand the interrelatedness of life, we begin to understand that all things have intrinsic value. They have value and worth of their own, not simply because they are useful or attractive to humans.

Life on Earth has survived asteroids and ice ages. Our species has survived predators and plagues, wars and famine. Based on that evidence, faith that life will continue is a reasonable faith.

But the belief that a materialistic culture will be forever sustained by divine providence, even if it means countless other creatures – some human, some not – will be harmed in the process? That’s fantasy of the worst sort.

Where do you have faith, and where are you telling yourself convenient fantasies to avoid accepting responsibility and dealing with unpleasant realities?

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