Faith is good. Bad faith is awful. I cannot count the number of people I know who have been harmed by Christians acting in bad faith. I read another account today. We need ways to protect ourselves against bad faith assumptions and practices. The only method I can think of is to point them out in the beginning. Here are the worst examples of bad faith.
Bad Faith Is Contrary to Reason
Faith is not believing when reason tells you not to believe. This is the bad message many Christmas movies give audiences. Faith cannot be contrary to reason. Untruths are contrary to reason. Faith is not illogical. But bad assumptions are illogical, untrue, and contrary to reason. The results are often bad if not tragic. There is no way around this problem.
Church people, like everyone else, are susceptible to lazy thinking and fantasies about the future. Hucksters rely on people believing things that are “too good to be true.” They also rely on people to believe things are worse than they are. In either case, these is a call to pledge resources to some project that will make life better.
Senseless teachings make no sense. Reason tests assertions people make. The dogmatic beliefs of fundamentalists rely on methods of attacking reason. Beware of anyone saying, “You are only using human reason; and not relying on the infallible words of God.”
Common Sense May Not Be True
Faith may be opposed by the common sense of the majority. People of faith will often run up against “what everyone knows.” Common sense is often based on assumptions. The song “Old-Time Religion” is based on such assumptions. Bill Mallard at Candler School of Theology began his Church History overview class with this song to be ironic. It was humorous. Though, I wonder how many students figured it was supposed to be. Claims about the beliefs of “The Founding Fathers” of America are as bad.
Faith is not always opposed to common sense of the majority. It takes some work to judge the underlying assumptions. Some hills are not worth dying on too. These issues increase the anxiety of thoughtful people trying to decide if what they believe is true.
Acting on faith that is contrary to the common sense held by the majority, serves to allow some others the freedom to question the assumptions. White Christian leaders challenging the white supremacy of the larger community has led to today’s conflict over the subject. They gave many of us today the ability to question it and to hear the voices of non-white Christians.
Bad Numbers Are Also Lies
We are challenged by numbers in more ways than one. The following is a tongue in cheek example.
I can prove coffee stunts a person’s growth. I began drinking it when I was a teenager. If I had not done that, I would now be 6’3″ tall. How do I know this? Because presently I am at the weight of someone who would be that tall.
Of course, it is not correct. And it gets every response from an eye roll to a laugh. The numbers don’t match up that way. But it is the method I have heard many people use for church growth. “If we do or say x, we would get y new numbers of people, and z amounts of dollars.” I have never known this formula to work. All of the assumptions are faulty. One real issue is to assume more people means more dollars. Usually the number of “giving units” in a church are far lower than the attendance of potential “giving units.” Losing certain people is an issue. But the numbers myth is a bad one.
You Are Not The Crazy One
The best argument to be made against religion is the broken mental health of religious leaders. I would make that argument except for the fact that all broken systems make broken people. The biggest problem with power structures is that the worst people often get on top. The second largest problem is that when good people get there small-souled vicious people are constantly tearing them down. A third issue is harder to accept.
We are not supposed to aspire to success by other people’s standards. People who believe governments and churches should be run as businesses forget that the successful corporate business structure is a dictatorship. The wildly successful ones are personality cults. We should never aspire to that. But we should want our work to last and be meaningful. No one who wants these goals is bad or crazy.
Indeed it has taken me a long time to accept these three truths. Here I am now late in my ministry career providing my self-protection against four assumptions that lead to bad faith. It is my hope others learn it sooner.