The Follies of Faith (part II of II)

Faith is a very deep and personal thing, a psychological thing, and even when classes of believers are a part of the same religion, there tends to be a side of them that understands that God is somehow communicating with each of them on a personal level. Faith, and the so-called “inner-leadings,” nudgings, and woo-ings of God for a person to do this or that, are far too strong to ignore. Believers not only hold to the guiding authority of the Bible, and other creed books, but believe God leads the believer individually. Most Christians are crazy about the idea that God directs them by the Holy Bible, but most won’t deny that God exerts an additional influence, a direct influence upon the human heart in a mysterious and unknown way. They might call it by different names. It is "divine providence" to some and "the witness of the Spirit" to others, but it's all about the same in the final analysis.

For instance, an average Christian might be “led” of God to put her child into a private school, as opposed to a public one, or God might providentially “urge” a man to attend a type of church with a more or less emotional atmosphere. Of course, God ends up “wooing” every religious person to do this or that, and every other contradictory and mutually exclusive thing, depending on which religious sect the person is from. To deny God the power to tickle your heart a little is “boxing God in,” as I remember several preachers referring to it. So most modern Christians consider God to be operational doctrinally by the Bible alone (together with the Church in the case of Catholics), but personally by a more nebulous luring of the Almighty himself.

These inner-leadings can become downright bizarre. Take, for instance, the case of Rolando Del Campo. 12 years ago, Rolando’s wife was experiencing an intensely difficult labor. When the possibility became likely that his child may not survive the delivery, Campo pleaded with God in prayer that if he would allow his daughter to live, he would crucify himself 15 times. Yes, actually crucify himself just like Jesus (ropes, scourgings, nails, crown of thorns, the whole gamut!)! Well, to make a long story short, his daughter lived, and Campo is almost through fulfilling his vow at the time of this writing. To date, he has undergone public and bloody crucifixions some 12 times. His fellow believers in his community support him in the endeavor and gladly participate. In fact, he is a roll model, a man of great faith. Who can deny that he is? After all, he was “led” by God to make such a demanding sacrifice. So "led" was he to get the favor of God that he shot right past the accomplishments of ol' Jeebus himself! But while Campo's story may appeal to less educated and more superstitious Catholics with highly ascetic tendencies, many are not as taken in by it.

Most modern, sophisticated Christians think such behavior bizarre and just plain sick! They might even quote Colossians 2:23, which speaks against asceticism being substituted as a form of godliness, "Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." But try telling Mr. Campo that he was wrong. Try telling him that he was vainly hurting himself. Try cracking open a bible and sitting down with him for a one hour bible study and showing him how pattern-istic God is, and how he wants us all to conform to the words of a lambskin covered holy book and attend a church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesday nights. Your message will not get through to him. Campo's world of faith opened up for him when he found his daughter healed. It was all the vindication and proof he needed for his understanding of Christianity to be validated. Maybe harming our bodies is ordinarily bad, but for him, God was demanding he fulfill his promise, just like Jephthae, who offered up his daughter to the Lord (Judges 11:30-39), though this was ordinarily not considered acceptable, and just like Isaiah, who was commanded to prophecy naked before Israel for one year (Isaiah 20:1-4), even though the rest of us must always wear clothes (Genesis 3:21) and dress modestly (I Timothy 2:9). So we see how faith is not a strictly biblical thing. It is an intimate corporeality, a quest for answers and self-worth in the absence of it. One need not have a deep understanding of the bible to have a strong faith experience, one that can be as real to that person as his own name.

After nine years in the ministry, this I have come to know: there is no such thing as a normal faith experience! Religious experiences come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and some even have their own levels of priceless, knee-slapping comedic value.

I know a woman who believed God was with her because her eyes swelled up in a bout of hay fever while she was working out in a field one afternoon. I once knew of a man who believed Jesus Christ would hang out in his bathroom and occasionally pop out to say, "hi." On a missionary trip, I ran into a Pentecostal woman who said Jesus convinced her to quit using drugs after a two hour long chat, which took place "in the Spirit." I once spoke with a fine Baptist gent who believed he was "led of the Lord" to play a game of golf to make the most of his off day. Another man on a mission trip told me he was shot at because of his faith. He was right in the way of three bullets and would have been killed, but the Holy Spirit put up a force field, deflecting them. A Community Church preacher recently told me he knew his religion was true because he got a testicle twisted, and after saying a little prayer and sleeping it off, he woke up as good as new!

One of the most memorable conversations was with an evangelist who told me the Lord was leading him to stand on a particular street corner and preach. After several hours of only encountering two people who wouldn't bother to stop and listen to him, the man came to be convinced that the Spirit was now telling him to minister at another spot. When he moved to the second location, he ended up baptizing one young lady. I have often wondered why the Holy Spirit did not lead the man there in the first place!

Yes, I too enjoy a good rolling belly-laugh at such flabbergasting sentiments, but these experiences are no laughing matter to the people who experienced them. Of this, there can be no doubt; you can quote mom and dad's favorite book all you want, but in the end, it’s the religious experiences that matter, ones that make us feel good and important, and at the center of God’s miracle-working universe! Every preacher I know at some time or another has heard the saying, "I didn't get anything out of that sermon." Of course, that is always said about the sermons that don't stand within the limits of the believer's mental comfort zone. Just goes to show us how once those warm and toasty feelings of spirituality are gone, religion ceases to have meaning to us.

But if Campo's religious experience is still too drastic an example for you, then consider what happened on an ordinary Tuesday morning in Fresno, California in 1995. It was just business as usual at the local International House of Pancakes off of Highway 99, when the Virgin Mary appeared on a waffle, covered in maple syrup. The entire restaurant was astonished and shared in extolling this holy experience as a true miracle. One truck driver who had stopped in explained his being there a miracle in and of itself! How wonderful it was for the Blessed Virgin to deem them worthy of her appearing cross-eyed, with a mashed-in forehead on the breakfast plate of a nice Catholic lady that fine day! It is an experience they (and now the world, unfortunately) will never forget. For so many Catholics worldwide with just the right kind of faith to look for and expect these sorts of things, a miracle was done! No one else noticed this miracle except people who already believed in it before it happened, but that never stopped the faithful from believing anything. Mary has always been very creative in where she chooses to appear: under a Chicago highway, on a frying pan, an ironing board, a tree, a tent, a mosquito net, a patio deck, etc. Just let imagination run wild, and some time or another, the Blessed Virgin will be descending from heaven and making a surprise appearance in your neck of the woods…if you have faith in her!

The religiously drugged world is moved to tears by men and women of great faith, by sobbing masses of pious believers, who burn incense in honor of the keeper of the stars, who carry eerily decorated crosses and gory crucifixes down the streets in a parade of self-inflicted mourning, but I am not impressed at all. I don’t mourn because of the faithful. I mourn for them.

Why are the faithful doing these things? Why are they so feverishly putting themselves out for the sake of their heavenly caretaker? Because of an undying faith in a non-existent deity, a deity with the character of a monster in a Hollywood horror flick, the same abuser of mankind who manages always to leave us in the dark about just what he wants from his creation. Any deity who demands that a servant of his agree to be crucified 15 times before he will agree to save his daughter’s life, even though it costs that deity absolutely nothing to do so with no strings attached, is an unscrupulous fiend. No matter the sacrifices and devotion God gets from his many devout pupils, he remains content to watch us befuddled mortals put on dazzling displays of faith, and then maybe…just maybe…he will see fit to answer our prayers and bless our lives. If going through life with such a haphazard outlook is not folly, I don’t know what is.