The Demise of Faith
Faith, Hope and Despair
After the suicide of Robin Williams in 2014 I felt moved to write my book ‘Faith, Hope and Despair’ in response to the ignorance I heard on the radio and in so many conversations on the cause, symptoms and consequences of depression. I was further motivated to write because of the shame or denial brought into communities of faith — the suggestion or implicit statement that depression is an indication of faithlessness.
I initially wrote from the perspective of a somewhat educated Christian who had experienced anxiety, burnout, breakdown, and chronic (ongoing) depression, and struggled to endure ignorance and prejudice, or the peddling of false hope, in faith communities. I wrote as one for whom the religious repetition of The Lord’s Prayer had been effective in keeping the ‘Black Dog’ from the door when waking in the morning; not only keeping the dog at bay, but finding a way to get out of bed in the morning.
In the Lord’s Prayer the Christian is applying an ancient formula for hope in the face of despair. This formula always, always, requires certain amount of blind trust (faith) that our words, if spoken in the right way to the right Power, can bring about change in our predicament or circumstances, or those of others.
In many other forms of prayer, contemplation, meditation, chanting, mantra, liturgy, petition, worship, sacrifice or offering, we find the promise of results from the actions of a Power greater and more effective than us.
I know that I venture into the philosophical, theological, sociological and psychological morass when I do the following, but I feel a personal burden to do so. I wish to explore the relationship between the three words in the title of my book, Faith, Hope and Despair.
First I wish to define Belief, because our Beliefs are fundamental to Hope and Faith, and Despair is often when our Beliefs have been undermined by force or circumstance. That’s not entirely true of Despair, for Despair can also be because our Beliefs have been negative since as early as we can recall — the psychologically or physiologically different — that we have seen the world as a cruel place from their formative years. Our Belief is the fundamental construct or framework which guides our perception and perspective of reality. Our Beliefs are formed by family, society and peers as we develop throughout life. One only has to consider the influence of family on our ‘other-wordly’ Beliefs — the Muslim child in a Muslim home who confesses the Muslim faith — the Christian child in a Christian home confessing the Christian faith and practice — the Atheist child in an Atheist home confessing Atheism.
Hope is a Belief that circumstances will usually change for the better. Hope in and of itself does not believe in the ability of something outside of ourselves or our visible and tangible society and power structures being able to effect that change. Hope sees a higher probability of good than bad, that tomorrow is more likely than not going to be better than today for those with a rational need for improvement in life — be it health, wealth or happiness. By ‘rational need’ I mean those with a need or want for something to improve general wellbeing and not accumulate wealth or power for their own sake.
Hope drives an industry of motivational speakers, self-help, self-actualization,, and beyond.
Hope drives an industry of organizations committed to service, the improvement of humanities lot, from non-profit organizations to social entrepreneurs and religious organizational practical community upliftment..
Hope is on a spectrum of Optimism.
Faith is the Belief that outside of us is a Power, or Force, that can work for, and deliver, change in our circumstances or the circumstances of others if we are applying the right mix of words, actions, sacrifice and faith. Yes, my sentence defining faith ends with us needing faith to perpetuate faith — the circular argument that when you do not get results from believing in, and petitioning, something powerful you cannot see or hear, it must be you, and not the promised invisible and illogical Power, that is failing. It is the intentional or accidental delusion (the promise of something that has no proof being able to effect change) that underlies much religion. Where the faith aspect of a religion is waning, it is often replaced by structures, rules, formulas and control.
Faith is belief in the probability of circumstantial change as a result of the action or inaction of a greater Power, or tapping into a greater Power in ourselves. Faith is higher than Hope because it peddles an elevated Hope beyond what we or they can do; it says that we can effect change even if we do nothing other than believe enough and pray enough (read ‘pray’ as any activity that we perform in the elevated hope that it will effect change beyond that which man and machine can effect). Faith is a circular argument that so often says that you are not seeing results because you do not have enough faith, must have more faith, must be patient and persevere against logic, or believe that your prayer is being answered, just not in a way that you expect, or not in a place that you can see.
Faith is on a spectrum of Hope + Power
Despair is when we earnestly wish for or need positive change, but when our Belief in the probability or possibility of positive change is severely diminished, or exacerbated, when we see deterioration instead of even the the status-quo. Religion’s answer is that sometimes things must get worse to get better, that suffering builds character, that loss creates empathy, that you do not have enough faith! Religions’ answer to the loss of faith is that you need to pray even though it doesn’t feel like there is hope. Despair is when we have partially or completely given up hope, and Despair can be brief and quickly passed as we see some evidence of that in which believed, through chance or intervention, or it can be more enduring because our disappointment or disillusionment, or declining psychological or chemical balance, is untreated.
Despair is at the bottom of the spectrum of Hope or Faith, or below those is Pessimism, the expectation of bad and not good — of deterioration of circumstance instead of maintaining a satisfactory status-quo, or even improvement.
Despair for the Faithful is significant or frequent disillusionment in the Power
Despair for the Hopeful is significant or frequent disappointment.
My dilemma is that I am struggling with the validity of the message of faith in something greater than ourselves. Even the non-Power believers, the religions that promote self-determination, self-power, end up appealing to Faith when things don’t go the way that they promise. It is not overt, but subtly makes its appearance as a message as you progress from conversion to practitioner.
Is Faith the easy out for the failure of Power to Deliver?