Faith, trust, and gullibility: three sides of the same triangle; or different degrees of the same thing?
Faith is extolled as a virtue by most religions. In our Western culture the Bible encourages both faith and trust:
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17 — NIV)
For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 — NIV)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Pr 3:5-6 — NIV)
What about gullibility? You know: when you believe everything someone tells you, unquestioningly. Surely religions don’t espouse such unreasonable levels of surrendering our good sense — or do they?
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Cor. 13:7 –ESV)
That’s right: the Bible claims that love demands our believing all things! Now, I love my wife, but I certainly don’t believe everything she says. And while some religious leaders may be well-meaning, I don’t think that everything they say is exactly what we could honestly call “the truth.”
I contend that believing everything someone says is an irresponsible and foolish way to live, and is certainly not a requirement for loving that person.
But there are religious leaders who insist that I’m wrong, and that such gullibility is, in fact, required of us! I recently came across an article expounding on the above verse from 1 Corinthians:
It means to successfully erase our doubts and reservations. It means that in making spiritual commitments, we are prepared to hold nothing back. It means we are ready to consecrate our lives to the work of the kingdom.
This sounds as if the Governing Body is about to call upon our unquestioning loyalty and obedience after claiming to be their god’s spokesmen (or “prophets”) on earth. And, true to form, the article continues a little further on:
Obedience is a fundamental law of the gospel. It is not only the demonstration of our faith but also the foundation of our faith. But the philosophical standard of the world holds that unquestioning obedience equals blind obedience, and blind obedience is mindless obedience. This is simply not true. Unquestioning obedience to Jehovah indicates that a person has developed faith and trust in Him to the point where he or she considers all inspired instruction—whether it be recorded scripture, [or] the words of modern prophets… to be worthy of obedience.
And so, by a bit of self-serving rhetoric, the Bible’s demand on our faith is turned into a duty to obey the whims of a certain group of men! Thereby violating the scriptural principle of Christian freedom:
You were bought with a price; stop becoming slaves of men. (1 Cor. 7:23 –NWT)
My dear Witness readers will balk at the above analogy. Surely comparing their obediently following the lead of the Governing Body to a form of slavery is far-fetched! They may further feel that the article I’ve quoted is spot-on in explaining how the virtue of faith leads inexorably to unquestioning obedience to these “modern-day prophets” of their god.
But here’s the point: the article I’ve been quoting was not written by a Jehovah’s Witness. It was written by a Mormon. [I merely substituted “Jehovah” for “the Lord” so as not to give the game away too soon.] His idea of faith includes unquestioning belief in the book of Mormon and the leaders of the LDS. To quote the part I purposely skipped in the above excerpts:
For us, to “believe all things” means to believe the doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the words of the Latter-day prophets.
— Believe All Things By Elder Robert C. Oaks Of the Presidency of the Seventy
That’s right: the article was using the Scriptures to convince Mormons of the need to believe in those golden plates of Joseph Smith which were presented to him by the angel Moroni, and then conveniently whisked away after Joe’s supposed translating of them. And even though the substance of Joe’s new “revelation” had previously been published in Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, and even though Joe’s “Book of Mormon” further plagiarized whole chapters verbatim from the King James Bible, this present-day Mormon elder expects us to believe in a supernatural origin of the book, and to therefore believe in everything he and his co-elders may dream up in the future, though it be just as transparently absurd.
Okay, so my dear Witness readers will now be shaking their heads at the obvious gullibility of those Mormons. Yet, when the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Bible to make the very same arguments about their need to “believe everything,” the Witness will regard this as a reasonable duty of their “faith” rather than recognizing the egregious gullibility that everyone else can plainly see.
(Naturally, a Mormon would see a Witness as gullible for the same reason a Witness sees a Mormon as gullible, while both remain blind to the “beam in their own eye.”)
But what is faith, anyway? Is it even a good thing? The Bible defines faith as follows:
Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1 — CEV)
Being “sure of what you hope for” is called wishful thinking: something it can be fun to engage in, but not something to build one’s life around.
Hope can be a good thing, but reality teaches us that just because you hope for something it doesn’t mean that it will come true.
And I have to disagree with the second part of the sentence in that quote from Hebrews. Faith, in the absence of evidence, is not “proof” of anything. Proof requires evidence.
Let’s go back to our example of the Mormon’s faith in Joe’s plates. Does the Mormon’s faith prove that those plates existed and were delivered by an angel? Only a Mormon could argue in the affirmative.
But then, if faith doesn’t work to prove Mormonism, it doesn’t work to prove anything else either, and this of course includes a failure to prove that the Governing Body are the Faithful and Discreet Slave whom we must listen to and obey.
It’s clear that neither a Mormon nor a Witness “believes all things,” otherwise a Witness would believe in Joe’s golden plates, and a Mormon would be hanging on every word of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses as if they had a pipeline to God.
What they really do is “believe all things” that their respective religions tell them to believe. So, that’s selective. That requires personal decision-making at some point. It isn’t faith; it is based on something else: a decision to trust a particular group of men over other groups of men. Faith in a god really has nothing to do with it. Evidence has been weighed (however inaccurately) and a personal decision has been made based on the evidence in favor of one group of men over another.
First: Don’t rely on faith; rely on evidence. This is what you’ve really been doing all along, possibly while fooling yourself that your religious choices were faith based. Now that you know better you can do a better job of examining the evidence for what you believe.
Second: Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by wishful thinking.
And, finally: it’s rational to extend a cautious bit of trust to others until they prove untrustworthy. But if someone starts making supernatural claims about themselves in an effort to extract blind trust from you, you can be reasonably sure that it’s a scam. It’s a scam that has been perpetrated on the innocent and gullible for millennia, and one which shows no sign of letting up. Don’t fall for it.
If you already have fallen for it, it’s time to stand up and reclaim your intellectual independence and get your life back.