Last night I took part in a great conversation about atheism and faith. The conversation went from expressing thoughtful wonder in creation to the effectiveness of sharing a personal story where faith was at play. One person commented, “I think faith is a little bit like the lemon cake I just ate. I don’t know how it was made. I don’t have to like all the ingredients, but when it is sliced up on a plate with a fork and a cup of coffee and the baker says ‘Taste and see’ …well, I discover that it is pretty good, much to my surprise.”
In addition to complimenting the chef, this was a great analogy for faith. After posting this on my Facebook page, a friend commented with the question, “What is the opposite of faith?” I realized my thoughts were going to be longer than a multi-paragraphed comment or new status update.
My original thought was that the opposite of faith is DOUBT. I think that may be the knee jerk response. Faith has a positive connotation where a person operates without a full explanation and every detail making sense. Faith KNOWS or at least BELIEVES something positive is in the works without having every T crossed and every “I” dotted. On the contrary, doubt connotes a negative state of pessimism, realism, or maybe even one’s own former experiences that have caused such disbelief.
Another possible antonym of faith: DISBELIEF. Disbelief may be an aversion to a concept that doesn’t make logical sense, but may also be a state of wonder or awe. Disbelief is frequently found in circumstances that aren’t otherwise expected or easily explained. There is even an example in the Bible where a person exclaimes, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” This statement expresses the idea that there are levels of faith, which means it may be difficult to quantify a full and complete definition of faith, as well as its opposite.
DESPAIR may also be considered the opposite of faith. Where there are unanswered questions, some rely on faith to be an intellectual bridge, knowing that the human mind is not capable of comprehending divine orchestrations in their entirety. This does not prevent one from learning or being curious, but it does provide a harbor of rest from worries and problems that are not easily or quickly resolved. When there is no faith harbor, the mind, the body, the emotions, the spirit—are all constantly bombarded by sickness, suffering, and injustice all over the planet at all times. Without faith, there are no healthy boundaries for participating in a solution. There is no guidance for the motivation to assist in making a difference. There is no drive to minimize the effects of hurting and violently oppressed humans worldwide. Yet it is possible to have faith and to still feel despair at times.
EMPTINESS would be a good opposite of faith. Faith fills a hole that seems too big. This may be where all that “mustard seed” business came from. Faith fills. Faith satisfies. Faith holds life, thoughts, emotions together when otherwise we would fall apart.
What I would ultimately choose as faith’s opposite is FATAL HINDSIGHT. As people with and without faith go through challenges in life, it can be assumed that everyone makes the best possible decision based on the information possessed, the lessons internalized as well as the truth held as individuals. People with deep faith and a desire to increase it have a peace about them that is unexplainable—not only to people without faith, but often to others who also have faith. It is an attractive quality which is evident to friends, family, co-workers, and even acquaintances–anyone who desires to have such internal quiet. A vibrant faith is like a spiritual muscle, working hard at times when no one is aware and then providing necessary rest when out-of-control circumstances demand attention and response. The inner knowledge of a person with no faith is always searching for incomplete information. The one without faith may not even choose to NOT believe, but are aware of their need for something. They may assume what they need is an explanation instead of Emmanuel. Hindsight becomes fatal when the awareness of the fullness of faith comes at a point when it is too late to make a decision.
Like my toddler-aged daughter whined when asked her to pick up her toys so long ago, “I can’t. It’s too easy. “ The idea of faith in something/someone beyond self may just be something perceived as too simple or too small to fit into the large soul gap that exists in every human being. Hindsight is looking back and making sense of something that was confounding at the time. Fatal hindsight is what troubles me the most for those without faith—the notion that someday they will look back and see that people with faith aren’t all uneducated, aren’t all bigots, aren’t all intolerant, aren’t all evangelistic, aren’t all mean or disrespectful or bull-headed or impossible to be around. That people with faith want what they have found to be true to be explained and accepted. People with faith want to be understood, as any human does, and want to share the reason for this hope that they possess with anyone who will listen with interest and an open mind.
The short answer I posted in that original Lemon Cake Facebook post was that the opposite of “lemon cake” faith was “chocolate covered stewed tomatoes.” Tomatoes are healthy and good but when stewed and covered in chocolate, not only is their exterior misleading, but on the inside they are not being used for their original purpose. It encourages me, this thought– that every person on the planet has a divine purpose and that faith is a huge factor in the discovery of that purpose. This motivates me to be ready and willing to talk about faith – in general, or in my personal timeline—with anyone willing to listen and reciprocate in a mutually respectful conversation.