My father once told me that faith can move mountains. My father is a deep believer in science, so I was surprised to hear him say that. “You don’t believe in faith.” I said—because this was back when I thought that faith and science were opposites.
“When this country built the railway…” my dad began (he was always trying to sneak learning moments in to daily life), “it seemed impossible. There was a chain of Rocky Mountains running right across where the track would have to be laid. They moved those mountains out of the way—people died moving them out, and do you know why they took that chance?”
“Because they had faith in the dream of a Canadian Railway and the nation that would be bound together by increased trade and a common identity?” I asked, in the flat, parroting voice of a kid who knows that she is being Subtly Educated Against Her Will.
“No, because they believed they were being paid. They were being given little slips of paper with no value whatsoever that they believed could be exchanged for food, shelter, and bringing their loved ones to this country for a better life. Money isn’t a thing. It’s of no value. It is only given value because we have all agreed. It’s an act of faith.”
He's right. It was several years before I learned that it was misplaced faith--that many of the men who worked on and died for our railroad were misled about what the money they were given could be exchanged for. In the end, people will suffer a lot for faith. They still do.
Faith in money goes further than just the belief that the money will buy things. It extends to a faith that the things it buys will have the power to make people happy and fulfilled.
And, with all the science out there showing that material wealth has little sway over happiness once basic needs are met, that's blind faith. It's not just faith in things that can't be proven, it's faith in things that have been disproven.
Exercise, companionship, time outside in the sun--these things do increase happiness. We sacrifice them to put in hours at work--slaves to blind faith. Even worse, we fail to allocate enough money to meet the basic needs of all people. It makes no sense, if you look at the science of what makes people suffer or be happy, to ever have one person's toys trump another person's necessities.
This is the faith that science should be denouncing from the rooftops. It's not that I'm against rational discussion about God, of course, just that it seems to me that much of that discussion is not actually about what is empirically proven or provable. And, if we want to talk about faith that wastes lives, creates huge amounts of suffering, and oppresses entire nations, let's talk about a fundamentalist consumerist faith. Many of the things we believe about money are lies. Huge lies.
How do you tackle something that big?
The same way you move mountains. Bit by bit--and with a deep commitment to why it's worth it.