Why ‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’ Are Vastly Overrated

June 23, 2016

LOURDES - collecting holy water.

'Faith' and Hope' are feel-good words with a built-in warm, rosy glow. People who have faith and hope are held up for our admiration and emulation. We are encouraged to be like them - to believe and anticipate that, ultimately, all will be well.


Of course, faith can be good thing. It's good to have a little faith in those around us - to trust in others. Indeed, without at least some faith in your spouse, your bank manager, in other car drivers, and so on, modern life becomes impossible.


Hope, too, can be important  - without at least some hope of success we are unlikely to bother even trying.


Still, faith and hope are vastly overrated. We'd be better off prioritizing compassionate action grounded in gritty realism.


First off, faith and hope can be misplaced. Yes, placing our trust in others can be reasonable - I have good grounds for supposing my bank manager won't run off with all my money. But the parent who - lacking money to buy presents for his children himself - trusts in Santa to provide the gifts on Xmas day, is an irrational fool. A life lived in the hope of pie in the sky when you die is likely to be a life wasted.


Secondly, that warm, fuzzy, feel-good glow surrounding words like 'faith' and 'hope' can make us vulnerable to the wiles of the snakeoil sellers.


Spiritualists and mediums exploit vulnerable people by exploiting their faith and hope that loved ones are not gone forever but have merely 'passed over' to the other side: they're merely temporarily hidden behind a cosmic veil that the medium can helpfully penetrate, for a fee. The vulnerable poor are among those most easily exploited by bookies and lotteries selling them false hope. The sick are similarly exploited by charlatans peddling their quack cures wrapped in the reassuring packaging of faith and hope. And of course cultists and religionists also typically rely on faith and hope to bring in new recruits.


Whenever you hear anyone using the words 'faith' and 'hope' in the same sentence, your bullshit detector should immediately switch on.


A third - perhaps the most serious - problem with faith and hope is that they can prevent us from taking effective action ourselves. Rather than getting up and doing something about their predicament, those encouraged to 'have a little faith' may just sit tight and hope and pray for the best.


Repeating mantras about 'faith' and 'hope' can be an effective way of sending people back to sleep when what they really need to do is rouse themselves and take action.


Don't place faith and hope at the top of your list of virtues, and be very wary of those who say you should.


IMAGE: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lourdes_collecting_water_1.jpg


#1 DougEBarr on Thursday June 23, 2016 at 5:51am

Having “faith and hope” supported by belief is one of the ways we try to fill the void. Despite the facts we hang onto them because of our instinctive fear of the unknown. http://thelastwhy.ca/poems/2015/6/25/life-a-reaction-to-the-void

#2 D.Takos on Thursday June 23, 2016 at 9:35am

Surely a word as broad as ‘faith’ can’t be demeaned or dismissed so easily, especially when you replace it’s use with metaphors like ‘gritty’.

Arguably, to rely on a metaphor as a principle of your conclusion could be considered a ‘fuzzy’ move in itself.

You of all people should remember Wittgenstein; words find their meaning in how they’re used within any given language game.
Having children requires faith in the future. Or do we rely on ‘gritty compassion’?

Today we witness a terrifying example of what happens when we lose faith in our institutions!

It could be said; as science can only ever be probabilistic, faith is constantly required to underpin it.

A flourishing society is contingent on it having faith in itself. Economic systems are utterly dependent on it - Our global fiat currencies are built on nothing but faith.

Psychological note: I think your atheism has given you an irrational bias against the word ‘faith’

#3 oraxx (Guest) on Thursday June 23, 2016 at 1:14pm

If having faith always had good, or at least benign outcomes, those finding comfort in faith might have a point. Unfortunately, faith has some really terrible outcomes. There is no horror that cannot be, and has not been, justified in the name of faith.

#4 Ernest Canfield (Guest) on Friday June 24, 2016 at 1:13pm

How about repeating those mantras about faith and hope WHILE you are taking action?  Seems to work quite well together.  Let’s not forget about LOVE here too.  I’d rather bank on faith, hope and love as my entry pass for an active eternity than just closing my physical eyes and ending up as relevant as a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of Donald Trump’s shoe.

#5 Philolinguist (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2016 at 3:20am

Unfortunately, Stephen’s argument can be turned around. A lot of people have WAY too much faith and hope that this life can and will satisfy their innermost desires. For them, it ends up being a journey of diminishing returns, falling expectations and self-deception; which leads to a bitter, broken life. Of course, if that self-deception takes the form of deferring satisfaction to a post-death nirvana, it would be an act of what Sartre calls “bad faith”.

I don’t think this life can fully satisfy our innate human desires (and the evidence is in plain sight. For example, 1 in 11 British adults take anti-depressants). It is true that “jam tomorrow” is often invoked as a form of escapism, and can be dangerous if that jam has to be earned in violent ways.

However, perhaps there is something to be said for believing that it is beneath our humanity to invest too much of our selves in this life. I don’t know if there’s a word for that attitude, perhaps one could call it ‘lightness of being’. It is to laugh at the notion that this life can sustain a fully human existence, and to call that bluff; in the way that a child might laugh at a clumsy magic trick and say, “I don’t believe that’s all there is to it!”

#6 Philosopher Eric (Guest) on Sunday July 17, 2016 at 10:49am

I can’t disagree Stephen.  In fact, isn’t one of the standard defining elements of the term “faith” established as “Belief in something which lacks evidence”?  The more time which passes that your son doesn’t come home from war, for example, the more faith you’ll need to believe he will. 

As for “hope,” I agree from the faithful interpretation that you’re using, though hope is commonly used in a more productive sense as well.  In fact I believe that this other definition represents one of the two mechanisms by which all conscious function becomes motivated.  Why did I get out of bed this morning?  Because I had the positive utility of hope that my Sunday would bring various interesting things to do (such as read your article).  Why will I get out of bed tomorrow?  To avoid negative utility associated with my worry of not earning a living, and worry about what my wife would think of me, and so on.

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