In a dialogue with Ray Ingles on the concept of faith davidstarlingm observed:
“Can we just agree that “having faith” is bad when it discourages investigation of the evidence….”
The “right” answer is “yes, of course!”
Or so you might think.
But sometimes the “right” answer isn’t right.
“Can we just agree that making fun of a person’s illness is bad when it mitigates against compassion?”
At first blush this seems obviously true. But there are exceptions.
Like what, you ask?
Well hang around the lunch room where the doctors go after they’ve been working in the emergency room for twelve hours and listen to their jokes. In any other context you’d consider that humor in horribly bad taste. But then you realize that making jokes about the trauma they’ve experienced is a way for the doctors (and other medical personnel) to cope. (See the study of nurses in Wanzer, et. al, “If We Didn’t Use Humor, We’d Cry”: Humorous Coping Communication in Health Care Settings,” Journal of Health Communication, 10, no. 2 (2005)).
So actually I don’t agree that it is always wrong to make fun of a person’s illness as a way to mitigate against compassion. Sometimes that humor is a necessary coping strategy to strengthen a person as a caregiver in extremely traumatic situations.
The same is true of faith. It is easy to conceive of marginal cases where a faith that discourages investigation of the evidence is actually preferable.
Okay. Tom is afraid of heights and finds himself on a rickety suspension bridge. Fred calls to him. “Don’t look down Tom. Walk toward me.”
Tom’s eyes are as big as saucers. “How far down is it?” he says to Fred.
It is actually four hundred feet down to rocky crags, a fast moving river, and snapping crocodiles. But Fred doesn’t want Tom to know that or he’s a goner. “Trust me!” Fred yells back. “It’s only twenty feet down. But don’t look. Just walk toward me!”
In that moment should we want Tom to exercise the kind of faith that investigates the evidence? If he does, he’ll be crocodile lunch in about thirty seconds. No, I think we’d much prefer him to have the kind of faith in that moment that doesn’t investigate.
I am obviously not claiming that faith which doesn’t investigate is good as a general rule any more than I’m claiming it is generally good to make fun of the ailments of others. But there are exceptions for exceptional cases, and a proper understanding of the concepts should always keep those exceptions in mind.