Courage, Miss Honeychurch, courage and faith… The steel knives… are in the other carriage.

There are two kinds of faith: stupid and smart. Where the atheists fall apart is when nobody bothers to explain the difference to them, and I speak as one of them; overcoming the stupid kind of faith inevitably leads to a denigration of the smart kind, because they both look the same from the outside.

Interesting – I’ve never quite put it that way, but I have had friends with a swift and dismissive way with faith and religion that has sometimes bothered me deeply. I’m not one of the faithful myself, but I have a lot of respect for the things that motivate people (respect as in, “I have a lot of respect for that dog’s ability to take my arm off”). There’s a sort of juvenile whistling in the dark that is characterized by, “F**k that s**t – it’s stupid. Opiate of the masses, dude,” and this automatically dismissive attitude is not only dangerous because religion in the service of hate and fear can create chaos and pain – but also because religion in the service of love and caring can create hope and joy. It may not be the same hope and joy that a TV show provides us when we see Martha and the Doctor view Tim Latimer’s wartime honors with poppies on their lapels, but it’s a sibling or cousin.

What use is hope and joy? Well, I for one believe better things and better worlds can be created out of it. Certainly, from my perspective our entertainment is made better by it (the creators of works like “Saw” can keep their unrelieved brutality – I don’t have need for it in my psyche). But doesn’t inspiration have real, practical value also? I see photographs of the Great Wall of China, and I have to grimly acknowledge the accomplishment, but it does not make me want to go out and build. However, when I see labors of love – fine lace, a beautifully crafted home, the soaring and capricious gravity of a Calder mobile – my hands itch to make, my brain starts to weave words that might be worth reading.* I see something, I think about what it might mean: if there is joy there, it gets my own creative process moving.

How this differentiates (or if it differentiates) from the mad experience of having one of my HS English teachers get up at a chalkboard and ask a class of wary teenagers to identify all of the potential themes we could from William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” letting us gradually spin ourselves into a sort of giddy oblivion culminating in the realization that when you say everything depends on something (even or especially when it is as prosaic an object as a red wheelbarrow or simple wooden cross) that yes, in fact “everything” means exactly what it says, I don’t know. There is a code, and it’s no code at all, and those who say, “This means only what it says on the page,” and those who say, “This is symbolic of X and never Y,” are both as incorrect as they can be.

Religion, like art, either speaks to our selves – our personal experiences – or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t speak to you it may or may not entertain. If it does… it can inspire.

*Though anyone might get it wrong from simply looking at exteriors:
Rev. Eager: Remember the facts about this church of Santa Croce; how it was built by faith in the full fervour of medievalism.
Mr. Emerson: Built by faith indeed! That simply means the workers weren’t paid properly.