“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens” Gimli, son of Gloin, says to the Fellowship as they leave Rivendell. J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the most articulate fantasy authors that ever lived, and that shows in the comprehensive fantasy world he created – so full of uncertainties, mistakes, redemption, evil, punishment, faith, friendship, courage and all that you may think of as components of this real world. The beauty in this creation is that if one of the characteristics were missing, everything would fall apart. Of course, without such characters as evil beings and friends, or without such elements as fatal errors or unfazed courage, the whole story would have been different. But surely the story can still go on if there aren’t some dispensable features like faith. Does it really matter if Frodo and Bilbo had faith? Isn’t it more important that they had the courage and the will to find the ring and destroy it? Isn’t it imperative that they planned carefully, executed precisely, and averted fallacies that would veer them off course? How much space does faith have in this endeavor? Did James Cook have faith, or did he have a strong crew and shipload of supplies? Did Mendel have faith that his experiments will work out, or did he buck up and make sure he is thorough with the assays?
I usually associate faith with religion or spirituality. In fact, “faith” is one of the recorded synonyms of “religion”. I am also an agnostic teetering at the edge of atheist valley, prone to falling over any moment now. Therefore, when faith is romanticized or overrepresented in books or movies, it irks me just a little bit. But I was not brought up to be an atheist. In fact, my parents were quite religious and spiritual, and believed whole-heartedly in the concept of faith. Faith was hope, possibility, a sliver of chance. And my parents are a representation of the entirety of humankind. We may curse religion for all the negativity it has spread, for all the poison it has imbibed into hearts, for all the wars and disparities and differences it has been responsible for. Religion has permitted pain and division, orchestrated politics and battles, and disrupted societies and families.
Why then is it still flourishing, and more importantly why was religion formed in the first place? To create order. To establish a way of life. To determine boundaries. To classify, so that a society is well-functioning. Why did we need religion to do that and not politics? Because, people love stories. And the one thing that is vaster than any ocean, taller than any mountain, and faster than any raging storm, is human imagination. There are no bounds to it. Humans like stories. They live in stories. Stories are far more successful in building communities than a list of rules and laws by which to live. The stories of Shiva and Jesus and Allah were wildly successful in teaching people to endure pain, hope for a better tomorrow, and help your neighbor. The stories gave people hope.
Now, hope, as I see it, is an extension of faith. If you have faith, you have hope. If you are faithless, you are prone to giving up. Remember Pandora from Greek mythology? The first human female to have been created, who possessed a jar given to her by Zeus. She was asked never to open this jar, but she did. For she was human, after all. From this opened jar came all the nemeses for mankind – death, disease, envy, wrath, rage, and such. But do you know the one creature that didn’t escape that jar? It was Elpis, or as we know it, Hope! There are various interpretations of this story, but my own upon reading it was not that Hope didn’t escape, but that Hope was in the jar of evils in the first place. Hope prolongs the torments of men, creates a bubble around humans otherwise completely capable of self-assessment, rational thought and strategy.
In an essay written by one of the most controversial literary figures, Christopher Hitchens, I read “Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals” and I have to say that I agree. Faith, while as a concept dulls tragedy and soothes the aching heart, is null and void as a tool. Relying on faith to take you ashore while abandoning reasoning and the power of strategic thinking is foolishness – it is akin to eating a piece of fat and sugar loaded cheesecake to get the benefit of some egg protein from it.
The Tolkien quote at the beginning of this paragraph highlights the fact that in order to go on, in order to brave the dark, and to attain that success, one needs to hold on to faith. The faith that fuels your drive and feeds your penchant. Faith in yourself, your cause, and your friendship (and of course faith in Gandalf)!
In the real world, faith is a double-edged sword. But it depends on the question you ask. Do I have faith in God to get me through a difficult patch in life? Or do I have faith in myself for the same? While I love J.R.R. Tolkien for the worlds he opened up for me, my brain knows that Greg House was actually correct when he said “Faith is not a disease. On the other hand, it is communicable and kills a lot of people”.