In Good Faith
One of the wonderful things about people, is that, in general, we trust each other. Betrayal is a violation of trust – but it is the exception, not the rule. Formal marriage is a solemnization of trust, particularly in terms of sexual fidelity. Divorce is common but getting married is still very popular. We even trust our imagination-based monetary system. We used to think that a dollar represented a certain amount of gold, which we could claim at any time. Now it does not represent anything, except the “full faith and credit” of the United States — a somewhat mystical entity (except that many people have died to preserve it).
Which leads me to point out that, not only do we trust each other, we also trust whoever or whatever created us, especially in times of crisis. I need hardly remind you of such expressions as “In God We Trust,” “Trust in God and keep your powder dry,” “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition,” or, as German-speaking peoples put it, (often when fighting each other) “Gott mit uns.” Adolf Hitler’s writings and speeches are riddled with religious exhortations. In his very last radio address, on January 30, 1945, he declared: “God the Almighty has made our nation. By defending its existence, we are defending His work.”
Leaders of many persuasions like to put themselves on God’s side. If you examine a current British Pound coin (there is no longer a paper Pound), you will see that, on the side with the monarch’s head, the wording around it ends with the letters “FD,” which stand for the Latin words meaning “Defender of the Faith.” The curious history of this expression goes back to 1521, when King Henry VIII, who was still in the first of his six marriages, and had not yet broken with Rome, published a book defending the sacrament of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. Pope Leo X was apparently so pleased that he granted Henry that title.
Then, in 1530, Henry made himself the head of a new church, the Church of England, in order to dump his first wife and marry a second. But he still called himself “Defender of the Faith,” even though a new Pope revoked the title, and excommunicated him. And, in 1544, the Parliament of England confirmed the title, which his successors have claimed ever since.
It was only another 400 years before I was being required to defend my own faith before an English tribunal. Conscription was still in effect, and I was in danger of being drafted as soon as I graduated from the University of London. I had become a very strong pacifist, and registered as a Conscientious Objector. But this required appearing before a special Tribunal, which would decide my fate. And mere sincerity was practically irrelevant. I had very little chance of being granted exemption from military service, unless I could convince this panel that my objection was faith-based – and that usually required some strong religious connection. But I had no religion, and simply didn’t want to kill anybody, or to be trained to do so.
As expected, my objections, though well thought out, were rejected, and it was a possible that I would be sent to jail. Fortunately, there was nothing to stop me from emigrating, and, having an uncle in California who was willing to sponsor me, I became an American resident — though conscription was still the law here too, and it took me nine years, instead of the usual five, to become a citizen. When, through the Freedom of Information Act, I finally had access to my FBI file, I learned that they had considered prosecuting me as a draft-dodger, but were stymied by the fact that, rather than hiding, I had been faithful to the law, and always informed the government of my whereabouts.
So even today’s governments sometimes recognize some kind of faith, although they may not follow St. Paul in including in their list the other two great virtues: hope and charity.
There are, of course, cynics who disparage faith altogether, and define it as “believing in what you know isn’t true.” In marketing my epigrams, I have always tried to tread a fine line on this subject. When people write complaining that I am too flippant about matters involving religion, I can usually mollify them by quoting my own beautifully ambiguous words:
“Science may someday discover
What faith has always known.”