April 19, 2003
Leaps of FaithBy Jeff Belanger
When discussing anything supernatural, we are required to take a leap of faith. I sometimes get asked by some of my more skeptical friends if I really believe in ghosts. My reply is: I have heard and read so many different people's personal accounts from all over the world that it is difficult for me to think that everyone is either crazy or a liar. Plus, for some, an encounter with a ghost or spirit is a life-changing event -- and that profound significance does come through in many of the encounters I have read and heard about. So, yes, I believe in ghosts, though I've never personally seen one.
In the New Testament of the Bible, the book of Hebrews 11:1 defines "faith" as follows: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
Faith is of vital importance when discussing the supernatural, and faith is the very foundation of organized religion. I recently contacted a childhood friend of mine, Reverend Dean Osuch, Minister of Evangelism for Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia.
"Our world revolves around faith," Rev. Osuch said. "You have faith that you're talking to Dean Osuch and not an evil clone. Even atheists have a faith. They have a faith that there isn't a God."
In our increasingly scientific and skeptical society, we sometimes find ourselves looking for motive in regards to faith. What does a person have to gain by claiming they saw a ghost? Was it Geraldo who saw the ghost, and is he pitching a new TV special starring himself? In that case, one might question if he really saw a ghost at all. We tend to "buy in" to supernatural and spiritual encounters when we perceive the person who had the encounter has nothing to gain by sharing the experience.
Some of us need tangible evidence in order to believe in something. Osuch said, "How do we know Abraham Lincoln lived? We have documents, we have eyewitness accounts -- even though we've never seen Abraham Lincoln, we have trust/faith in the documents written about him and the eyewitness accounts. We can't prove Abraham Lincoln existed except by those documents."
For Osuch, the tangible part of his Christian faith comes from documentation: "When we look at Jesus Christ, we look at the documents, and the authors, and the eyewitness accounts. We put our trust in those documents." Although the documents Osuch refers to are the books of the New Testament, in that same book we also find the story of Thomas, one of Jesus's apostles. Thomas needed to see Jesus Christ resurrected to believe it -- thus the origin of the expression "Doubting Thomas." Thomas needed material evidence to support his faith.
If we go to the dictionary, faith is defined as: "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." This is the supernatural aspect of faith. It's knowing in our hearts that something beyond reason is in communication with us.
Osuch continued, "My life has changed because of Jesus. I see people's lives being changed because of Jesus, so there's more than just the tangible written documents. There's also seeing a life transformed. I hear a lot people saying that Christianity is just a blind leap of faith. Well, I don't think it's a blind leap of faith. I think it's faith that's backed by documentation and eyewitness accounts."
This weekend marks Easter, the most significant religious holidays for Christians. Christianity itself hinges on the faith that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, so celebrating Easter is Christians' commitment to that faith. "Without Easter there is no such thing as Christianity," Osuch said. "It's when Jesus is resurrected from the dead and he keeps his promise that he will come back to life. It's the resurrection -- and a celebration for Christians because Jesus kept his promise."
Like Halloween and Christmas, Easter's roots and its secular practices are pagan in origin. Easter comes from the festival of Eastre (a.k.a., Eostre, Ostara, and Oestre) commemorating fertility and rebirth, and it is celebrated on the vernal equinox (usually March 21). Eastre is the Teutonic Goddess of Fertility symbolized by the egg. The festival also marks the end of winter and the sowing of seeds for the summer crops. The Christian celebration of Easter started formally in 325 C.E. when the Council of Nicaea issued the ruling that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.
In an effort to convert the pagans to Christianity, the Catholic Church assigned the name "Easter" and its date to coincide with the long-standing pagan celebration. A Saxon myth said Ostara had a rabbit with her who would lay colored eggs as presents for children during the fertility celebration. In an effort to "ease" the pagans into Christianity, some of the beliefs and practices were tolerated. When you see children hunting for treats and colored Easter eggs -- they are keeping a pagan idea alive that dates back thousands of years.
Religions have influenced our secular lives as well. At the root of all of these influences lies simple faith in ideas that may not always be logical or tangible. I once heard a sermon that compared faith to wind. We can't see wind -- it's invisible, yet we see its effects as branches on trees wave, and we feel its touch on our faces. We can't see wind, but we know it's there. To accept existence of things supernatural does require a leap of faith -- but not a blind one. The effects and evidence are all around us.