01/07/2007 06:25 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Revisiting Faith

It's a topic I tend to consider quite often; faith, that is. Sometimes it occurs when I'm doing a mindless act or watching a television show--then again watching most television shows is a mindless act. However, I find people's faith or belief systems curious. We all get those emails where something wonderful will occur if we forward the email to an X number of people, today's version of yesterday's annoying chain letter. I threw them out then and delete now, in spite of the warnings that something bad may happen to me for doing so.

Earlier this year, there was a story about three fortunetellers in Queens who were arrested because they did not tell their clients that the services were for entertainment purposes only while they told certain clients that they would need exorcisms to rid the evil in their lives...all for a fee, of course. And people were willing to pay for these services.

Recently, Twilight Zone had an episode about witchcraft. At least it was good television, but there are people who do believe in the power of witchcraft. In this particular episode, it showed how the fear of being threatened by a witchdoctor drove a man to go either insane or actually be attacked by a lion in his Manhattan apartment. The viewer had to decide what actually occurred.

Several months ago, there was a story about how in Guangzhou, China, there was a license plate that sold at an auction for over $6,000 because it featured several lucky numbers. Apparently, numbers are important in China, eight being the luckiest while half that is the unluckiest.

These stories are all based on superstition, even though we like to think of ourselves as a progressive society. But I wonder, is there a difference between superstition and faith?

I recall when I was a child there was a man who lived nearby who had a large permanent purplish birthmark across the right side of his face. My grandmother, who was a practicing Catholic, said that he got that mark because his mother had stamped her foot on some rosary beads when she was pregnant with him. My grandmother told me the story with both conviction and a warning. She said her rosary everyday. She made the sign of the cross whenever passing a Catholic church. She didn't allow me to cross my legs in church because it was bad luck. Her faith was fueled by superstition, but that certainly didn't make her unique.

People go to church to light candles in hopes of answered prayer. (One needs to pay to have those candles lit, though.) I have an aunt, a devout Methodist, who will not ever entertain thirteen people; it has to be less or more, but not thirteen. She adamantly believes the number is bad luck. She also helped form a prayer chain for a family member who had cancer. At all times, she made certain there was a designated person praying for this family member in order to be healed from the dreaded disease. Unfortunately, the cancer won.

Psychic John Edwards talks to the dead. His audience members gobble up what he is saying. Sometimes it is interesting how he focuses on one particular member with a specific detail. Is it a matter of being lucky or a matter of someone desperately wanting contact with the loved one so much so that they feed into it? Or is it the same kind of faith that religion suggests? After all, my grandmother's religion told her that a baby must be baptized in order to get to heaven. She also wore her St. Christopher medal to her grave.

Many people believe that that they will be able to contact their loved one via a Ouiji Board when that message indicator--a modern day planchette--moves to certain letters, signifying that communication has been made. It's all about faith, I suppose. As a child, I was not allowed to bring a Ouiji Board in our house since my Mom, a Christian, felt it would open the door to unnecessary evil. I tended to follow her steps and did not allow my children to have one either. Was I being superstitious or prudent? Perhaps both, but I certainly didn't want to entertain anyone from the hereafter.

The point is, there are some people who try desperately to prove that their faith is real and, in effect, that cannot be done. Of course, there are fundamental Christians who dismiss any sort of superstition as cultish, even when there are others who have found comfort and truth in them. But isn't faith simply that? The Bible says, Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1 King James Version

One particular minister of the Nazarene church told me that his prayers are always answered, just sometimes the answer is "no." Okay, talk about a crapshoot.

Then there are people who believe that their soul is being captured if someone takes their photograph. Sounds rather silly to those of a more educated nature. But then again, it's no more silly than many of the beliefs rooted in something deeper. The thing is that the same kind of faith it takes in wearing medals for protection or that a game board is able to help communicate with the dead, is the same kind of faith that believes God is able to answer prayers, even if the answers are often "no."

When it comes right down to it, though, faith can be very powerful, be it inspired by religion or superstition.