You know who had faith? Hiroo Onodo. He was the last officer to serve the old Japanese Imperial Army after World War II. He held out on a remote island in the Philippines for twenty-nine years until 1974, when he was found by a college dropout searching the world for ghosts. Even then, he held out until his old commander, now a bookseller, came out into the jungle to relieve him.
Hiroo never surrendered. He didn’t believe the pamphlets dropped by his adversaries or those of his own government. He didn’t trust the pleas and photos dropped for a decade on behalf of his own relations or the return to domestic life on his island. He missed Hiroshima and the cold war. He missed the moon landings—all of them—and his country’s emergence as a great and positive force in the world. He missed whatever family of his own he might otherwise have had.
He missed most of his own life and much of the most amazing progress in human history, but Hiroo had faith. He knew what he knew. In thirty years time, he slaughtered thirty innocent villagers, shot two men who had risked their lives to retrieve him, and wrought no end of carnage on a people whose lives his emperor had already despoiled. All of this, he did for faith–for a military-imperial-religious certainty instilled in childhood beyond all question, beyond all consideration of evidence, no matter how ample or bloody.
To have faith in mankind is to reckon on his strength and character and mind. But there is another kind of faith, the kind still widely celebrated in our culture, the kind Mark Twain defined as “believing what you know ain’t so”. This is the sort of faith that enslaves one man’s character in the service of another. Such faith can tame barbarity and foster civilization. All too often, though, it only dresses up the one in the guise of the other.
For all the claims made by those who would speak for the creator, we all have direct access to the creation itself. When a man holds beliefs more tightly than the truth in evidence around him, he cannot but blaspheme against creation. For all his promise as a civilized being, man is also the most dangerous of predators. To cleave conviction from reason divides the predator against everything greater he might yet become. It turns his very strengths into weapons against his own soul. For the soul of man is humanity, and it survives nowhere but in collective memory, and the dead recall naught.