Wednesday, January 28, 2009


What is "faith" and what's it good for ?...I asked myself recently. Without getting bogged down in semantics and/or embroiled in religion, I pondered the question, because sooner or later it seems to come up in so many of life's situations. Granted, the usual context the word connected with involves a belief system revolving around a "higher power". That belief system is nearly always connected with a religion, and more often than not, a hierarchy of an entity or entities that are better than YOU. So too is "worship", the act of paying homage to such an entity, or entities (referred to as a deity, or deities) to acknowledge their greatness as a God, and your shortcomings as a mortal human. But how do you know, how do you really ever know that the system of belief a religion is predicated upon isn't just some sort of scam? Simple - FAITH. Or so it would seem. But let's examine "faith" a little more closely.

In order to do that, we need to have a constant, something that is held to be TRUE. That would be "belief". If I say (in all truthfulness) that I believe something, it means that through what I've gathered in my experience, and corroborated with the experience of others, through all of the data that has been presented and documented , that the statement, condition, situation, occurrence, existence of, or whatever is TRUE, and evidently FACT. That the sun will 'rise' tomorrow is a fact. That I live in a house is a fact. That I have a cat is a fact. That I have eaten, will eat, sleep, drink, etc., etc. are all facts. I believe them as true because they are constantly happening. But do I have faith that the sun will rise? No, I don't need to. No faith required. Yes, it is possible I could die, and not live to see another sunrise, but death eliminates all doubt. Without DOUBT, you cannot have FAITH.

So since faith and doubt are symbiotic, but opposite counterparts (if there was no doubt, there would be no need for faith), what place has doubt in faith's nature and value? A very important one. "Eh, I don't think that car is gonna start" is doubt. There is a (sizable) chance the car won't start. "I have faith that the car will start," is an indication that perhaps in spite of the odds or conditions, there is a positive desire for the car to start. In fact, the one with faith actually believes that the car WILL start! One has to have some basis of belief to have faith. One does not have to have faith to have a system of belief. In this example, the odds are that some condition (the age or care of the car, the weather, etc.) possibly affects whether the car will start or not. So faith (or doubt) comes in when there is a possibility that something contrary to belief may happen, result or exist. It could be your belief, it could be someone else's. In a way, faith is "sticking to your guns".

Although at some time or other most all of us have professed belief in something we didn't sincerely believe in ("Yeah, I believe you're telling the truth"), when you say you have faith, you're declaring your belief come hell or high water. Even though there could be some doubt. No matter how hard you try, you can't prove the existence of GOD (you can make some compelling cases, quote scripture, point out how many other people believe in a god through religion, etc.) but you can't present any concrete evidence that there is one of more deities running the show. You need to have faith to make this particular belief system work- for the belief is unsupported by tangible evidence of its truth. Does that mean that faith could be delusional? Perhaps. But faith is also an integral part of a core belief system that aspires towards something positive rather than something negative, such as doubt.

Phrases like "faith in our fellow man", "he was a man of faith", "faithful until the end", and "his faith was strong", bespeak of faith as a positive attribute. "Oh yee of little faith", "She was a faithless hussy" indicate that lacking faith is necessarily a bad thing. So is faith "blind belief"? Again, not necessarily. In order to have faith, there has to be some underlying reason WHY. (Here's where things get tricky.) It could be one's upbringing (tradition), a personal experience or occurance that affects, alters or enhances one's belief system, a yearining for certain things to be true, or simply a desire to view life in a certain way. It also happens to be a lot easier to to have faith in someone or something that is in some way "unknowable", being that there is a lot more leeway for unexpected or unwanted circumstances and conditions. ("It was God's will.")

But what about faith in yourself? Do you have to believe in a higher power for that? No, not really. Faith in one's self is simply knowing your capabilities and believing you will "do the right thing" or "perform in a certain way" because you think you know yourself best. But on the other hand, there still has to be some doubt, some possibility you will fail at whatever prompted you to even think about having faith in yourself. It is faith in one's self that permits triumph over adversity (winning a scholarship, athletic contest, surviving a catastrophe) discipline over temptation ("He was a faithful husband") and acceptable quality work ("She rendered a faithful adaptation"). Of course, you could always pass the credit to the deity ("It was my faith in God that made me what I am today"), but that's kind of like thanking the Academy after you won the Oscar. If you didn't have the drive, determination and faith in yourself, you wouldn't even be there.

So why does it seem like I'm a bit cynical when it comes to faith? Perhaps because it is an unquantifiable quality that has been put on a pedestal and revered as an ideal while being used as a shield (and often, a sword as history bears out) against unbelievers, doubters and those considered to be lacking in virtue. You know, you can still be an optomist and not have faith. I feel optomisitc at times that this new administration will be somewhat better than the past one. I don't have any faith in politicians though. Is that just contradictory, or am I reserving a little room for some good, healthy doubt?

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