Friday, November 30, 2007

revisiting faith

I've been rethinking the whole idea of faith. A while back I made a YouTube video asking the question 'What is Faith'. I got a couple of decent responses, but it didn't really start up the discussion that I'd hoped. Anyway, I've never stopped thinking about it. And since then I've thought of an idea of faith that I'd not considered before. What about a faith that doesn't require you to believe in dogmas, but rather one that requires you to believe nothing other than what you have experienced or reasoned out yourself? And what about a faith that allows you to have doubt, and acknowledge that that doubt is there and is not necessarily a bad thing. I'm talking about faith in reality and in your powers of discernment. This faith is a belief that no matter what you find in reality, believing that will be better than living a fantasy.

I'm really getting to think that the whole idea that 'faith' means believing absolutely and unconditionally in things even if they defy reason or empirical evidence is just wrong. And so are the religions that rely on this sort of faith--the dogmatic and fundamentalist sects that have found a spot in every religion in the world. Like the folk of the infamous creation museum that insist that the earth must only be 6,000 years old because their interpretation of a religious text tells them so . . . However, I really think there is a decent type of faith that can let people absorb changes in knowledge, admit when their belief is wrong, and then get on with life in a sane and rational manner.

Here is what I think is the basic rule of thumb for having such a faith: Don't try to make yourself believe what you don't think is true and consistent with a realistic view of the world. Follow the moral and ethical teachings of your philosophy or religion, and enjoy the ritual and devotional aspects of religion if you like those sorts of things. But if your religious tradition tells you to believe something you think is dubious, just admit to yourself that you think it's dubious. Put it on the back burner of your mind for a while. Don't even worry about believing it until you either decide it may be true or you decide it probably is not true (in which case you either toss the useless dogma out with the trash or stick with some symbolic version of it). I think this is really difficult and requires a degree of courage if you were raised in a religion like Christianity which hangs one's very salvation on believing the right things. I think simple honesty with oneself and a openness to reality--even if you have been told that you will be risking your very soul--is much better than uncritical belief in a dogma. I think being dishonesty with oneself, and the cognitive dissonance that goes with having beliefs that clash with the known world, is a much worse risk. Have some faith in yourself :)

But then, that is just my point of view. And I'm using this blog to hash out this idea, so I'm not done thinking about it. I probably never will be done thinking about it.

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