Faith

The boy became a believer as he watched the man take a wheelbarrow back and forth across the high wire. The boy then got in the wheelbarrow and trusted himself to the man.

Are there different kinds of faith?

Faith is a religious sounding word, but all disciplines from science to philosophy to politic to sports use it and its synonyms. I can trust God and I can trust my atheist soldier buddy to rescue me. I can believe that black cats crossing my path doom me or I can have faith that science and statistics can provide a more accurate explanation. The basic concept of faith is universal.

My faith can be rational or irrational. In other words, I can have faith based on reason and evidence, or not. For example, I can get in an airplane and chase the sun around a round world, or I can believe in a flat earth simply because a charismatic teacher told me there is a conspiracy. My faith can be dogmatic and based on authority because my church tells me what to believe. My beliefs can be limited to the mechanistic physical laws and properties discoverable by scientific research or I can trust whatever my drug-induced mind can imagination. I can believe whatever I want to believe simply because I choose to believe it for no reason at all. Faith can be totally blind and gullible, or it can inductively trust in tomorrow's sun because of all the sunny yesterdays.

Who do you trust? How much? Why?

Imagine a guy with no trust at all. He would have no friends because he is completely paranoid. His family is long abandoned because he is convinced they do not care for him. All of his movements and decisions are slow because he is so ridden with anxiety that he thinks his bed will break at any moment, the chair will fall apart, and his clothes are unable to stay together. He delicately tests the ground before he makes his next step. He cannot use technology because he is unable to test everything thoroughly before buying it. He simply cannot trust. He simply cannot look back at all that he has done before and trust that some, most, or all of it will be repeated. He is always afraid that today is his last because he has no assurance the sun will rise tomorrow.

Faith is a good thing. It lets us see into the cloudy future with reasonable expectations and it helps us relax in the present. Sure, there are letdowns that shake our faith, but so much of our lives are now routine because long ago we decided to trust others, to trust the laws and rhythms of nature, to trust the technology we use and the makers of that technology. Faith, trust, confidence, and assuming the repeatable will repeat is an old foundation upon which we build new experiences. We are not constantly reinventing the wheel. We now use it to make new things and go to new places. Faith becomes the foundation for hope.

Faith can also be a bad thing when it is directed towards selfish goals. Adolf Hitler believed in the dominance of the blue-eyed, blond-haired German and plunged the world into the nightmare of World War II with its concentration camps and atom bombs. 9/11 happened because bombers believed their cause justified the killing of innocent people. Theft occurs because someone believes your stuff is their stuff.

Negative faith is selfish, egotistical, I-don't-need-anyone belief. It disconnects people from each other. Negative faith (”only my beliefs count”) can be harmful when it attacks others for their beliefs. Positive faith can be naive because it is early in the learning curve, but it will never be so arrogant as to deny someone else the right to believe.

Faith also turns negative when it turns inward because a person has been hurt and betrayed. In this case, however weak self may be, self is the only one to be trusted because it is believed self is the only one who will not hurt self.

All these examples, and the many more brought to mind, cause us to believe that all of us always believe something. We always trust someone, something, or ourselves. Positive or negative, scientific or religious, rational or irrational, we always have faith and make choices based on that faith. The same applies to hope and love.

Quotes and Questions

"To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float." (Alan Watts)

“I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind." (John Lennon) Is he talking about gullible, imaginary faith?

“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” (F. Nietzsche) Did this statement prove anything? How does faith relate to proof relate to reasoned judgment?

“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.” (Paulo Coelho)

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” (Carl Sagan) If extraordinary evidence exists, is the way opened for extraordinary faith?

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) Faith, by definition, has an element of blindness to it. But should it be so blind that it randomly picks which staircase to climb without evidence that it is the correct one?