When I was a child, faith was a dirty word to me. It wasn’t that anyone told me it was bad, it’s just the association I had created about it. I grew up in a multicultural home, complete with a Channamus Tree for the holidays. One side of the family was Jewish, the other Christian, and both sides were relatively open-minded and non-traditional. My family was spiritual, to a degree, but certainly not religious. Throughout elementary school I was the only “Jewish” kid in a school full of Christians. It was uncomfortable at times, and from what I saw at Sunday school when I attended with my friends, “faith” was not something I wanted. From my childhood perspective, this faith they talked about just didn’t make sense. Not only could I not understand why they would believe things that went against what we were learning in science class, such as how the earth was formed, but I also couldn’t understand how they could justify all of harm that had been done to people in history in the name of “faith.”
In high school I had the following quote on my wall:
“Faith is a belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” ~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
At that time, had you asked me if I believed in God I would have said “no,” but the truth was that I certainly did believe in a higher power that created it all and a higher purpose for our individual lives that was more than a pointless, meandering existence. I just wasn’t willing to give others the pleasure of thinking I believed in God the same way they did if I had answered “yes.”
I was a skeptic, I was cynical, I was too intellectual for my own good, and I was determined to understand why people thought the way they did about religion and about life in general.
Starting in my late teens I began my spiritual quest, devouring books about spirituality, and over time my stance softened toward the rigidity of others’ thinking as I realized the rigidity of my own. I came to see how religious and spiritual ideals and beliefs overlap and intertwine in unique ways for each individual, and my concept of “faith” took on a multifaceted viewpoint. I came to know faith and to see faith as one of the most powerful forces in the world.
Being the nerd that I am, I like to look up the meanings of words in the dictionary. I started with “faith” to see what insight I could glean from the meaning of the word, and I inadvertently opened a can of worms.
Faith: belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: firm belief in something for which there is no proof: complete trust or confidence in someone or something: something that is believed especially with strong conviction.
Well, that really narrows it down! So, I dug a little deeper into those numerous and highly varied definitions of faith. I skipped over the first one, as this is the one that was a road block for me in my youth and was the most likely to lead me down a never-ending rabbit hole.
Firm belief in something for which there is no proof:
Certainty: dependable, reliable: known or proved to be true: indisputable
“Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.” ~ Ashley Montague
For left-brained, concrete-minded people, faith can be a stretch. It is easy to have faith in something for which there is undeniable evidence, such as science, but does certainty even exist? The quote above points out that in truth, science may have what they consider “proof,” but as scientists continue to learn more and more about the nature of existence they realize that the things they were “certain” about previously were, in fact, incorrect or incomplete. Even through rigorous scientific inquiry we do not arrive at certainty, and so faith certainly (pun intended) cannot be dependent on proof.
Complete trust or confidence in someone or something:
Trust: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
“Faith isn’t believing without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.” ~ William Sloane Coffin
Okay, so if we can’t prove that which we want to have faith in, perhaps it’s simply a matter of trust. We assure ourselves that we can trust the information we have and trust the leaders who provide the knowledge. This can get hairy, though, because looking at human history we see how many times our leaders were, let’s say, less than trustworthy and the resulting information we were given was anything but complete. So the question is, then, if faith is trust who are we trusting?
For each person this answer is different dependent on their personality and experience. Trust as a synonym for faith leans toward implying a trust in God or the Divine, rather than trust in people or ideas. For many “faith” is a matter of trusting in a higher power and that there is a divine order to the world. For others, faith remains within their grasp only through more concrete evidence of trust. Since trust in authority and validity of knowledge is often limited, many people seek to find faith in themselves.
Confidence : a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances
So, you can’t find faith in the outside world (which is often quite understandable), the solution may be to turn within. How empowering it is to know that you can find your way to faith without relying on anything outside of yourself! You can always rely on yourself, and if you look back through all of the things you’ve accomplished (and survived) it’s easy to find faith in yourself (See the Enlightened Relationship column this month for more about this.)
Those of religious conviction may discourage you from this self-reliant attitude; however, this is a common misperception. To find a true faith in God, through a deep inner knowing rather than blind faith in an unknowable external object, the only way is to follow the path that starts within. Even if originally your inward journey toward faith is for practical self-reliant reassurance, if you continue to seek deeper and deeper within yourself you will one day reach the center of your true Self beyond your own identity. You will come to Know and trust and have faith in the higher power that creates and is contained within us all. Any path to faith is a good one.
Something that is believed especially with strong conviction:
Belief: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence
Notice that the above definition does not require evidence as a prerequisite of belief—it is optional. As with faith, belief is based on our free will to choose our own perspective.
Ah, and so we come back full circle to a place where faith is a multifaceted, individually determined phenomena. I guess I didn’t avoid the rabbit hole after all. Throughout my process of mind-expansion and spiritual growth, as well as my perusal of the dictionary, I have come to understand two things about faith. One is that it is and will forever be determined by each individual and that each viewpoint is equally valid. The other is that ultimately faith, as with God and all greater meanings and inner-workings of existence, cannot be fully understand by the faculties of a human mind.
“You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty that is superior to reason.” ~ Plotinus
As always, the spiritual quest for understanding has led me to know more and more about less and less. One thing I have faith in for sure is that I will never stop learning and growing, both because I am certain I will never cease to seek and because the Truth will infinitely elude me. I believe Scrooge from A Christmas Carol said it best when he stated:
“I don’t know anything. I never did know anything; but now I know that I don’t know anything.”
Natalie, Publisher of Transformation Magazine, has worked with thousands of people seeking to live a life of purpose and genuine relationship with their true selves, others, and their world. She is the former Director of a counseling center for teenagers and their parents. She is also a public speaker and leads workshops and retreats on Practical Spirituality, Finding Joy, Discovering Your Purpose, and Enlightened Relationships. www.transformationservices.org