Practical guide for Planet Friendly, 21st Century beings


The Multiple Stages of Faith

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I was pondering this issue the other day and discovered that if you drill down a ways, into the origins of this powerful emotion [if it is an emotion] there is a lot more going on than one would expect? Especially regarding the cultivation of faith in human beings as a process of maturation and faith as an instinct in the animal kingdom.

Faith in the animal kingdom: animals, not just human animals, also appear to practice faith on a daily basis to assist them in their day to day survival and interaction with their fellow animal species. In the case of wildebeest or antelope or any herding animals, they have faith that when a predator advances on them there will be a member of their herd to sound a warning thus allowing the rest of the herd to seek an escape route. Otherwise they would each have to be on guard every moment of every day and rely only on themselves to determine the level of danger and appropriate escape route? They follow their herd in whatever direction it takes them and have faith that they will escape and live to graze again. Schools of fish and dolphins practice the same kind of faith. Where do we go, what do we do and where is the food?

As human beings, most of us are born into a single family unit, completely helpless and in need of 24/7 care and protection, to be provided to us by our immediate family members (or guardians). They must satisfy our considerable, immediate needs in order for us to survive the day so, through the daily experiences of hunger and satiety, fear and consoling, cold and warmth, we first learn to have faith in the people taking care of us. We learn through these ‘experiences’ that the deeds of our guardians are mostly positive and in our best interests, thus our ‘Faith’ in them as providers is justified. This would be the first stage in our life long experience with faith and trust. [In the case of child abuse though, I expect the opposite would be true where we would learn that people can’t be trusted and therefore we would develop a ‘lack of faith’ in them and a faith only in ourselves].

The next phase begins when our family members ‘teach’ us to extend our established faith beyond the deeds and actions and learned experiences of our immediate family unit. This would then be our first ‘leap of faith’ that we would encounter as impressionable youngsters? They could teach us to have faith that the car won’t crash on the way to school because Mom is a careful driver or because traffic is usually light at that time so it shouldn’t be a problem or maybe that the rain won’t melt us if we get caught outside in it and that everything will be ok if we happen to fall down and skin our knees. We are taught to have faith that everything will usually turn out alright during and after these mundane, everyday life occurrences. After a while then, we accept these everyday experiences as just a part of life and add these truths to our list of truths, and as part of our faith. We also incorporate, into our expanding and existing faith, the belief that what our family members tell us regarding everyday events and problems, are ‘truths’ and need not be questioned. Once again, our faith has been built upon facts and experiences.

Then there is the ‘family tradition’ type of faith also, where generations, or possibly this particular generation, believes in a specific religious institution and the children of the family are therefore expected to believe in the same religion and have faith that their family members are correct, and by proxy, the specific religion and religious claims are also correct (e.g. truth). We are taught then, to have faith in the tenets and writings of this family religion and to consider the purveyor of these ‘truths’ (pastor, priest, rabbi, bible, torah etc.) to be as trustworthy as our own family and to regard what we are told by these writings and purveyors to be unquestionable truths as well. We have now reached the second leap of faith stage; that being the belief that what we have not experienced for ourselves is true because we are told that they are true and our own personal experiences are not necessary as proof or validation. Our latest lesson in faith is now to learn to have faith in the unknown by second hand knowledge, passed down by unknown and unseen authors of a religion they can’t verify or question. Their faith is now required to be unwavering and unquestioning.

This is the point in our lives where we separate the faith-ful from the faith-less. This is when we begin to choose whether to believe or to disbelieve. This is the point in every human beings’ life when we must decide whether to believe whatever we are told by our trusted sources or to question everything until we gain the necessary knowledge to make our own decisions. This is also the juncture where we are judged by the faith we have cultivated or have not cultivated. Faithful or Faithless? We must choose and choose wisely. This is where the politics of religion enters the picture.

‘Faithlessness’ as a definition of the absence faith is really only used in a religious context since no one really knows or cares about our extent of faith in any other context. No one is ostracized (except possibly on a local level) for their lack of faith in government or purity of food or future direction of the stock market? We are really only judged by our respective religious institutions and their practitioners on our ‘extent of faith’ and our perceived ‘loyalty to the faith’ or conversely, on our apparent lack of faith and hence, disloyalty to ‘the faith’. ‘Lack of faith’ seems to be a relatively local stigma regarding the lack of faith in a particular religion or ideological area. The exception would be during a time of war when our faith is called patriotism and we are judged on our extent of patriotism by our fellow citizens and expected to give our all to the war effort without question. Aside from a war effort, we are judged by our local religious institution for having a lack of faith in their religion and a stigma is placed upon us on a local level as ‘disbelievers’ or infidels but as we venture further from the source of this stigma, the effect tends to wear thin and we are not judged as harshly by others of a different religion as long as we don’t interact with them or their particular brand of religion. In anonymity, our faith is our own and we can begin to cultivate our own faith and our own beliefs or choose top believe in nothing if we wish?

If we say out loud in most circles that ‘we don’t believe in god’ or the prevailing religion, we are looked upon as some sort of godless beast. At this stage, to be ‘without a god’ is unheard of and sinister. “Are you an Atheist?” “Do you believe in the Devil?” In a lot of societies, the local religious institution has dirty words that they teach to their flocks in order to vilify the non-believers; Atheist, Devil Worshipper and Godless are but a few. Not to ‘believe’ and have faith in the prevailing religious sect is to be an outsider and untrustworthy. The “If you’re not with us you’re against us” attitude is prevalent. Both camps have chosen sides and we’re in one or the other. Faith in the Universe is unacceptable as an alternative to either side.

Also from the stage of religious faith, if we have gone with the program and believe what we are told, we are then taught to extend our faith well beyond even our own local religious institution and to have faith in our government and elected politicians; to have faith that the laws they legislate are just and in our best interests and long term welfare. At this stage, faith becomes a tool, not for us but for the purveyors of religion and politics. Our faith is counted upon to maintain the status of the religion, to re-elect a government and politicians and to believe what we are told so as to maintain the status quo of the present hierarchy. The more we question, the more of a liability and nuisance we tend become to them which is probably the reason for the practices of ostracization and scarlet letters seen through the centuries, possibly starting with the inception of the first human settlement?

So, we’ve learned to have faith, initially based on life experiences, then we were taught to extend our faith into areas outside of our own experiences. During these latter stages we each chose a path to take and are now living by the decisions we made and the faith we’ve accumulated or haven’t accumulated. One thing is for sure, the longer we stick around, the longer will be the list of people that are counting on our faith in them to maintain their status quo. Should we just ‘believe’ what we are told or should we just keep questioning until we find ‘truth’? Should we have ‘faith’ or do we even require ‘faith’? Is faith all-encompassing or is there still room for free-will somewhere? These are all questions we could ask ourselves ad infinitum or until we cease to exist on this planet and one more thing is also for sure; when our planet ceases to exist our religions and our faith will cease to exist as well. Is there an easy answer to all of this or does the truth lie in the unanswered questions? Someday we will all know, or not.

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