FAITH AND CERTAINTY
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There is a pressing need to repair the ideological basis for conflicting beliefs as long as sectarian fanaticism and bitter conflicts still masquerade under the name of religion. As an antidote to such dangerous convictions, critical doubt is praised in intellectual circles as the basis of a rational approach to life. Not least the methods of science are seen as more dependent on systematic doubt than on faith.
It has been said that the lack of doubts in a person is a pathological condition, like that of the psychopath who believes fully whatever he wishes! There is something to be said for this, for cocksureness usually accompanies ignorance. On the other hand, severe mental illnesses also very often involve a near complete lack of faith in oneself and in the world... quite apart from faith in God. Faith is also a natural condition of the human being, whatever specific beliefs accompany it.
BELIEF VERSUS FAITH
There can be a crucial difference between religious beliefs and having faith. Belief in any church or traditional doctrine has much to do with acceptance of various historical facts, such as through which texts or persons God has chosen to reveal the truth or what teaching was actually meant. Faith in God, on the other hand, always requires faith in ourselves, not least because of our inherent divine qualities.
The written or spoken truths of the major religions have been passed on to us, often at several removes from the source. Successive translations, loss and suppression of parts of the original and of the relevant historical facts often occurred even before the question arose of how to interpret and apply crucial points that are unclear to us in our situation. Which tenets of a teaching, or which system of interpretation one believes in, can therefore vary quite independently of what is here called 'faith'.
Faith is a fundamental natural capacity of the human, which is seen in the strong faith small children show. It is not necessarily dependent on any specific religious belief. It may even not require belief in any form of God, but instead be felt as purpose or meaning... a sense of something 'higher' which expresses itself through the greatest deeds of humanity.
It is notable that Westerners who have come to recognise Sathya Sai Baba as the world Avatar with the authority of the universal teacher are frequently not adherents of any one religion or sect thereof but are of a faith that is rooted in a more universal spirituality. Many seem previously to have been either of wide spiritual interests and involvements and quite a few were previously proponents of some sort of sceptical but secular humanism involving faith in humankind.
Persons of great faith never claim to know everything, this being God's preserve, so nor can they avoid uncertainty about various matters of this world - and not least of the next. False certainty - particularly the kind based only on written scriptures - only blinds faith and often compensates its lack of vision in the missionary's zeal to convert others. Since believing is not actually knowing, To believe something is to imply that the same thing could be doubted. Doubt is thus seen to be an ever-attendant shadow of belief. Faith, by contrast, is constancy in adversity and self-confidence despite tests and doubts, all based on some sort of intuition of Divinity. Faith faces one toward the sun to stride ahead without looking back at shadows.
Experience shows that, in trying to understand the tenets of a religion, a crisis of childhood faith often arises, particularly when unquestioning acceptance of rigid beliefs is enforced. As the child grows and enters the wider world of today, this rigidity induces mental conflict, emotional suffering and doubt in the unformed character which, if unsolved, undermines natural self-confidence (a necessary basis for faith) and weakens the overall strength of character.
SEEING, BELIEVING & KNOWING
Sathya Sai Baba makes clear that seeing can lead to believing in respect both of his miracles and experiencing the physical Form of the Avatar. On the other hand he has on occasion pointed out that seeing is not necessarily believing, because faith is always somehow a prior necessity in all things. Yet some people will even doubt the very evidence of their eyes.
The Christian scriptures tell that when Thomas doubted Jesus' resurrection and said he could not believe until he had himself touched the wounds of Jesus, he was granted that faith by Jesus appearing to him with the apostles and letting him touch the stigmata. Jesus then also said that they are doubly blessed who can have faith 'without seeing'.
Those who can believe merely by hearsay, on the other hand, may instead have a weakness of judgement which makes them embrace erroneous beliefs and theories. The saying is still relevant: 'Some people will believe anything'! There are many in the West who capitalise on this fact by loudly proclaiming on T.V. and anywhere else that they have attained faith by an overnight turnabout from entire faithlessness. Such 'converts' tend to be very keen to press others into believing the same!
ZEAL MISPLACED IN SET BELIEFS
If doubt can be dangerous, certainty of belief can be yet more so! Professor N. Kasturi expressed the reason for this most succinctly when he wrote that 'the way of truth is paved with discarded certainties'.
In any spiritual or religious movement there are tendencies towards a certain group conformism in belief, unthinking acceptance of opinions above and beyond what is strictly known to be true. This can take the form of either open or subtle moral censure against those who question, even with good intention and intelligently, matters that many adopt as sacrosanct. Such obscurantism eventually gets itself a bad name.
There are unfortunately more than enough examples of genuinely-inspired movements that have later become sects because of disagreement on points of belief. Great teachings have always been rigidified into dogma by some adherents. This seems to be an ever-present danger and to avoid this continual efforts are needed on a wide front. It is a matter of striking a nice balance between taking great care over what one says, pronounces or repeats and answering doubts and questions openly, fairly and as truthfully as possible.
In any movement one finds those whose eagerness is greater than their abilities, whose show of knowing better than others exceeds their keenness for the facts. In spiritual circles there are those who believe in any imaginative ideas and who will pursue all manner of spiritual quasi-technique rather than exert themselves in critical self-examination and follow the teachings. Self-inquirers cannot avoid asking at a most deep level what it is they really know, and what, on the other hand, is honestly and after all only opinion, surmise, hope, wishful thinking and self-delusion. The line between appearance and reality or between the imaginary and truth that has to be drawn is, moreover, often a very fine one indeed.
To express with clarity what one may know so that it will not be misunderstood, and to make evident to exactly what it does and does not refer is a real task. Not least due to these difficulties, even what arises from authentic experience can degenerate into pseudo-belief when publicised. This helps to show the great need both for a certain reticence as to premature opinions and for harmony between thought, word and deed.
FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE
A change of heart increases the effort of self-inquiry and is not just as temporary inspiration. Since all true learning is a gradual process, it is simply foolish suddenly to believe everything that one had only grounds to doubt yesterday. How much more so must spiritual growth be?
Is not faith pre-tested in the crucible of experience and self inquiry the less liable to waver or weaken in the face of worldly distractions and tests? The saying 'faith can move mountains' expresses the value of determination. Perserverance is also based on faith, a power that can bear us 'unharmed' through the fire of suffering, though the effectiveness of its balm may vary.
'To know' in its usual senses is only to hold an abstraction, to be a subject possessing a mental grasp and conviction about some object of thought. Whatever this know-how enables one to do in the material world, it is not at all like inner illumination, compared to which it is without taste or joy.
However indisputable or thorough knowledge of any matter anyone has, it is itself incapable of motivating any action whatever. To be moved enough to initiate any action or to find the will power (and in the case of good acts, the loving compassion) requires some kind of faith. It may be belief in the laws of nature, in another person, in society or in divinity working though inner awareness. Whether one realise it or not, all these are indirect forms of faith in God, who is (in) everything. As faith grows, so do intuition, conviction and insight. The result is an understanding that arises from the entire psyche, not merely some segment of one's experience and thought. When we meet such insightful faith in someone, it exhibits the inner conviction of genuine knowledge.
(Robert Priddy. July, 1991)
The above material is the copyright of Robert Priddy,