"Man is a credulous animal, and
must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he
will be satisfied with bad ones." —Bertrand Russell
Faith and Belief:
A Systematic and Structured Approach
We will use the somewhat outmoded word "faith" to define
belief on its most fundament level.
Faith is not a belief system, a paradigm, a set of positions
or tenets, a creed, knowledge, conviction, intensity, fervor, or
transaction. It cannot be bought, sold, traded, nor coerced: nor can it be
taught, learned, programmed or instilled. It is not subject to the 4 laws of
reasonable belief and knowledge.
Given there is such evil afoot in our world, and we all are
exposed to its trouble, trauma, bad experiences, pain and suffering,
experience in life cannot be used as a basis for faith. The basis for
cynicism and negativity is at least as great as for faith. If we need a
basis for faith, we must look elsewhere other than personal experience. Here
is what Brian Appleyard has to say about it:
"Religions have usually attempted to relate
their spiritual systems to the material experience of the world. In
doing so they have depended on the conviction that value and meaning can be
found in the facts of the world—precisely the conviction that science has so
successfully defied and apparently disproved."- Bryan Appleyard,
Understanding The Present, Anchor Books, 1540 Broadway, New
York, NY. 10036, 1992, p. 80.
Faith PRECEDES understanding which engenders further
and more specific belief. Faith can only be awakened or inspired. It can only be
chosen without direct outside influence or pressure, even at the risk of one's own
eternal life being at stake. It is sourced in our idealism, the spark of God
within us, and bounded on one side for our desire to live, and on the other
by unwillingness to exist unless real
goodness is imminently available.
FAITH n: the personal commitment of volition to choose to
believe that real unmitigated goodness exists in an agency that manages the
universe and cares about you personally. Taking the attitude for
belief of the best or personally most positive aspect of issues rather
than the negative. To first trust that agency has given you an innate
ability to recognize and know the truth, and ultimately, to trust that ability to understand and
appreciate the goodness that is available. and trust that you will actively led in
your understanding and appreciation. A general stance that the prevailing
ethic in the wider universe is goodness, not evil. See believe.
Faith is the continuation of reason. -
The person of faith WILL continue to change and develop his
belief system to be compatible and consistent with his faith, and
conversely, faith is fed, nurtured, fortified and sustained by valid belief.
Belief is not assumption, opinion,
perspective, knowledge or learning. Belief is not just a position that we
take, because positions are more provisional, held more lightly, and can be
changed more readily.
For instance, no matter how widespread or fervently
defended, the three foundational cornerstones of Protestantism are not
belief but assumption positions. See:
Common Theological Assumptions
BELIEVE v: To choose to incorporate a certain conception from an
issue, which is not in the domain of knowable, into your belief system because you like
or love the concept; from "be" meaning live or exist and "lief" meaning like or love.
Secondarily this word
means to retain the chosen concept in one's belief
system, but just holding onto a concept that one did not consciously
choose is not real believing. Specifically, in a moral and religious
reference, (believe) is used in the New Testament of the conviction and trust to
which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and
law of his soul (Thayer's GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON of the New Testament,
4th edition). See belief system, knowledge, choice, conception,
As defined by The Analytical
Greek Lexicon: "to be persuaded of, to be confident of, to be
induced, to be convinced, to yield belief, to assent, to be
assured, to be confident, to trust, to rely on, to confide in."
BELIEF n: a conviction or mental acceptance by or through
CHOICE of something or certain things as true and real in the SPIRITUAL REALM, the
arena of life and morale. Distinguished from
knowledge in that belief is not fully based on sensory input, experience, empirical
evidence or logic dissociated from purpose and reason. It is compelled
by either or both attraction to goodness and/or objection to evil.
BELIEF SYSTEM n: that intellectual structure of
assimilated or learned knowledge,
indoctrinated concepts and chosen beliefs that determines our will,
conscience and ultimate behavior. The foundation of a belief system is our
definitions of choice, conscience, decision, will, religion.
CREDO n: generally same as creed. Latin for I believe,
and thus a personal statement of belief.
CREED n: a brief and specific statement of beliefs, generally held to be
authoritative by some formal organization.
KNOWLEDGE n: learned structures of information or logical conclusions
that take on quality, value and meaning for a person in the INTELLECTUAL
REALM; the arena of information and science. Not the same as belief. See
information, logical, truth. See
When people stop believing in something, the danger
is not that they will believe in nothing, but that they
will believe in anything. —Chesterton
important aspect of belief is that it involves your life and its wellbeing.
True beliefs are life supporting and enhancing, and false beliefs ALWAYS have undesirable,
unproductive, and ultimately devastating consequences. It
is the truth that sets us free, safe and in touch with reality, not falsity. False beliefs keep us
disempowered and imprisoned, keep us in bondage to the wrong purposes, values
and directions, and keep us focusing on and doing the wrong things.
A simplistic example is that
if we believe it doesn't matter how long or strong our bungee cord is
when we jump off the bridge into a canyon, we are likely to get our head
bashed in. When we step on a floating lily pad thinking it to be capable of
holding our weight, we are
going to get dunked.
Out of the multitude of
extreme examples, just one of these is that in Islamic cultures because
of their belief, it is common for a father or brother to kill his
otherwise beloved daughter or sister if she marries a Christian, or gets
raped, or otherwise sexually dishonors her family and the "honor" of its
males. The fabric of familial psychological peace and bonding for the
survivors is usually destroyed, and of course, more and more the
perpetrator is held with contempt in the wider civilized world world and is going to a tangible prison.
"When ignorant men argue, everyone loses. When
wise men argue, everyone wins."—George Lizer
What more can be said about belief? What are the issues concerning belief?
When it comes to the "views" or positions that we hold to be true, which are usually
loosely called "belief", there are two very clear and distinct issues:
1. Strength or intensity of the conviction
2. Validity or correctness of the conviction
When we look at these two
issues concerning "belief" we should have no trouble seeing that the
second is more important or of a much higher priority than the first. Who
would argue that a strongly held false belief is better than a weakly
held correct one? Wouldn't we actually say that the more strongly a
false belief is held the more mischief is caused, the worse off the person is?
And do we think that any reasonably mature person (the Creator?) is more
pleased or impressed with intensity or "sincerity" than with
correctness when we "believe" something bad or wrong
about important issues, ourselves, others and him?
We can confidently say that everyone has some beliefs that they hold with
varying degrees of intensity or strength. When it comes to dealing with
people, they may have flaws, weaknesses, unwanted proclivities, but their
belief systems are generally the most problematic. People
cling to and always defend their belief systems at the risk of some part
or aspect of their lives, sometimes risking mortality, and tend to
confuse these beliefs with themselves or their personal value. It is like they are
trammeled or held captive by them.
The enlightened person always has a
belief system, but it doesn't HAVE him. He is in personal control of
his belief system; he has it because it suits the true him, and he is
always willing to not defend it but to change it when that becomes necessary
in the face of better information or better understanding.
On the other hand, the person
who has not taken full responsibility for his belief system and
seriously vetted it for himself is usually busy convincing himself that
he believes what he thinks he is supposed to believe, or what he has
unconsciously accumulated in conjunction with an unchallenged paradigm.
Of course, when the chips are down, we usually find no substantial commitment to that
kind of belief system at all.
To believe, or not to believe?
That is the question! Would a reasonable person (God or the Creator) ask us to believe anything
without a reason, justification or basis? Without adequate grounds?
Sometimes belief is
characterized as a "leap of faith", and so people using that metaphor
usually say that we should leap in the light—not in the dark—so that the
leap is an educated one. I have come to accept the following
1) True belief is formed in conjunction with
a commitment to know the truth.
2) Genuine belief is always consonant with rationality, logic and reason, always
associated with intellectual responsibility,
3) Understanding ALWAYS precedes genuine belief,
4) We should commit to believe something only when it is more reasonable to
believe than to not believe.
The above principles
demand that we sincerely care about our belief system and that our
beliefs measure up to being rational, logical, reasonable, and
intellectually defensible. Necessary prerequisites for true belief are
intellectual honesty and responsibility.
At the present time, is the perversity of the human mind
to cling to unworthy beliefs greater than the love of God?
There are many people that would answer the above question with a "maybe
so", or at least admit it is only slight hyperbole, while they are somewhat
smugly thinking that it applies to others but not themselves. After all,
they are reasonably mature, spiritually grounded, schooled in the dogmas
and doctrines of their religion. Their thinking is that if they have a somewhat mainstream view
in their culture, isn't it then mostly a matter of perspective and largely inconsequential?
It should be clear enough that Jesus came to inspire faith and engender belief. When
the crowd on the other side of the lake asked him the great question of
that time in that culture, "What is the work we can do to please God?," his answer was to
"believe in him whom he has sent." It should be obvious from the dialogue
that followed and many other passages that this belief should not be a
simplistic or shallow one, such as seeing him as the Messiah or simply as the savior. He is
asking us to believe everything that he said and demonstrated, asking
for our complete understanding. That is exactly what he promises the
Holy Spirit will deliver, as in, "That one will teach you all things" and "that
one will lead you into all the truth."
Is it worth mentioning again that it is more important to
believe rightly than it is to believe intensely? Is the kind of belief being
sought in us by Jesus the belief that will make THE difference,
that will literally bring the empowerment to move a mountain into the sea if that were needed and
productive? Obviously we don't find that level of belief in the
disciples and followers, nor in the history of Christendom, especially today.
How do we get that kind or level of belief? That is a valid, pertinent
and pointed question, and the answer better not be complicated, obscure or unclear.
Does this kind of belief come from ratcheting up the sincerity or intensity of our current belief?
Does this kind of belief come from clinging to what we have been programmed to believe?
Does this kind of belief come from tradition, confusion, misunderstanding or mysticism?
Does this kind of belief come from being willing to challenge our current
beliefs and to address everything that we don't understand or with which we
are not comfortable?
Does it come from being based on a worthy foundation?
Does this belief come FROM
SHEDDING OUR UNWORTHY BELIEFS and from operating in the faith that God
is truly good while we continue to look higher and seek to UNDERSTAND ALL THE TRUTH?
Doesn't this means that one need NEVER say, "I just believe...."?
Shouldn't we be able to defend and explain WHY we believe the way we do? Understanding
ALWAYS precedes genuine belief, and when we understand adequately and
believe, then that belief will not be countermanded by experience but be reinforced. IT DOESN'T
WORK ANY OTHER WAY! This kind of belief is affirmed when every aspect of our understanding
and belief makes sense!
"A great many people think they are thinking when they
are merely rearranging their prejudices." - William James
Overwhelmingly in the Gospels accounts the words "believe"
and "belief" are used by Jesus, not so much by others and not
much in the narrative of the Gospel writer or compiler.
A serious mistake I
have made in the past is thinking that, when a Gospel writer says a
person, group or crowd believed, the writer was using the word the same
way and, meaning the same thing that Jesus meant. This turns out to not be true.
Or even worse on my part was thinking that they believed the essential
truth or that they believed who Jesus really was, believed in him as the
original God and were now prepared to listen to him and accept what he
would reveal to them. Maybe this came out of wishful thinking, rooting
and cheering for the good side to win, but the acceptance of this equation
or meaning is another serious mistake.
So, two questions that should always be asked when coming across
the word "believed" in the accounts are:
1) "Believed WHAT?" and
2) "How is this different
from or less than what they SHOULD have believed?"
There is one other very
salient piece of information that is needed to put things into the
proper framework. In Koine Greek, the word translated "faith" is the
same word for "belief". If the speaker or writer of the word meant some
nuanced difference, one must pick that up from the context, or in some
other facet of implication.
To put things into the
perspective that Jesus had late in his time on earth, we can read his
rhetorical question in Luke 18:8, "Nevertheless, when the son of man
passes, will he find belief on earth? Obviously not!"
Now, don't fault me for supplying the words, "Obviously not!" The negative is ALWAYS
implied in this particular Greek structure, and even though I am unaware of
a single published translation that does anything but leave the embedded
sentiment out, there should be no question that this is what is meant and
this is how it should be translated
Thus, when Jesus was nearing the end of his ministry he did NOT expect to find adequate
belief. No wonder he called the disciples "puny-faiths", or referred to
them as, "Ye of little belief." No wonder things did NOT progress in the
right direction after he left. No wonder his most extravagant statements
about belief seemingly have to be taken as symbolic or metaphorical by Christendom!
Obviously, in his life on earth the J person did NOT engender the kind of belief
for which he was looking. This suggests why he said, "Narrow is the way
and few there are that find it." He did NOT say this to discourage us,
but merely as an observation. Of course, the "narrow way" has the
criteria of being rational, logical, reasonable and good, intellectually
defensible and responsible by being free from
darkness, confusion and mysticism. Above all, consonant with the
ideal. That is what is so narrow and hard about it!
Let's look at one example. After the incident with the woman at
the well, we have the Samaritans asking Jesus to stay with them,
and so he stayed for two days. John 4:41, 42. "And many more
believed because of his word. They said to the woman, 'It is no
longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard
for ourselves, and we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.'"
OK, so they believed that he was the savior of their world, but THAT IS NOT
ENOUGH! That is what the essence of being the Messiah was all about. They needed to see that this was
the Creator/God come to reveal himself. They needed to understand that this was what the Creator/God
WAS/IS/ALWAYS WILL BE! A human being! Of course, one empowered, one of wisdom, maturity, and grace, but a
HUMAN. Not intrinsically different, nor separate.
This idea of a different nature and separateness is the
Devil, the original lie, a lie that isolates us as being unequal, inferior, lower than
the creator and thus destined to be his servants!
Although I have unshakeable belief in the efficacy
of my own reasoning ability, I find that I cannot
accept it as either perfect or complete, and cannot
and do not get comfortable with the outcome until I
have affirmation/confirmation(?) from some other
person that is capable and that I trust. I have made
too many careless mistakes in the past for this to
be anything other than foolish to do otherwise. This
applies to ALL areas of intellectual activity in ALL
of the realms, be they philosophical, theological,
or relating to physical theory. Of course there are
always varying degrees of conviction, and I do not
abandon my positions for any other reason than
rigorous logic and reason that shows them to be
false or incomplete. And I can hold my convictions
in the face of ALL other minds claiming they are
wrong, until they engage with me to reason together,
and we come to a mutual better understanding. I am
actually eager to do this, because I have faith that
we can arrive at it, and the truth is always good
and valuable, more so than my own ego gratification.
Science as Knowledge
The word “science” was originally synonymous with
knowledge. So, regardless of the nature or source of
inspiration, IMO the “scientific method” hinges upon
neither trusting my own, the posited or THE existing
thinking without doing the reality checks, be they
confirmatory or discomfirmatory experiments; and at
the very least getting an independent party to
verify, or better, to duplicate the results.
Concepts and ideas are not worthy of becoming
beliefs or knowledge until they have been
challenged, agonized over, and are independently confirmed.
It has taken me many years of hard
struggle to clean out my personal compendium of
belief and knowledge from what I was taught,
injected with, or what I uncritically accumulated.
It is an agonizing process, but I don’t ever want to
be caught holding on to something because of an ego
problem, or momentum, or just because of “comfort”
or because I was the original source of the concept,
because it was MINE! That process is largely over,
and as well, I no longer uncritically accumulate.
Changing belief and knowledge because of sound logic
and reasoning always demonstrates the bigger person
than unworthy clinging does.