Three Types of Faith (#999)

I recorded a video this week as part of one of our online programs exploring the nature of faith. In reflecting upon the topic, I realized there are essentially three kinds of things that we tend to use the word “faith” to describe. While each one is certainly a legitimate use of the word, in my experience only one of them actually helps us to live a happier and more fulfilling life…

1. Faith as an ability to accurately predict the future

As regular readers of these tips know, I am a huge fan of American Football. Over the weekend I went to a game with my son and enjoyed listening to the fans around me demonstrating this type of faith as they boldly and sequentially predicted (over the space of the first fifteen minutes of the game):

  • “Our team will win!”
  • “The referees will find a way to take the game away from us!”
  • “Our team will find a way to lose – again!”
  • “The other team is going to kill us!”

and then finally, of course, after a couple of balls bounced the home team’s way:

  • “Our team will win!”

The problem with this kind of “faith” in our ability to accurately predict the future is that it is based more on our mood than any kind of real knowledge and more on our memories of the past than any actual insight into the future. But because of the brain’s ability to selectively filter memories in line with our personal narratives, each time things happen to work out the way we predicted our faith in our predictive abilities is confirmed; each time things turn out differently to how we predicted we make up a story about why this particular incidence was an exception and “doesn’t count” as part of our data pool.

2. Faith as an attempt to control the universe

I spoke with a woman many years ago who told me that she used to be quite religious but when her first child died, she “lost her faith”. As we talked further, it became apparent that faith to her meant “If I do this, then God will/won’t do that.” Since God broke their unwritten agreement, she walked away from her relationship with him.

While this kind of story is remarkably common, it by no means only occurs in the domain of religion. The question “why do bad things happen to good people” (or vice-versa) only makes sense if you have faith in the cultural notion that acting in accordance with the rules of society is meant to insulate us from the realities of life as a contact sport.

For myself, I notice my attempts to use this kind of faith as a way to impose my will or desires on the universe whenever I barter with life, offering up anything from letting go of judging my fellow man to belief in a supernatural deity in exchange for my football team’s victory, success in the market place, or the continued well-being of my wife and children.

The problem with this kind of faith is that it is out of sync with how the universe actually works, creating an eternal tension between our desire to be good, moral human beings and our desire for only good things to happen to us and those we love and care for.

3. Faith as an expression of our understanding of how something actually works

Do you have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow morning, whether or not the clouds will make it difficult to notice and whether or not you’ll be around to see it?

Do you have faith that if you hold an object in your hand and then release it it will fall towards the ground?

Why?

In asking that question around the world, people inevitably tell me that it’s because “that’s just what happens”, or “because that’s how it works”. Some will go into more detail, labeling the cause of the illusion of the sunrise being to do with the curvature, rotation, and orbit of the earth or the nature of gravity as a principle of the physical world.

But regardless of our ability to explain it, we know these things to be worthy of our faith because there are no exceptions to them. They work the same for all things on the planet regardless of their intellect, understanding, or level of belief.

When we have faith in something and that faith is aligned with truth – that is, the way things actually work – it allows us to relax and trust. We don’t have to continually question if this time will be the exception – this time the object will float in space or Apollo will dally too long with his latest lover and forget to pilot the chariot of the sun across the sky. We don’t have to barter and offer sacrifices or participate in superstitious rituals to appease the fates.

That’s not to say we might not choose to participate in rituals, practices, and communities that bring us comfort and allow us to give voice to our gratitude for the many gifts of life. It’s just that we do so as an expression of our faith, not out of fear of retribution if we don’t.

So what do I have faith in?

I have faith that all that is born will die and that which is created will one day be destroyed. I have faith that the gift of life comes in three parts:

  • The gift of Mind, which animates our bodies and unfolds the world around us
  • The gift of Thought, which allows us to create an infinite variety of forms from the formless energy of life
  • The gift of Consciousness, which brings our thinking to life and allows us to experience the world through the senses of the brain and body

I have faith in the capacity of our minds to think new thoughts and see the world anew, regardless of the history of the body or the conditioning of the brain.

I have faith in the capacity for all human beings to find their way home to the place of peace inside them and the source of all creation.

And I have faith that the more we see the truth behind the human experience, the more gracefully we will be able to navigate the world around us.

With all my love,
Michael

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