Friday, 2 October 2015

Faith as a Choice

Much of what we learn in any system is based on a reasonable amount of certainty. In life we value security, which depends on certainty. We do certain jobs because we are fairly sure we will be able to survive in that way. We act around people in a way that we know they would find acceptable. We can take for granted that we would need to pay the rent every month, and if we have enough money we will be able to get by. From this perspective, our world is constructed through faith in something, and often the agent that determines our reality is far removed. We can trust that economists, scientists or successful people know how everything works, but when it comes to the everyday experience, most of us have little control over the demands of our modern lifestyle. The effort involved in keeping going serves as a welcome distraction from the need to find answers as to why things are the way they are.

Faith is a central theme in religious and spiritual frameworks. Through these practices, the gaze moves inward and salvation is sought through cultivating a strong and positive character. This can then serve as a counter-agent to those outside forces that affect our well-being in a negative way. In these traditions, doubt is often portrayed as the crippling agent that causes the seeker to deviate from their path. Certainty in what one believes in in this context is an important precursor to personal freedom. In science, faith in what cannot be determined empirically has a bad reputation as it is not conducive to factual knowledge. Probability and argument provide the framework, but certainty and objectivity are still the ideals that are strived for in a quest to gain knowledge. Where there is doubt, it is only considered useful to the extent that it indicates lack of certainty. Even scientists have faith in their methodology, which is intertwined with subjective judgement of whether the knowledge gained is valuable or not.

A lot of motivational speakers I have encountered have highlighted the importance of believing in oneself as a necessary precursor to success. I think it’s true; I have found that if I don’t believe in myself I have almost zero chance of achieving something. But the human psyche is more complex than that. Often belief in oneself is lost through some kind of pain or rejection, or even psychological domination by another. I think a good illustration of the principle is the black consciousness movement in apartheid South Africa, where leaders such as Steve Biko have shown how mass oppression was possible through psychological control. Where self-confidence is lost, it often indicates a wound that needs slow and gradual recovery for an integrated, empowered psyche to emerge.

In all these frameworks, certainty and faith are the cornerstones for building something of value. The question of what the value of doubt is, if there is any value at all, remains. I have often been lost in doubts, and felt worse for it when people who felt very strongly about their spiritual views have reprimanded me for it. I think doubt is necessary as it creates space for enhanced perspective. Where there is blind faith, one can be disillusioned, and where there is absolute belief in anything, it is easy for someone to take advantage of one’s consciousness. History has shown the destructive power of belief in an ideology where people can be led to commit evil deeds without questioning their own actions.

Doubt is not easy to handle, especially in a world where those who are most certain of themselves often emerge as winners regardless of whether or not they are actually right. I think that every seeker of life and its mysteries comes to a point where they feel deeply uncertain about themselves and their understanding of reality. But I think that doubt is as necessary for growth as faith. Doubt provides the opportunity to review our priorities. In that way, we can consciously choose where to apply our efforts according to our own values and principles. The power of faith is illustrated through the placebo effect, and there is a reason why every single therapeutic treatment or medicine has to be tested against a placebo. In medicine, faith in one’s own ability to recover is the one thing that has consistently been proven to be effective.

In a universe where little can be known with absolute certainty, and even then only a small segment of reality, the power of faith to me shows the importance of taking charge of one’s own psyche. When faced with the unknown that is at the heart of important questions such as which path is the right one to choose for one’s life, the creative potential of faith is enormous. In a sea of possibilities, faith is the tool to bring into being the things we love most, and to transcend darkness in our deepest moments of despair. Doubt encourages humility, and also serves as a reminder to investigate different points of view before deciding our stance. Where we cannot be right or certain of everything, faith is the best chance we have of creating the world according to our vision.