The readers of this blog will recognize I deal in matters which require ‘belief’. I believe in Almighty God. I believe the .45 ACP round is probably the perfect self-defense round. I believe dark beer is most satisfying. I believe red-headed women are superior in many regards but are very dangerous. I believe after all these years I’m still a Ford man.
Most courses of actions in life require some degree of belief. Where do I deposit my money? How do I re-finish my closet, let alone my bathroom? What clothing should I purchase? How can I make a proper light bulb? Whom should I marry?
Life is full of decisions; decisions require belief.
However, ‘belief’ is not always ‘belief’. There are levels of belief in what one believes. Why is ‘belief’ in God different than ‘belief’ in democracy? What is the relationship between ‘belief’ and ‘faith’?
Belief comes from several different sources.
The basic source is our own experience. I ‘believe’ dark beer is preferable in taste to cod liver oil based on my own experience and taste bud input. (This is not to say cod liver oil isn’t preferable to consume in certain circumstances; I am speaking of flavor alone.) I ‘believe’ sticking my finger in an empty light socket which is turned on is not a good thing to do. (Yes, I did; it was accidental, but I remember it very well.)
For most of us, experience is rather informal. Experience is the stuff which happens to us. We – hopefully – remember the significant things and those things remain in our memories. For a scientist or researcher, experience can be formalized with notes, photos, videos, graphs and formalized reports.
However, ‘experience’ can be deceptive. Beer may not always be the best beverage to consume; even though it tastes good. Even scientific research based on the wrong assumptions can be deceptive. Consider the Earth-centered Universe of Aristotle and the concept of phlogiston.
The second major source is authority. Authority as a belief source include parents, teachers, friends, news-readers, television personalities, sports figures, doctors, scientists, preachers, and a multitude of books.
Like personal experience, authority is a very important source. Normally, parents are trusted. They should be. (Yes, there are parents who are not trustworthy, and there are trustworthy parents who are just flat wrong in some ‘facts’, but in the normal scope of human experience, parents SHOULD be trustworthy.) Under normal conditions, parents have the greatest concern and care for the best interests of their children. Preachers and priests and other ‘religious leaders’ are under the same heading. Teachers are expected to instruct both in matters of subject and general life.
Any authority figure is presumed to have experience and instruction specific to their function. Medical doctors have specific schooling and instruction in the function of the human body and mind, diseases and malfunctions thereof and how to prevent or repair diseases or malfunctions of the human body and mind. Scientists have specific schooling and background in their own field. They have worked with those matters and disciplines, performed experiments and observed the functioning of their field of study. English teachers have studied the language. I presume the reader grasps the concept.
News readers – those people on the television and radio news who ‘report’ what has happened in the world – are presumed to be possessed of information not available to viewers. Few of us ‘regular’ people witness the conversations between leaders of state. So we ‘regular’ people rely on news readers to tell of the agreements between this nation and that.
“Presumed” is the keyword here. The reality is parents, preachers, priests, religious leaders, teachers, doctors, scientists and news readers are all subject to being misinformed prior to ever giving information or instruction. Some examples of all the above have personal agendas departing from the strict truth. Some are poorly educated and prepared. Some have emotional disturbances preventing them from dealing with reality properly. Some are just evil.
Still, one cannot independently confirm everything one has learned. So one comes to ‘faith’. When I need to check the spelling of a word – more commonly than the casual reader might think – I check a source; either spell check or a dictionary. Practically speaking, I have ‘faith’ in the dictionary. As I consider this, I also have ‘faith’ in cook books, in general. All manner of technical books come to mind; house repairs, automobile repairs, electricity and a a myriad of other subjects.
The level of ‘faith’ required is minimal. Dictionaries are assembled on the basis of widespread public opinion – even with the occasional dissent on the spelling of ‘potatoe or potato’. When I was in grade school in the United States (from about 1956 to 1963) ‘potatoe’ was an accepted spelling of the ground grown tuber vegetable so commonly used in the United States, Europe and of course the entire Western Hemisphere. I just looked in the on-line version of Merriam-Webster and ‘potatoe’ is not listed at all. Not even as an archaic spelling. Hmmm? Is this a matter of ‘agenda driven’ information control? One enters ‘potatoe’ into the Bing search engine and finds it is the same as ‘potato’. Of course, by admitting that, one can no longer make fun of Vice President Dan Quayle. Herein an example of unfounded faith in the reliability of authority?
Car repair manuals require little faith. After all, automotive mechanics is a pretty cut and dried matter. This part must be removed in order to work on that part. One cannot safely change spark plugs with the engine running. And so on.
Science becomes more difficult to believe without question. Much of chemistry and physics is pretty straightforward. Combining hydrogen and oxygen to obtain water is not in question in the main. Levers seem to work according to the accepted theories. Arithmetic is pretty intuitive, calculus less so. Then we get to quantum mechanics and things get rather curious. But since radio, television and computers are all based on the results of quantum mechanics, one finds difficulty in dismissing it out of hand.
Yet another ‘source’ for belief or faith is one’s own desire. People of all stripes believe a certain thing simply because ‘that’ is the way they want things to be. Many atheists ‘believe’ there is no God as they cannot bear the thought of God existing – for many reasons I’ll not delve herein. Just the same, many ‘christians’ believe in God as they cannot bear the thought of God NOT existing. Political opinions are similar, as are some ‘health’ beliefs. When one finds oneself in a discussion and the opposing side cannot show an argument, other than “That’s the way it is!” one is dealing with a non-thinker.
Just for the record, ‘non-thinking’ is not a life sentence. Many people have begun to think when shown they cannot intelligently defend the beliefs they have been taught and accepted. Thinking is dangerous, of course: One can be either strengthened in one’s beliefs or reverse them, depending on how deep one wishes to delve into the specific subject. Superficial thinking is dangerous in any event.
So we come to the third, and decisive factor in ‘belief’: What is most believable to the person in question? Ultimately, this is why one believes what one believes.
The conflicts are many. Our parents told us things and we believed them at the time. For the most part, we still believe – or at least want to believe – them. However, we find certain bits of information were not correct. For instance, Uncle Fred was not the “World’s Strongest Man” in 1952. Or certain automobile brands are completely useless. Or buttermilk is delicious. (I’m still upset over that falsehood.)
Then one finds certain other ‘authorities’ are faulty.
News readers, for instance. How many times have news readers ‘reported’ information that followed the leanings of a particular political party rather than the actual occurrences? (Anyone remember “Ho Chi Cronkite”? Perhaps Dan Rather and his amazing letters?) One finds most of the U. S. ‘mainstream’ news media are far more interested in convincing viewers of a specific political viewpoint than in reporting the news of the day.
Science. One finds a definite ‘rift’ between ‘discovered facts’ and ‘what those facts mean’. For instance; for years, the ‘scientific’ view of the Universe – called ‘the World’ in those days – was the Earth was the center of the Solar system AND the Universe at large. That was the Aristotelian view of things. This was also the view held by the Church of Rome; Christianity absorbed into the Roman Government as the state religion. Then, Nicky the Pollack – or as he is sometimes referred to, Nicolaus Copernicus – formulated the concept of a Sun centered solar system. This idea was heretical to both the scientific and the religious communities for some time. Eventually, the scientific-religious community came to grips with the idea. (It happens when the reality is ground into the resistance face long enough.) Currently, some ‘scientists’ tend to blame ‘religionists’ for the whole reaction to Copernicus’ observations and conclusions.
Ultimately, many atheists claim ‘science’ proves the Bible is wrong, as in pre Copernicus time, the Bible was read and understood to agree with the Aristotelian model of the Universe. This theme continues into other similar issues.
For instance, many modern Christians read the Bible as agreeing with the Bishop Ussher timeline of Earth history. The Ussher timeline has been long assumed to be in agreement with Biblical recording of history. The key problem with the Ussher timeline is Ussher calculates the beginning of the Earth and Universe in 4004 B. C. Most modern cosmologists ‘believe’ – based on the observations of the expansion of the Universe, the average temperature of the Universe, the life-cycles of stars and so forth – the Universe began some 13.7 billion years ago.
What I find interesting – and problematic – is the literal view of the Bible in this matter looses in either case. If the Universe is actually 13.7 billion years old, the Bible is not ‘literally’ true – at least in the first couple chapters of Genesis. If the Universe is actually about 6,000 years old, then the laws of the Universe established by the Creator God (in whom I have all confidence) are not trustworthy, since those laws indicate the Universe is much older, AND that same Creator God (in whom I have all confidence) has planted false evidence and is therefore a liar. Of course, if the atheist faction (and not all scientists or cosmologists are atheist) is correct, then there is no ultimate meaning to much of anything. All societies make their own moral codes – which leads to self-gratifying behavior and decadence. Not any better.
What is incontrovertibly obvious is this: One ‘authority’ or another is incorrect. I’ve addressed this in another essay on this blog, so I’m going to leave the discussion at this point.
Okay; all the proceeding is introduction, now follows what I really want to say.
Everyone relies on some degree of faith. EVERYONE. Every life standard holds some basic concepts which are based on what people know – or think they know – AND what those basic concepts imply for life and living.
For instance, in the United States and most industrial nations, people drive cars. In all those nations with cars, there are laws which govern the use and operation of said cars. When people approach an intersection where the other street has a stop sign or light, drivers KNOW the cars on the other street are supposed to stop; normally the driver has faith those cars will stop. Therefore, the car with the open street or light drives on through the intersection. In some places, drivers are more cautious about proceeding, because they know some folks (in those environs) are not as careful about stopping as they ought. That is a prime example of knowledge of facts, beliefs about those facts and faith. Obviously, it doesn’t always work as it ought because some people violate the rules.
In the United States and other nations with similar economies and monetary policies, people obtain loans of money in order to use that money for specific reasons. Notably mortgages to purchase homes. The loans are made in the knowledge that money must be paid back at specific rates of interest, and in the belief that the other party will abide by the terms of the agreement. Both parties have a degree of faith that the lender will not change the interest rate without adhering to the terms of the agreement and the borrower will pay back the money as specified.
In fact, all interpersonal relationships from loans to driving to dating to marriage to working for wages are based on basic concepts of fact, the belief the other party is bound to follow the agreement and the faith the other party will actually abide by those terms.
The question is then, at what point is ‘belief’ strong enough to become ‘faith’?
Where does ‘… it seems like…’ change to ‘…there’s no other real alternative…’? At what point does one put one’s money or good name or life on the line?
I’m not sure this is a measurable quantity. Obviously the quantity increases between “I’ll take the rattan waste-paper basket” and “I’ll have the prostate surgery”. Perhaps higher on the chain of ‘belief’ is “You’re the one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life”.
So then, where does “I believe there’s a God” fit in? Historically, I would think the first step is that one believes there is A god. Then one moves to considering which God or gods one will serious entertain as possible or likely. Then the step of “Yes, that one seems possible or likely” and then a further step of dedication; “I will serve that one”.
Except of course, the Bible teaches otherwise. According to the Bible, God – the One and Only – has been dealing with humanity ever since humanity was humanity. Humanity rebelled against God, deciding to NOT follow God’s instructions. Ever since then, God has been inviting humanity – individually – back into fellowship with Him.
Does that make sense to anyone else? It does to Christians; they have experienced the phenomenon. It is a familiar feeling to non-Christians as well; it is that sense of ‘something missing’; or a longing to return to some ‘home’ that one never knew. It is sometimes simply the feeling of ‘not quite right’. The absence of God’s presence is what isn’t quite right.
Belief. Is it reasonable to ‘believe’ the Universe is simply one possibility of countless alternatives? One possibility spawned rather negligently by a ‘mega-verse’ that has lasted forever and isn’t subject to the law of entropy? What seems more reasonable, a Universe designed, built and orchestrated by an infinite mind, or an accident resulting in a one-in-a-gazillion result?
That is the choice.
Of course, one can always find it more reasonable to believe they are the most intelligent being in the known or unknown Universe and base one’s life on that assumption. Good luck with that.