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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Belief vs Faith

By and large, I've come to the conclusion that people believe mostly stupid things.

Now before the one person that reads this gets his/her panties in a bunch, I'm not talking about faith. In fact have a lot of respect for people who have a deep, profound religious faith. Having that kind of faith seems beyond my capabilities. So credit to those how actually have faith.

Faith obviously to me, is different than belief. How so? Well I suppose I could look up the definitions and paste them here, but why bother? I'll tell you how I see them as being different.

To me, this is a kind of "quid pro quo" (Latin, "something for something") situation, where someone has it in their head that by doing something, immediately something else will happen or they will get something else of value. For example, you "believe" in Astrology because you believe that it tells you something about who you are. Immediate gratification.

Growing up a Catholic, there were many things we were taught that were matters of belief. One of the best examples was Confession: you were told that if you confessed your sins in this prescribed manner ("Bless me Father for I have sinned it has been 3 months since my last confession and these are my sins...") you would immediately get something in return, namely absolution from your sins. Note that this is but one example. Here's a non-Catholic example: Tarot cards; you believe that if you pay a Tarot Card reader money, you will get a reading about you and insight into your future.

Common thread? To me, belief is more like a short-term contract or transaction than anything remotely spiritual. With belief, there is always this notion of consideration (something of value you give...even if it is just your time/attention) that is required in order to get something of value in return (such as insight into the future). With belief there is always that notion of immediacy: whatever it is you get, you get it quickly. That seems, if you will pardon the bluntness, cheap and sometimes sleazy. Yes, I know, the old saying goes "you get what you pay for", but sometimes the most precious gifts aren't those with a price-tag.

Personally, I don't subscribe to many "beliefs". Now I do have a few incredibly stupid superstitions I follow, such as avoiding odd numbers. That's more neurosis than anything else, and in the back of my head I know it's just plain stupid to thing about things in that manner. For example, having an MS Excel column set at a width of 7 will not have any meaning beyond the width of the column. But hey, I never claimed to be perfect.

So I try and stay away from beliefs.

To me, faith isn't like a short-term transaction. Why?

Timing - As I've already implied, I see true faith as not being something that yields an immediate result. With faith, you may never see a return on your investment of time or money.

Quid Pro Quo - I do think that people have faith for reasons, but those reasons are for a "higher" rationale. You may in fact have faith in God because you expectation is that something will happen to your spirit when you die. But the kicker lies in the consideration part of the transaction: with faith, it seems to me that all you really give is some kind of intangible spiritual commitment. True faith, in my book, doesn't have a cost associated with it, regardless of whether or not that cost is expressed in your time or your money.

Tangibility - Faith, it seems to me, yields something that isn't nearly as tangible in the same sense that belief yields something. You could have faith that God forgives your sins, but that's different than the words of "I absolve you of your sins" that you get in a Catholic confessional. Faith, it seems to me, requires far more of a leap ("of faith") than belief does.

Personally, try as I might, I don't have much that I would call "faith". Now in the back of my head I think that there is some organization to the universe and that all of this has to mean something. I'd also like to have faith that there is something somewhere that truly knows what is in my heart, that cares about me for who I am, and to whom I can talk to in times of crisis. I won't go through those little rituals I sometimes partake of in times of crisis, but they do exist. Now you could argue that if I do, for example, pray in times of crisis that it's more a question of belief (praying for someone to get well, for example) than faith. However, I will say this: to the extent I do pray in such times, I try to ask that "Thy will be done" rather than "my will". Faith, it seems requires that leap that I might not know really what is the best possible outcome.

A character in a TV show I like once said "Faith Manages". If you think about the deeper meaning behind that, it seems to ring true.

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