Faith is belief in things unseen, I was always taught. It’s that final step that bridges the gap between what you can prove is true and what you know is true in your heart of hearts. By definition, there is no proof for that in which you have faith.
Why is that OK? Why does our society place such a high value on unfounded belief? Why is it considered a noble thing to hold to your beliefs in the face of adversity and disproof?
Sociology 101 was the beginning of my own consciousness-raising, wherein it was suggested by the instructor — a very young man in professorial terms, either a graduate student or a non-tenured instructor — that early forms of Judaism were a tool used by the government to control the people. I had little to no knowledge of religious history, apart from my own religion’s relatively brief existence, and being given this spin on the foundation of Judeo-Christian faith was all it took to start my already doubtful mind down the path of secularism.
The irony, though, was that I accepted my instructor’s word on early Judaism without researching it myself. This could be forgiven due to the fact that I was in college to learn, to accept what was told to me as fact, and not to cross-reference every page of notes a professor dictated to me. It’s a hard habit to break, though; we grow used to accepting facts and beliefs at face value, and it takes a concerted effort to break free of that tendency and to go out and discover our own beliefs for ourselves.
Granted, I don’t ask for proof of everything — I’m not an evolutionary biologist like Richard Dawkins, nor am I inclined to become so. I can liken my search for my own truth to my search for my ancestors, though. When researching one’s genealogy, especially in the age of the internet, sometimes one will stumble across an entire line of ancestry that’s already been researched — maybe even published. Even so, it behooves the researcher to locate the primary sources herself. Order the birth certificates, go to the courthouse, find the church records, link everything together without outside help. Use the previously completed research as a guide to help find the true facts. Then, and only then, can the researcher be satisfied that, yes, these people are related in this way, they did migrate in this pattern, they did live in this area and go to this church and were buried in this cemetery. Even if the facts correlate exactly with the previous research, it was not time wasted; rather, it further strengthened the resolve that the facts are indeed correct.
I feel that way about my own spiritual journey. I no longer feel that I can take the word of religious books and scripture to be fact; I’ve learned too much about how scripture contradicts itself, and how religion contradicts science — and, even though I’m no scientist, I understand enough to comprehend how old the Earth truly is, and how the Theory of Evolution works. But I’m not willing to take Richard Dawkins’s opinions and make them my own, nor Sam Harris‘s, nor any other atheist or nontheist — or even any theist, for that matter. I have an idea of what I believe, and I’m having my beliefs challenged and changed on a regular basis, the more I examine them. And I’m OK with that. Granted, it can be uncomfortable to admit that my own views on, say, abortion may be right only for me, and not for others… but it’s a realization that’s worth the discomfort in the long run.
Even so, I still don’t feel comfortable joining the ranks of the New Atheists, or any other seemingly militant opposition of supernatural and/or spiritual belief in general. I have not yet been converted to join those who would blatantly proselytize to Christians and other believers — partially because I am not yet grounded enough in the facts to do so, but mainly because I’m a believer in tolerance of all kinds.
Many atheists would argue that religion is a destroyer of cultures and lives and should be abolished. Many would also argue that our society is misguided in its sacred treatment of other people’s faith (which, as I mentioned above, is belief in a given idea, even in the face of facts that prove it false). As for me… I’m not going to sit here and tell you that your religion of choice is wrong and that you should join the throng of nonbelievers at once. I do agree that religion and faith have caused more wars and deaths than probably any other reason. However, I also believe that people should be allowed to come to a religious realization on their own. It’s like converting your spouse to your own religion: you don’t know if they really believe what they say, or if they’re just saying it.
All I ask is that you think. Think about what you believe. Don’t just blindly believe it. If you truly believe that you’ve felt the influence of the Holy Spirit in your heart and that God guides your daily actions, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. However, if you only believe in what you believe because that’s what your parents taught you, or that’s what you’ve always believed, then take a step back and consider. Think critically about your belief system.
I know I’m opening myself up for some major discussions here. I don’t know if I’m ready for them. But, if you feel the need to discuss, please note that I’m not in the racket of disproving your beliefs; I’m only trying to figure out my own.