Unification News for August 1996


An Act of Faith

by Peter Steeghs-Center Point, TX

This is the first in a two-part series.

"Faith" is often synonymous with hope, trust, confidence, reliance, expectation, belief, or with a conviction, creed, doctrine, persuasion. It pertains to religious and/or philosophical beliefs. As such, faith is also often related to beliefs in a specific destiny that people feel they must fulfill in life; and beliefs about a certain position they have to take, or a role they must play in the world.

Webster's dictionary defines "faith" as "the complete, unquestioning acceptance of something, even in the absence of proof." A closer look at Webster's definition of faith seems to indicate that the domain of faith extends beyond the sphere of rationality and logic because faith first and foremost appears to be based on feeling or intuition.

Even though a person of faith may have logical reasons for his/her beliefs, he/she seems to think and act primarily on an intuitive understanding that to do so is good or desirable. In fact, it appears that a person living and acting in faith, thinks and acts in an apparent expectation that the evidence for the correctness of his/her beliefs will become obvious at some point in the future.

Faith is an integral part of life. Most people allege to have some measure of faith in someone or something, but faith itself has many aspects and dimensions. A materialist, for instance, will profess to have faith in tangible things, or in that which can be measured scientifically; while a Buddhist, on the other hand, will generally refuse to ascribe any enduring value to external things because of what is seen as the ever-changing and illusionary nature of reality.

In the general sense, we can say that faith is most commonly understood as beliefs pertaining to intangible things. Within this context we see, however, great differences in both comprehension and expression. Some people see faith as certain beliefs which are quite fixed and worth dying for; while others experience faith to be genuine only when (paradoxically) it is mixed with doubt. Some people see faith as something inherently personal and private which must be quietly affirmed, while others see it as something which must be adamantly and continuously expressed. In a demonstration of their fervor, many people even pick up weapons aggressively in a quest for power, in order to try forcibly to impose their aspirations for change.

And so faith takes many different forms. Faith can be anchored in specific ideas and fixed dogmas, or faith can be adrift in a sea of doubt. Faith can be based on certain rational and coherent views; or faith can be virtually without logic and based purely on visions, feelings or even imaginary notions. Faith can be modest and unassuming, or radical and aggressive. Faith can be based on beliefs which are sensible and benevolent, or faith can be based on convictions which most people would consider to be deranged and malicious.

In faith the only constant is that, no matter what form faith takes, faith does presuppose a continued, steadfast adherence to the object of faith. As such, faith is closely tied to a sense of complete trust, confidence, reliance, commitment, dedication or determination.

Faith as a Decision

In the absence of absolute proof, acting in faith involves making a decision. Holding something as true, and acting on that belief without being able to oversee and understand all the consequences, is a deliberate decision which one has to make. Making that decision may involve taking a more or less calculated risk, or sometimes even a blind risk.

Also, in the absence of proof, and in light of the possible consequences of such a risk decision, faith also necessitates endurance. Decisions made on the basis of faith may simply require endurance as unexpected circumstances or events in life can forcefully fly in the face of rationality or the supposed reasonability of one's convictions.

Faith seems to have both an internal aspect and an external side. On the one hand faith can mean an internal reliance on one's private internal convictions, principles, beliefs or purpose. On the other hand faith can denote a sense of duty or obligation which one feels toward an external cause or objective, or people, based on a commitment, promise or pledge one has made.

Usually we see that the internal and external aspect are not easily separated. The internal and external are often closely related and usually go hand in hand. In religion, for instance, we see that internal beliefs are likely to correspond with a sense of purpose and commitment to an external cause or objective. However, this sense of purpose is also likely to coincide with a sense of trust in a group of people who more or less think alike, as well as a sense of trust in the demands that those in authority over the group will make on them.

The internal aspect and the external aspect of faith require a balance between the two, but we often see that the internal and external side is unbalanced, or often in danger of becoming unbalanced.

For instance, in recent events surrounding the Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult, led by the self-proclaimed god Shoko Asahara, we see that intelligent and capable people made the decision to give up their own personal freedom and a larger sense of responsibility toward their fellow men, in order to act blindly on the deranged ideas and malicious directions of their leader. These people placed a person in a position of authority to a degree that in their willingness to follow him, they were ready to destroy millions of people in order to make their leader's prophecies become a reality.

Psychological experiments which have been conducted point out that it is not unusual that people in certain circumstances simply fail to check their own internal convictions or intuitions before they act on the directions of authority figures. Especially persons who are confused and emotionally vulnerable, and/or lacking in strong internal principles and convictions, or blinded by strong resentments, invariably tend to fall prey to people who have strong and appealing but often misguided ideas.

So in order for faith to work well, there must be a balance between the internal and external. A person who only acts in blind obedience and trust on the directions of others cannot make mature and balanced decisions, or behave in a responsible manner. Blind obedience invariably results in irresponsibility, and irresponsibility often leads to excess.

When things go wrong, personal irresponsibility will eventually result in a complete denial of the impact of one's actions, and in holding others responsible. Denial was the predominant response for instance of the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Most of the Nazis who had faithfully followed orders also denied any knowledge of, or responsibility for, what happened. Their famous words were "Ich habe es nicht gewusst" (I didn't know). What they were saying was, "I

cannot be held responsible because I only dutifully followed the orders of those who were in authority over me. Others are responsible for my actions."

The Fine Line

One disturbing aspect of faith is that the line that separates utmost from utter foolishness quite often seems to be precariously thin. In one of the Indiana Jones movies, this is allegorically highlighted when the hero has to cross a bridge over an abyss in order to be able to complete his objective. The problem that the hero is confronting is that the bridge is not visible to the eye, and will not become visible and solid under his feet until the first full step into the ravine has already been made. (Leave it to Indiana Jones of course to courageously take that leap of faith and live.)

In my opinion the allegorical scene in the movie is interesting in three aspects. First of all, it demonstrates that in order for faith to be firm and real, it is necessary for the faithful person to prove his faith by resolutely taking the first step, in spite of what the present circumstances are, what his rational mind will tell him, what others may say, or what the possible consequences may be. Second, the scene portrays the inherent expectation, in the realm of faith, that acts of faith will be rewarded or reciprocated, sooner or later. Third, it highlights the fact that a person acting in absolute faith may not have any reasonable guarantee that the resolute act of faith will be met with the expected response or reward, and can in fact result in certain consequences which one might regret.

The Bible contains many stories about people who acted on religious faith and simultaneously took a chance of looking pretty foolish in the process. On faith Jesus asked the apostles to step off a boat into a raging sea and walk on the water. Although they did step off the boat into the water on Jesus' direction, they almost immediately sank and feared for their lives. In my view this story highlights the fact that people who act in faith solely on the direction of another person without having a solid internal conviction as a personal foundation take the chance of losing themselves in the process.

Faith and the Bible

The origin of faith, as well as that of faithlessness, from a Biblical perspective, is reflected in the chapter of Genesis. We see that when the angels were created, they were required to have faith in the plan of their Creator, His judgment and His intentions. Some of the angels did not have this faith and in fact went against God's plan.

When the first human beings were created, they were also required to have the same faith. They were asked to have faith in God's Word, God's plan, God's judgment and God's intentions by following the commandment that was given to them. The reason they were required to have faith in God was become God had a certain purpose and simply knew more than they did about how that purpose was to be fulfilled. From the Fall of Man we can see, however, that neither man nor all the angels had the required faith. Eve put her faith in the archangel Lucifer instead of in God, and the angels then abused her trust. From a religious perspective, both faith and faithlessness have coexisted from the very beginning.

Loss of Faith

Just as faith can be gained, faith can also be lost, and a loss of faith can occur for several reasons-or a combination of factors. Prophesied events or circumstances which did not materialized, and unfulfilled expectations, are a reason loss of faith can occur.

A person can also lose faith due to disturbing and irreconcilable discrepancies one sees develop between the ideal one was hoping would blossom and the actual set of circumstances which materialized.

One can also lose faith because of encountering a new situation- experiences causing one eventually to decide that a former resolution of faith was made on the basis of insufficient information, misinformation or facts at first wrongly interpreted.

Moreover, there is the possibility that one may simply get distracted with new pursuits which once seemed marginal, trivial and unimportant but which now have taken on a whole new meaning and importance.

When faith is based on a sudden, highly emotional, induced commitment to a certain cause, one can eventually come to reevaluate the basis on which the commitment was made when faced with unexpected practical difficulties.

In addition, if circumstances are difficult, one may simply get tired of continuing to fight resistance from others to one's faith, and this leads us to conclude we didn't really have the stamina to keep acting in faith with our original fervor and conviction.

Any or all of these factors can lead to a loss of faith. If a loss of faith occurs, a reevaluation of our faith will likely occur and we will need to redefine what we still believe and will stand up for. Particularly certain forms of faith not considered "mainstream" (hence not easily understood nor tolerated by others) may require great endurance and personal sacrifice to maintain.

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