Faith and Reason
By Richard Girard
I have been getting reacquainted on Facebook with some of the people that I knew in high school, and it is interesting how forty years and changed us all.
One of the things which so markedly distinguishes so many of the people I knew in high school, is their adoption of a very conservative Christian doctrine.
There are very few friends of President Obama among the people I knew in high school--not that I blame them, President Obama has been a disappointment to myself as well. But they seem to almost universally believe the claptrap about the President being a "Communist, Muslim, and Illegal Alien," all of which have been disproven as outright lies made by individuals including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Donald Trump, and Ann Coulter. There are lots of valid reasons to dislike and distrust the President: the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty; the lack of Wall Street "Banksters" doing hard prison time for almost pulling the world into an economic collapse worse than 1929; the failure to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan completely by 2014, as promised during his two Presidential campaigns; his failure to fight back against the Republicans who have been sabotaging his administration since the night of his inauguration; his failure to get a better deal for the American people with regards to the Affordable Care Act, aka, Obamacare. No human is worth the stress and effect of negative feelings that hatred engenders, certainly not Barack Obama. As I pointed out in my September 18, 2008 OpEdNews article "Illuminating Dichotomies," hate is not the opposite of love, apathy is. Hate is love turned inside-out and upside-down, and this distortion of love causes us severe emotional problems at the very core of our beings.
Hatred is caused by fear, and its handmaiden, anger. As Franklin Roosevelt stated, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." Almost thirty years ago, when I was having a severe crisis of faith, I met a Buddhist monk from Tibet, in the bookstore of the Unity Church in Boulder. I think it was obvious from the books I was looking at that I was having a crisis of faith Perhaps my experience that day was an example of the classic mystic's experience, "When the student is ready, the teacher will find him."
As I spoke to him, he saw the books I had been looking at and asked me if I was having doubts about my faith? I answered him, in a cynical tone of voice, that yes, I was: I could no longer reconcile my beliefs about God and the inherent, if flawed, goodness of humanity, with my reason, which saw so much evil and corruption in the world. He then gave me an idea, a concept if you will, which I have kept as my personal mantra for almost thirty years:
"You doubt because of your fear, and you fear because of your doubt: have faith, and be unafraid."
These words hit me like a thunderbolt, and I sat there stunned. In that moment, this man had distilled down all of my troubles with my conflict between my faith and my reason, and had presented me with an answer that was so inherently right that I recognized that it was capital "T" Truth the moment I heard it.
He went on, "We all have faith: sometimes it is in ourselves; sometimes it is in others--family, friends, members of our religion; sometimes it is in a thing--abstract things such as truth, or love, or reason, or power. Sometimes our faith is in concrete things: the words of a book, our religion, our nation, or all of humanity. And sometimes our faith is in the Unseen and Unknowable, what most of humanity calls God. A wise man discerns that life is an endless cycle of faith, doubt, and either reaffirmation of that faith--if the subject of our faith is worthy--or finding a new subject for our faith if it is not."
Fear is the great destroyer of our lives. It prevents us from accepting a changing world with new ideas, ideas that others might have that differ from our own experience, but are none the less, valid. When we hold onto our "faith" out of fear, when we demand certainty in the place of faith, it ceases to be faith, it becomes idolatry.
When our "faith"--in ourselves and those we love; our system of beliefs, abstract, concrete, and metaphysical--meets the fear that we might possibly be living a delusion, or even an outright lie, and we do nothing to examine ourselves and our system of beliefs, we cross that dangerous line into neuroses and psychoses. For those times when we must examine our faith, we have been given the gift, even if it is rarely used, of reason.
Good mental health is an uncompromising dedication to discovering the truth about ourselves and the world we live in. These truths are not always pleasant, and the journey of "self-discovery" is fraught with perils and false starts. We owe it to ourselves, and those that we love, a promise to continue an ongoing journey of self-discovery, and with it, a continuing questioning of our belief system. From this journey comes that rarest of all gifts: wisdom.
We are often told by overzealous religious authorities that we should "fear God." But only a tormented mind can fear something, and "love" it at the same time. I believe that the word which has so often been translated into English as fear or dread, is better translated as "awe." And I am in awe of God. I am also in awe of children, truly beautiful women, great literature and thought, and most of all, in the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, John Coltrane, and the Beatles, especially that of Beethoven. To be in awe of is, according to the dictionary, "a mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder," For me, the emphasis is on reverence and wonder.
I most often experience awe as the effect of "practicing the presence of God," often in meditation or prayer. But occasionally, I am able to experience this as a shared experience with those around me. When this happens, it is at one and the same moment, one of the most difficult, and most rewarding experiences that I have had in my life.
Certain religious authorities attempt to maintain that they have a "one size fits all" solution for a joyous afterlife. Just believe their religious dogma, and all will be well. The problem arises because their dogmatic system does not permit the questioning of that dogma, and threatens you with eternal damnation if you do not believe as their dogma commands. They command certainty in their teachings, not faith in God.