We live in a world revolving around the things we know, where science, measurements, and materialism have taken the highest position in the pyramid of things we believe in. Everything has to be exact, everything has to be quantifiable, everything has to be picked apart and understood so that we can integrate it within our lives without a doubt.
Especially our school system is very reluctant at allowing any kind of space for doubt, since we are “supposed” to know, from a tender age, the path we will want to walk on for our whole lives. What’s more, the holders of faiths, i.e. the current religious institutions, have made a business out of telling people how to live, claiming they found the answers to the mysteries of life, like the most ethical way to live or what happens when we die. All of this combined leads us to where we are now, gaining knowledge through empirical conviction, claiming it for truth, and dismissing anything requiring an ounce of unknown, for it is not a factor we can take into our calculations.
Even in our everyday lives we do this, constantly trying to explain why we chose this option and not the other, why we act a certain way, why we feel like this; our need for understanding is omnipresent, and so is the necessity of self-justification (which are basically the same). We need the answers, and we need them now. This is not to say that we can’t possess knowledge or an understanding of certain situations and the processes behind our action patterns, or at least possess them insofar as we take into account the perceptions we hold and have access to. The truth is, the data we use to build our understanding and our comprehensions is limited by the sensors we have to take and process those streams of data. Example:
I feel hungry and crave chocolate.
I believe I must eat something to satisfy my hunger.
I prepare myself some food, for example chocolate-cookies.
I eat those cookies.
Craving gone, and I don’t feel hungry.
Now, in this example, we received data-inputs, that is, hunger and a craving for chocolate. We then associated a way to deal with that data, which we acquired partly innately (eating to satisfy hunger), and partly through our experiences (I discovered chocolate). So we come up with a solution to this situation by answering the information we received and executing the pattern that we learned (hungry –> eat –> not hungry), and satisfied our craving in the mean time. Easy, simple, clear, we understand and we apply, no questions asked.
This get interesting when we start to question why we had this craving for chocolate in the first place, and even hunger. Hunger can be easily justified by claiming that it is a biological necessity that our bodies have to nourish themselves in order to generate energy so that they can keep on keeping on. But then, what would be the biological imperative behind the chocolate craving?
One possible explanation is that, since cacao is a heart-warming psychoactive substance, we needed something to warm our hearts, possibly due to some lack of emotional nourishment, or perhaps as an add-on to the state we already feel.
So those are still reasons why we felt a certain way, and the justifications of why we acted the way we did following those feelings. If those explanations satisfy us (adding a certain mental well-being to the picture), we repeat those actions when we encounter the same data-input (hungry/craving for chocolate), and so we start building patterns that we understand and which can then become mindless, hence, no need for questioning or doubt. Just like that, the pattern imprints.
Or so we’d like to think. Expanding our understanding a bit, reasons and rationalization can take us beyond this simple execution pattern by filling it up with questions:
Should I really eat chocolate? Or cookies? What about the sugar? What about the cacao? Is it fair trade? What was the environmental cost of the packaging if I simply buy pre-made cookies? Are they filled with potentially unhealthy chemicals? Are they actually good for me? Should I fight the craving or go with it? Am I bad if I still feel cravings? Am I bad if I eat the whole box? Is it the right thing to do if I know that my craving comes from a place on emotional emptiness?
All of these are legitimate questions which can make the simple act of enjoying cookies quite the mental endeavor and so we try to answer them to calm our inner turmoils using the knowledge we possess and the understanding of the situation we can apply.
So, how does that relate to faith?
In the current example, faith comes in after the fact of us going through an entire box of cookies and feeling culpable about it, or right after receiving the sensory input that we are hungry and craving chocolate. In a nutshell, faith allows us to be okay with the actions we do, and the feelings we feel, even if we don’t understand them.
“I’ve been trying to avoid and change this certain pattern of mine which I believe to be unhealthy but have been failing miserably at it, I must be weak”. No, those associations are your brain tripping out, trying to make sense of the actions you took now. Were you really in control of your actions? Or were you reacting on an impulse triggered by an unpleasant sensation?
My aim here is not to get into a debate about free-will or to justify the satisfaction of all our cravings, but rather an invitation to cut ourselves some slack.
“I have repeated this unhealthy pattern again. It is okay. I believe I can change that pattern. I have faith in my evolution despite apparent setbacks.”
The truth is, there is a myriad of factors which guide our lives and choices every single instant, our will being a part of it, yes, but it is but a part of the whole. Our conditioning to associate chocolate with emotional well-being is one factor guiding the above choice, the belief that we must always satisfy our hunger is another one, I have been feeling sad lately and need a pick-me up can be part of it, I’m hungry and walking through the grocery store and see all those sugar-filled chocolate cookies which trigger a chemical craving for the high of it since society associated sugar and pleasure together and got us all hooked is another factor guiding my choices.
It doesn’t matter what we believe in, the details of how we try to explain the things we can’t understand, we all have our own way of processing the data we receive. We can find communion in faith though, as a notion that things are going the way they’re going because that’s how it is for now, and that it doesn’t necessarily always have to be the case, because I cannot know what comes next. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be paying attention to the actions we chose to execute, but rather to not lose ourselves in questioning our every choices despite conflicting beliefs and data clashing in our heads. Facing the unknown in a shared human (or any conscious being’s) experience, and trusting that things are going to be fine the way they are is faith. This is not to say that bad things won’t happen (the environment is still going to change, I’m still going to feel nauseous if I eat the whole box of cookies, and we’ll feel hurt if we break up), but rather that we can remain hopeful despite of them happening.
I feel it relevant now more than ever given the current state of the world as a whole and human society within it. There are so many dangers, so many things going wrong, so many ways we have to be, it’s quite easy to get lost in all of it and not knowing what to do or where to go, filling us with hopelessness. Faith has also gotten somewhat of a bad rep being associated with the current religious institutions and although it does strongly relate to religious sentiments (facing the unknown mysteries of our existence), it does not have to involve a specific deity in order to be applicable.
And so this is a simple invitation:
Have faith. In yourself, in others, in the world.
Everything’s going to be all right.