[This blog post contains further thoughts on how faith and karma are connected. To explore more, see the blog post from the 2015-213 reading that talks about cause and effect.]
I saw Bill Maher, in an interview on television, claim that faith is just an opinion. His characterization of faith was made to re-contextualize faith in ways that were relevant to his political perspective. I am not addressing the politics here, but his characterization of faith motivated me to write about the way I understand faith.
Many Christians adhere to a "test" of faith, meaning that a person who is Christian professes a set of beliefs that are expressed in creeds like the Nicene Creed or the Apostle's Creed. Depending on one's perspective, these statements of belief are verifiable or not. For a person like Maher, the proof of these creeds does not exist, so they are opinions. "Faith" is, therefore, an opinion. My faith is something very different from belief in a series of statements put together 1690 years ago. And I agree with Maher to some extent, that many of the statements of Christians are better understood as opinions. But my faith is not based on a creed (and some Christians would not label me as "Christian," but I am not too concerned about that). At the same time I believe faith is an important quality of a spiritual orientation to life, so how is my faith different?
For me, faith is something that helps me to look beyond my capacity as a human being; it helps me access extraordinary realms of consciousness. Don’t be fooled by the word “extraordinary” and think that I am describing something that is only available to a few people. I base my understanding on experiences that I believe every human being can have. But in order to access these experiences we have to understand that we are spiritual beings, much more than material human beings, otherwise we focus too much on the material things in life.
Love is an example of a non-material aspect of our human capacity and experience. Human capacities like love—which help us understand our experiences—have to be developed. These are deep parts of our being that are discovered through a process of learning. The fullness of these capacities are not something “bestowed” on special selected human beings by someone from above, nor are they available only through a few qualified teachers. The use of love helps us develop faith over time through very specific steps in a process of spiritual maturation.
Here is the process:
First, there is curiosity about spiritual things, like love, purpose, and why we are here. We have this curiosity because it is one of the ways that love seeks expression. This curiosity when appropriately directed helps us learn. It has physical as well as mental and spiritual aspects. If a person pays attention and invests some time in what provokes this curiosity in spiritual things, especially something like love, it will gradually ripen into interest.
Interest in spirit, spiritual things, our essence and our purpose, is expressed in a number of actions. Many of these actions are a consequence of love. We inquire about the experiences and thoughts of other people associated with the same interest. We hear about experiences and these stories inspire us to learn more. As we learn more our interest “matures” into admiration for the ways that love and purpose inform our choices in how we live.
Admiration comes from appreciating what we learn. We see the subtle ways love and attention to purpose create results that we value. The connections we feel within, between our essence and purpose, lead us to the admire the efforts, the practices, the thoughts and ideas, and the people that live according to love. The beauty of what we see turns into respect.
Our respect acknowledges our experiences. We understand our essence and purpose and how these manifest in life. Our admiration and respect continue to lead us toward deeper understanding. To go deeper we see that we need to embody, acknowledge, and accept all the consequences of love. We then use what we have learned about ourselves and other human beings to express love.
Embodiment leads to a multitude of experiences and growth in our capacities—physical, mental, and spiritual—that we soon recognize were always a part of us. They were just waiting to be discovered and cultivated. We simply needed to look at ourselves and the world from a certain perspective.
Ultimately, the combination of curiosity, interest, admiration, respect, and embodiment (lived experiences) results in faith. Our faith is a mature perspective and attitude that seeks opportunity, it values truth, it values facts, it does not fear uncertainty. Faith values what can be known, it understands acceptance, it realizes the potential that exists beyond the ordinary. Faith recognizes and values the application of love in our approach to life. It recognizes how love and our essence are connected to our purpose. Purpose proceeds out of love into expression.
This framework—everything I have described here—functions in such a way that connects us to things greater than us. Our faith includes gratitude and forgiveness because this faith helps us see and connect to other human beings in a way that holds them and acknowledges their experience. The admiration and respect that we learned along our own journey informs our perspective of every other human being because we see in them the same abilities at work. We learn to give ourselves to this process of life with compassion and kindness. This understanding goes beyond intellectual knowledge because we intuitively know the power of love. Love has the ability direct our effort to express compassion and kindness. This is true even in situations where our intellect might analyze the evidence and want to turn us away. Faith is the result of experience and in this way faith is profoundly different from blind acceptance of a series of statements.
We are not expected to be servants to an understanding of God, or our spirituality, that is not grounded in our experience. Otherwise, how can we recognize our own authority and our experience of what we hear, see, and know? We are not expected to bow down to concepts of God that are used to falsely empower a few human beings above all other members of humanity. If that power is not available to everyone how can we say that it comes from God? Few may understand it, but those who do understand this power and this truth bear witness to its universal application and availability. These people who know work to empower others; they do not take spiritual power away from others
Faith cultivates interest, truth, empowerment, and it calls us to the direct experience of how our essence and purpose can transform the way we function in the world. Faith removes blocks to our self-awareness and guides us forward. Think of any virtue and underneath that virtue is a seed of faith that trusts the right thing will happen when we give ourselves to that virtue. Faith comes from our experience of using love, acknowledging purpose, and experiencing the maturation of those efforts. Faith is an attitude and perspective that helps us anticipate change, anticipate that life will get better for us, and recognizes the opportunity within each moment. A set of opinions is nothing like the faith within human beings who trust their own authority and their own interest in the highest spiritual ideals. Their faith is a result of virtue, love, and truth in action. Faith is not the starting point, or even the defining point, faith is the result, that which has been earned through experience. Seek truth and ultimately you will have faith in truth as a means of leading you to God.