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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chapter 5A: Helpful hints to think about Faith

As soon as I posted my previous essay on Faith, I came across some essays by well-known philosophers on this topic. One of them by William James, the American philosopher is particularly interesting. Although his ideas may be disputed by other philosophers, his essay is helpful for a commoner like me when thinking about Faith. It will certainly help me teach children what questions to ask when confronted with “options”.

William James, a physician-philosopher in his address to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities in 1896, says that “ our passionate nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds”. (Quoted in The Enduring Questions – Main problems in Philosophy. 4th Ed Melvin Rader (editor) Holt,Reinhart and Wilson Publishers, 1980). This is what Adi Sankara said too, when he wanted us to go on faith in the writings of Vedas on metaphysical questions.

Obviously, options presented in response to philosophical, metaphysical questions are the subjects of this discussion. How do we decide about the best of the options to believe in, if you have to choose? William James gives three conditions that must be met in order for faith to be justified. They are: 1. The option should be genuine and he defines genuine option as one that is “living, forced and momentous”. He goes on to define these three words. Living, as opposed to dead, is to suggest that the option is “sufficiently exciting to tempt our will”. Forced, as opposed to avoidable, is to suggest that the decision cannot be escaped. Momentous, as opposed to trivial, is to suggest that it will make a significant difference in one’s life. 2. The individual cannot prove or disprove either option with adequate proof or reason. One is no more probable than the other. Reason alone cannot deal with this question.3. The result of believing will make life substantially better.

I find these guidelines helpful for thinking about faith-related issues. It is important to note that those who are trying to “convert” you to their “faith” (political,commercial,theological etc) appeal to item number 3. It is your responsibility to make sure the other two conditions are met before you succumb to the influence.

For example, think about the following question: What reasons are there to believe in the existence of God and how valid are these reasons? Follow this up with your personal answer when someone gives you the following options: 1. If you believe in God, you will go to heaven. 2. Believe in God; surrender to Him; He will take care of you.

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