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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Faith – Revisited

Dear Asha, Ajay, Ravi and Ariana,

I continue to read and think about Faith in our daily lives. In the process, I came across two books recently. They are: Meditations for the Humanist by A C Grayling and Think for yourself by Steve Hindes. Professor A C Grayling teaches Philosophy at the University of London and Dr.Hindes teaches medicine and public policy at the University of Denver.

In the chapter on Faith in his book, Dr.Grayling makes several points that I did not touch on in my “blog” on Faith (March 2009). One example is “….. all faith is based on dogma”. He points out how “…. Matters of faith are tenaciously regarded as inviolable, irrefutable and unrevisable”. In this essay, he is comparing faith (as in religion) with reason (as in science). Prof.Grayling is a humanist and he sees no need for religion to explain beauty, love, greed, cruelty and similar noble and cruel human qualities. To his way of thinking, all these “…belong to us, to human experience in the real world. They neither need nor benefit from, some alleged connection with supernatural agencies of one kind or another”.

He also points out how “faith is negation of reason” and “faith is belief even in the face of contrary evidence”. Knowledge is also a kind of faith, but this belief is a state of mind based on proper observation and interpretation of facts and therefore true and justified. “Belief differs from knowledge in that whereas the latter is controlled by the facts, and depends upon the right kind of relationship between mind and world, the former is ALL and only in the mind, and does not rely on anything in the world. One can, in short, believe in anything”.

Doctor Steve Hindes is a physician. I am impressed with the number of physicians who write about thinking, although it is no surprise. Physicians are always making decisions in the midst of incomplete data and uncertainties. Therefore, they do have to be aware of the “full” picture even when they know that future is not fully knowable.

Dr.Hindes reviews all the the traps in thinking whether in history, science, religion or rhetoric. . He notes how irrationality may be found in any system of thought and “If irrationality is found in religion, science, education, government, business or the family”, it should be scrutinized. He is equally forceful in pointing out the dangers of following faith in making decisions. However, he separates out religion and faith in his discussion and he is also more interested in avoiding pitfalls generated by faith.

He points out how we hold on to old ideas not because they are true or just, but because it is useful to us – or at least to “some of us” and quotes Thoreau: “…. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof”. In his definition, faith is a type of thinking “that tempts us to claim that we can understand objective reality or act without adequate objective evidence (and perhaps despite compelling objective evidence)”.

He classifies faith into two categories: conditional and unconditional. Obviously,
we need conditional faith for daily living and to keep sanity. He compares this to the initial trust we give someone unless and until there is reason to change our judgment.

The unconditional faith is the impediment to being reasonable and fair in our thinking, since no amount of evidence can dislodge it. He then goes on to quote two aphorisms from ancient texts. In these texts, the Divine Teacher gives His discourse and at the end says: “Think for yourself”. In the first passage from Bhagavat Gita (Chapter 18: sloka 63) Lord Krishna tells Arjuna “Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more confidential. Deliberate on this fully; and then do what you wish to do”. The second passage is from the Bible ((Thessalonian 3:13): “Do not stifle the spirit. Test everything; retain what is good”.

These are interesting thoughts on faith and reason. My own interest is in being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of modes of perception of our minds and in developing our own methods of dealing with them. Obviously these thoughts lead me into the faith-reason, religion-science controversies. Immediately I sense resistance and arguments. More heat is generated and not light. Therefore, I wish not to dwell on these areas too much, although I have my own personal views. I am primarily for REASON. But there are areas we need to use Faith. Reason and Faith are like the left and right halves of our brains. They are like the close-up lens and telephoto lenses of the camera. We need both of them. The wisdom is in knowing which lens to use and when.

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