I have received myriad and thoughtful responses to my query. To each of you: thank you. It helps to know what my friends think. I have chosen (and, yes, it was a conscious choice on my part) my friends with care and it has been enlightening. Let me get to the heart of my matter. I have a rather solid grasp of ancient (that is, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% of the span of humankind back) history. With this existential ammunition I have always toiled with a nagging question. That is: how do I distinctly (and mutually exclusively) define faith, hope, and trust? For the purposes of this discussion, I am equating belief to faith. Whenever you (or I) feel like using the word “belief” just substitute “faith”…and vice versa.
To expand on Philter’s comment, I agree that to assign the tag “is right” is to, in fact, elucidate. I reject that approach to faith (as does his narrative)…in part and in whole. To elucidate creates a faith-based reality and is no more pertinent to this discussion than those that hold the fervent belief that water swirls counter-clockwise in the Southern hemisphere, as opposed to it’s clockwise parallel. This is bunk, but a widely held belief (many will argue with you over this). If I can’t content myself with a definition of faith, I surely do not wish to lead others astray by stating “truths”. These are, as I have been careful to point out, the drunken ramblings of a common slob.
But this isn’t an entirely exhausted example. Why do so many people believe that the water in your toilet is hemisphere aware? I get into arguments all the time over that simple realization of physics. So, what drives that misunderstanding? I don’t believe it is faith.
Let me set something straight right here and now. I will bring up religion in this discussion. I am not knocking or rejecting religion. In the converse, I am trying to lay bare a demon of reason that has perched itself comfortably on my shoulder for a number of years. I know this demon and, frankly, I’m more than satisfied to see him wink at me every morning. I have taught lessons that I both believed and rejected in its presence. But I’m 35, and I need a little “secular human” boost to continue my day. I don’t believe that restricting our discussion to religion is doing the topic justice. In other words, it will come up, but it isn’t my point. I guess maybe we should all (including me) be asking ourselves why we gravitate in that particular direction.
As I said, I don’t believe it is faith. I believe it is trust. Here’s the way I see it:
Trust: An understanding BASED ON PREVIOUS OR PERCEIVED INFORMATION (not data) that something is or will be.
Hope: A willed trust BASED ON A POSITIVELY DERIVED DECISION that some outcome (usually positive) is more likely to occur. Perceived facts may indeed indicate the exact opposite.
Faith: A fabrication (don’t take that the wrong way…I mean that literally, not as a point of argument) of trust and/or hope with no concrete evidence to support or deny the viewpoint.
So, here is what I consider the most dangerous word to emerge in our progression as a civilization: “blind”
You can attach “blind” to any of these concepts and immediately render their definition null and void. What is the difference between blind trust, blind hope, and blind faith? I postulate there is no difference. “Blind” overrules all. The moment that you remove your own feelings, knowledge, experience, and — dare I say — dogma from the discussion you are, yourself, removed from all potential paths of understanding. Philter’s comment illustrates this rather nicely. The very act of asking for elucation nullifies the quest. “What am I supposed to do?” and “where am I going?” are a natural avoidance of the very substance of “where and what am I?”. I will dismiss for a moment biblical arguments to the contrary and ask: of the last 3 million years that we’ve been here, how much of it do you know about? OK, forget about that. Let me ask you this. When did salvation become a concern? Hmmm. As far back as recorded history? Nope. I’ll let you do the legwork on that (because I don’t think you should take my words on faith). Actually, if you consider the timeline of humanity, salvation is a fairly new concept. And, as this subject comes full circle, I began to ask my quesitons.
We have the cradle of civilization. The Tigris and Euphates is where, apparently, it all began. Where what all began? Humanity? Civilization? Nope. History (NOT the same thing). Bipedal humanoids were all over the place prior to that. But “we”…the “we” that spawned all cultures began right there. They rapidly developed the ability to write and BANG we have the beginning of history. You’ll notice that everything before that is labelled “prehistory” as though there is some magical realm before we started writing. What happened is that we began to depend on the land and our environment and our ability to manage it for our existence (as we understood it). This is the topic for an entirely different post, but let’s go with it for now and you can investigate the ancillary issues at your leisure.
Buddhism?(which branch?) Judaism?(which branch?) Islam?(which branch?) Zorasthustraism?(sadly, which branch?) Did you ever stop to think about where they started? Let me jump into the Wayback Machine and fill you in. The fertile cresent. Between the Tigris and Euphates. An area widely heralded in the news these days. And do you know what (based on projections and their own ancient writings) they were worried about? Locusts. Floods. Plagues. The premature deaths of their crops and children. And do you know what they came up with to deal with these uncertain times?
There are beings in the perceived universe (remember there’s only around 10 million people on the planet at this time…the population of New York and it’s surroundings) that can CONTROL THE ENVIRONMENT. These were talismans. Good luck charms, if you will, to be rubbed and cradled in the…hope…of influence.
So, what would you do? Well, I for one would try to figure out how to influence these beings so that my environment will be more favorable to my agricultural undertakings (hunter/gathers were still doing just fine…as long as they could stay away from the agriculturalists). And so entered faith into the world. I will kill my firstborn child (a common sacrifice long before Abraham). I will kill my best (fatted) cattle. In such I “have faith” that my actions will influence the gods to look favorably upon me and bless me with success in my endeavors (agricultural ones, by the way). As an invention “faith” was created as a mechanism through which the environment could be influenced or managed. If the “gods” destroy my crops and herds anyway…well, it was because I didn’t have enough “faith”. So, try to wrap your head around that one. At that time, faith was a very gregarious thing. You had to, by force of will, convince the unseen that you deserved favor. And remember…there was no concept of a single, all-knowing God at this point.
I’m going to brush past a few things here. The origination of priesthood and divine consent. They sparked the creation of a godhead and spawned the varied religions. To the east: Siddhartha. To the west: Abraham…Jesus…Muhammad. And so on. Don’t think for a second that the congealed “first religions” didn’t include a concept of “salvation”. Yes, I’m jumping over a lot. But this isn’t a book.
So, I’ve long held that I am what you call a Secular Humanist. The orthagonal “other” that Philter describes. This is a state of being possibly devoid of “faith”. And yet, I said that I haven’t lost mine. What, pray tell, do I mean? I believe (remember the replacability — for fun look that word up — of faith and belief) in humans. I believe that effort equals money. I believe that responsibility equals the pain incurred by failure and the leisure incurred by success. I believe in the unbelivable magesty of music and understanding. But I haven’t described my “faith”, have I? My faith lies in “the plan” that I still think is our destiny. I have faith that this is all building to a greater…what? Something I can’t put my finger on.
3 million years ago = 1 person, give or take. 5000 years ago = 10 million people. Today = 6 billion people. Think about the growth in the last 5000 years and ponder its possible reasons…and why it didn’t happen before.
3 million years ago = tearing food from nature. 5000 years ago = agriculture. Today = Jack In The Box…food on demand.
3 million years ago = grunts. 5000 years ago = writing. Today = instantanious information transfer via the Internet.
There are only two choices, in my view. 1) We stepped off the path 5000 years ago and are headed for destruction (call that whatever your religion would like to) or 2) we are headed for some, as of yet, unascertained future. I prefer to think that our growing sense of community and “connectedness” is a step in some greater plan. I reject the idea that God is behind it all. But it is faith, nonetheless. Pure, unadulterated, faith. I find it interesting that entire nations can now have “moods” and “sentiments”. Hmmm. What in the world could that indicate?
I have friends that I love. In them I have trust. I base this trust on my perception of them. I trust that my professors in college were telling me the truth (at least in the areas of science). But I don’t think for a moment that this arrangement isn’t a precarious one. I fall all the time. Some area of “knowledge” becomes an area of “ignorance”. But it is my faith in humanity that keeps me going.
OK. I called this “Part I” for a reason. I would like to think of this as a discussion. Comment and I’ll launch myself into “Part II”. Trust me, there is SO much more.
I recently heard a song that had a lyric that touched me in this particular realm: “I feel as if I am looking at the world from the bottom of a well.” I don’t think this separates me significantly from my homo sapiens (and you thought that was us) ancestors…sometimes. I also recently watched a movie in which a man danced tango with a life-sized female doll on a sidewalk in New York to the music of Krishna Das as German and Japanese-made cars passed in the foreground. Can you think of a more poignant example of converging civilization than that?
As usual, here’s the influence on my meat processor:
“Hey, what did you hear me say
you know the difference it makes
what did you hear me say
Yes, I said it’s fine before
I don’t think so no more
I said it’s fine before
I’ve changed my mind
I take it back
Erase and rewind
’cause I’ve been changing my mind
I’ve changed my mind
So where did you see me go
it’s not the right way, you know
where did you see me go
No, it’s not that I don’t know
I just don’t want it to grow
It’s not that I don’t know
I’ve changed my mind
I take it back
Erase and rewind
’cause I’ve been changing my mind”