This is Part Two of the ongoing series “Maps and Territories.”
Last week we saw how I ended up thinking my beliefs about God actually were God Himself, and was therefore very confidently wrong. This raised two questions: Why did that happen? And, more importantly, how can we not make that mistake again?
Our beliefs are the lenses through which we see the world. So when I think something about the world, it looks to me exactly as if the world was actually that way. When I was younger, I believed the earth was ten thousand years old as strongly as I thought the sky was blue. Just by looking at my beliefs, I couldn’t tell which of those thoughts corresponded to reality and which didn’t. To me, they both did, and this led to me getting reality and opinion mixed up.
We see this today, as well. My Hindu and Muslim friends are just as convinced that their religion is true as I am convinced that mine is. To each of us, the world just is the way we believe it to be.
This explains why I ended up being confidently wrong, but it suddenly seems as though that mistake was inevitable. If our beliefs and reality look exactly the same, we will always think we’re right, even when we’re not. This is a problem for the religious and secular alike. How can we find out the truth of any situation?
Faith is the courage to act as though what we believe is true, coupled with the humility to change what we believe when it becomes obvious we are wrong.
In acting upon what we believe, we find out whether we are right. When I truly committed to my belief that the Earth was ten thousand years old and told people I believed that, I very quickly found out that evidence was not on my side.
What I failed to do was the second part of faith, where I immediately change my opinions based on the evidence my actions gather. This is just as important as the first part.
Let’s apply this to real life. Consider two men: they are both members of a certain religion, and both have doubts about the truth of that belief system. Which one will find out more quickly whether or not what the religion says is true? The one who daily puts it to the test in his own life, or the one who sits on the fence and worries all day? And if the religion is true, which one has been the better man?
If we somehow manage to have this sort of faith then we are not guaranteed truth. We can search all our lives for reality, completely acting upon our beliefs and changing them whenever it becomes necessary, and still die with incorrect opinions. Here is what this faith does guarantee, however: that we will be far closer to truth if we have it than we will be without it.
This definition of faith immediately raises the question of what we mean when we say we “have faith” in something. Does it mean we’re sure it’s true, or that we’re simply testing it? Our next question, then, is this: “How should we have faith in Christianity?”