For many, faith = religion. This post is about what is faith, not about what we have faith in. Similarly, it is not about what we hope for but rather, what is hope? This post is not about religion.
About 50,000 years ago, after 150.000 years of development, humans figured out abstract thinking. Per dictionary.com the definition of Abstract thinking =
Thinking characterized by the ability to use concepts and to make and understand generalizations, such as of the properties or pattern shared by a variety of specific items or events.
Humans perceive reality abstractly. That tree exists in reality but when the thought of that tree registers in your brain, the tree gets categorized in a generalized concept called, trees. Since we know things about the concept we have of trees, we can apply that knowledge by assuming that it applies to this tree. We are abstract thinkers. Almost everything we perceive gets generalized as an abstraction in our brain.
We have these abstract thoughts about tangible things like trees but also less tangible things like feelings, events in the past or future that we did not attend, things we imagine and the like. We think about lots of stuff and we come up with these concepts in our heads about the stuff we think about. Not every thought (concept) reflects reality. The tree might really be a bush. As abstract thinkers, we have the ability to have an opinion on whether our thoughts are true (reflect reality) or false (not reflect reality) or somewhere in between. We maintain a sort of confidence scale about a concept in our heads. In practice we say words about our concepts like: believe, doubt, kind of, wrong, right, true, bad and the like.
So let me get to the point.
Per Dictionary.com: “faith” = “belief that is not based on proof”. Note faith has several definitions but “belief that is not based on proof” is the one used in this post.
Said another way, faith is believing a concept is true even though you do not have sufficient evidence to be confident it is true. Faith is believing even in the face of contrary evidence.
If you believe a concept = true and you have lots of evidence that it is true, then that is not faith. But if I buy a lottery ticket because I truly believe I will win, even though the odds are astronomical against it, that is faith. Faith is exactly believing a thought you have characterizes reality even though there is no real proof / evidence / reason to believe it does.
Our life experience, growing up if you will, is all about gathering new abstract thoughts, gathering evidence (learning) validating or invalidating abstract thoughts deciding what is true for us and what is not. Faith is a label for believing without adequate proof to justify believing. Faith can be in little things or big things or in-between things. We believe lots of what we believe without lots of evidence to support that belief. Here is the deal, just because you don’t have evidence that an idea is true, does not make it false. If you believe it is true without enough evidence for you to have high confidence that it is true, then that is an act of faith. We all have lots of faith in lots of concepts we have in our thoughtful little heads.
Hope is related to faith but not the same thing. Faith is believing a thought is true without evidence. Hope implies optimism not absolute belief. Hope is wishing that a particular idea turns out to be true or wishing it was true even though we know it is not true. Hope is accepting the odds are stacked against me but still buying the lottery ticket just in case I win. I don’t except to win but I have hope.
There are three basic components to hope and faith.
- The concept / thought / idea in your head. The mental category representing reality.
- Evidence or lack of evidence relating to whether the concept is based in reality.
- Your personal confidence level (belief) that the concept is based in reality. I believe. I am pretty sure. I doubt it. I think it is not.
Here is an example. Pick any concept. What evidence do you know about that concept? Do you personally belief the concept represents reality.
- Concept = people can be mean
- Evidence = the news cast last night and remembering that bully when you were in junior high school.
- Belief = yes I believe the concept of people can be mean represents reality
Note that in reality, people are many things including both mean and nice. Reality tends to be more complicated (less certain) than our abstraction about reality tends to be. It is easy to think two people believe (have faith in) exactly the same thing but reality tends to be more complex than that. The thing about hope and faith is that they are about what you believe without proof and what you wish were true. They are inherently personal. They are about what you believe and what you wish. You have the choice. In a very basic sense the abstract thought choices you make about the reality you live in are the essence of what it is to be you.
Virtually every (probably not all, of course, but it seems that way) self-help book ever written are really about aspects of concept / evidence / belief process that is our abstract thoughts. If you read a self-help book or many of them, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the book suggest you change the concept? If you are not happy some of the books suggest you could change the definition of happy.
- Does the book suggest you gather more evidence about the reality of the concept? Put your toe in the water, look at others who are swimming, don’t just assume the water is too hot or too cold to swim in. Talk to people who have swam before. Get an instructor.
- Does the book suggest you could have a different confidence level about the concept? You don’t have to change anything or gather more information other than to decide to be happy. Power of positive thinking.
Most times we don’t give our concepts much thought. Rather than go though some mental analysis, we default to the last belief we had about that concept. The tree I saw probably fits into the concept I have of tree in my head, so I don’t give it any more thought than that. Think about any advertising campaign you have ever been exposed to. The whole idea of advertising is to get you to have a certain concept about their product. Give you some evidence about the reality of that concept. Then either reinforce your belief or change your mind about your belief. That and maybe to take action based on that belief but that is a different post.
The truth is religions, advertising campaigns, political movements, social groups, neighbors, co-workers, and life in general are about our abstract thoughts (concepts), our experiences (evidence) as they relate to those concepts and whether or not we belief the concept represents reality. We get all sorts of influences in all sorts of ways trying to take advantage of our method of thinking in abstractions. But at the bottom of most of them is three factors used in different combinations. Get a thought in your head. Give you evidence that it represents reality or does not, depending on the case. Finally convincing you to believe that the thought represents reality.
The key is to remember that we have to power to make up our own minds. We also have the power to change our minds. Changing your mind means adjusting the concept or gathering more evidence about the truth of the concept or just choosing to believe or not to believe in a concept.
You and I get to choose what we have faith in and what we hope for. The world is full of examples as to why it matters what you have faith in and what you hope for. Ask any coach of virtually any team. Ask any leader. Ask anyone else. Ask yourself. What you believe and hope matters.
We have all made mistakes and believed in concepts that turned out to be false. The earth is round and not flat. Throwing a virgin into the volcano will not actually stop the eruption. But we have also have benefited from faith and hope. Having faith and hope has saved countless addicts. Having faith and hope has been at the center of most of our successes. It does matter what you believe to be true and what you hope for. It matters.
But here is something to think about. Person A has faith in X. Person B has faith in Y. By definition, neither the faith of person A or the faith of person B have much evidence to back them up. That is what faith means, believing without proof. We don’t know much about Person A or Person B, but we do know they believe some concept is based in reality without much proof. They both have faith. They are both in the same boat: they believe a concept without proof. Which concept of reality represents reality. Who knows. Maybe both, maybe parts of both, maybe neither. We don’t have evidence so we don’t know.
What we do know is the behavior of person A or person B. Why they act like they do might, or might not be, because of their faith. But we can know their behavior because their behavior is not abstract. Unlike their abstract thoughts, what they do, how they behave, is real without question.
If they are kind, it is kindness whether or not they were kind in the name of faith or hope. Being kind is kindness whether you have faith in X or faith in Y or in neither. Hate is being hateful whether or not you do it in the name of faith or hope. Love is loving whether or not you do it in the name of faith or hope. The same thing applies to all of our behaviors such as: crime, tenderness, patience, helping, hurting, the list of behaviors goes on and on. Your actions are real and have consequences whether or not they are done in the name of faith or hope.
You get to choose what you believe. You get to choose how you react. You choose what kind of person you are. Your choices are very powerful and have consequences. If your choices are not turning out to be what you had faith in and hoped for, remember you are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to change your concept, or search out new evidence or just believe differently. Also remember others are allowed to do the same thing.
We live in reality and our actions are real, but we think in abstractions. Reality is what it is. Our abstract world is not real, just sort of. We have faith and we have hope. Maybe someday our faith will be rewarded. Maybe someday our wishes become real. But in the meantime, faith is believing without proof. Hope is being optimistic that a wish can come true. But whose faith and hope is right and whose faith and hope is wrong. Maybe time will tell. Maybe we will never know. But as far as faith and hope goes, we are all in the same boat. But we know our actions are real. Until the final judgement on which of our abstract thoughts represents reality is rendered, most people of virtually all faiths seem to agree, living by the golden rule is a good strategy.
There are several versions of the golden rule. Here are some:
- do unto others as they would do unto you
- One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself
- What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself
- you should forgive and overlook
- One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self
- That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind
- That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.
- Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.
We are all abstract thinkers. Our view of the world is based on how we perceive the world. No matter how you perceive the reality of the world you have choices. You decide what the concept is. You decide what evidence you will see about that concept. You decide if you are going to believe in some concept without proof. You decide what you hope for.
What you believe can change your life because it can change how you interact with reality. But never forget, how you actually behave is your reality. Be nice and you are nice. Be mean and you are mean. Be happy and you are happy. Hate and you are hateful. Try to understand and you will be understanding.