How’s Your Faith?

And as the American philosopher and psychologist William James demonstrated in one of his most prominent empirical studies, a number of subjects who started off with neurosis and then resorted to some sort of belief in a higher power and some sort of faith had markedly improved mental health outcomes at the very end. Moreover, without a faith-based policy or a faith-based lifestyle, there is no order and stability. Belief and faith serve as a guide for collective and personal behavior and engagement with others, and they provide a clear criterion for what to do and what not to do. 

As the Sufi mystic and scholar Abdul Qadir al-Jilani argued, without faith, one does not have certitude. And without certitude, there is no true understanding and knowledge of anything. As a result, faith translates into order and stability and ultimately serves as the ground underneath one’s feet. Without the ground underneath, nothing would be able to stand.

And in a day and age when dignity and respect is not conferred to an individual by others and when an individual is treated as invisible despite their hard work and their struggle to survive, faith allows an individual to feel that they are in fact part of something bigger and more significant than what meets the eye, even if the individual’s dignity is not conferred or recognized by others. As Francis Fukuyama wrote in regards to the basic notion which prompts belief and faith amidst the prevailing social circumstances: “You may be invisible to your fellow citizens, but you are not invisible to God.” 

And as Fukuyama also wrote, western societies “are heirs to the moral confusion left by the disappearance of a shared religious horizon.” In western societies, individualism and individual autonomy means that not only have traditional beliefs and rules been changed and replaced by other beliefs and rules, but it also means that individuals have “the option of not believing at all.” And although the idea of individualism and individual autonomy has an upside to a certain extent, there is a downside to the idea of individualism and individual autonomy as well. As Fukuyama wrote:

“The problem with this understanding of autonomy is that shared values serve the important function of making social life possible. If we do not agree on a minimal common culture, we cannot cooperate on shared tasks and will not regard the same institutions as legitimate; indeed, we will not even be able to communicate with one another absent a common language with mutually understood meanings.”

In a sense, belief and faith can serve as a shared value between different kinds of people, which in turn brings different kinds of people together, even if the people who espouse belief and faith come from different cultural backgrounds and from different religious traditions. The important thing is having some sort of belief and having some sort of faith, not necessarily the differences and nuances in culture and religious customs, rules, and regulations. At the heart of belief and faith is “a love of God” which is shared by people from all types of religious traditions, and this ‘love of God’ is in turn driven by the desire for beauty and love in general, despite the theological differences and the nuances of the different religious traditions. As Frithjof Schuon wrote:

“There is a love of God that constitutes a method and whose starting point is a theology, and there is another love of God whose starting point is knowledge of the divine Nature and consequently the sense of the divine Beauty, which frees us from the narrowness and the din of the terrestrial world. The way of love – methodical bhakti – presupposes that through it alone can we go towards God; whereas love as such – intrinsic bhakti – accompanies the way of knowledge, jnana, and is based essentially on our sensitivity to the divine Beauty.”

Plus, as Harvey Cox argued, the evidence shows that “both the renaissance of spirituality and the transmutation in the nature of religiousness are happening in a variety of traditions.” People are becoming “critical of the suffocating role dogmas have played” in a number of religions. Cox also suggested that: “Religious people today are more interested in ethical guidelines and spiritual disciplines than in doctrines.” In sum, beauty, soul, spirit, and inner peace are more important now than creed, doctrine, dogma, and institutions for people from all types of religious traditions.

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