Faith is a universal element of religious traditions everywhere, and even has a “data-sustaining” role in science and philosophy. In no case is an absolute proof or certainty sustainable, only a deduction based on probability and sentiment. Within everyday life, faith is sufficient because it is efficacious. That is, “It works for me.”
We push content into faith based on our socialization, acculturation, and personal affinities. Why does a person hold a particular religious faith but for the circumstances of culture and socialization, even when the content of that faith changes? Where a person was born, in what period, to what upbringing — all are not only contributing factors but for many are exclusive and insulated. What happens later in life only shapes the individual’s attitude to the content, always tending towards social harmony and practical efficacy. In turn, the loop feeds the regularly demonstrated efficacy of their adopted point of view, confirmed by an attained equanimity that all of us seek and which we may call a philosophy of life.
The balance or tendency we naturally have toward efficacy is our reconciliation of consciousness and the world around us. We long for what the philosopher Santayana called “animal faith,” that stolid and unconscious view that projects equanimity with regards to what we feel as humans: fear, suffering, death. As human beings, we want to assert what is unique to our consciousness, what amounts to “human faith”: creativity, imagination, transcendence.
Somewhere between the non-articulated consciousness of animals and the strivings for triumph beyond the limits of human nature, is faith. Faith is the desire to achieve this balance, or, perhaps, the insistence that it can be done. Sometimes in modesty we assert that at least the breakthrough balance can be achieved by great souls, such as mystics, but not ourselves. Sometimes the great souls themselves, lurching and striving to achieve the heights, assert that at least it can be achieved in glimpses (looking up from the fallen state of dryness experienced by a John of the Cross). And sometimes, being neither self-deprecating nor self-aggrandizing, we can see clearly that both the humility of the small soul is unnecessary, and the strivings of the great soul are contrived and unnatural.
Faith is a form of authenticity, what existentialists consider a self-realization that is trusted by and invested in by the individual. “Bad faith,” as Sartre calls it, is when we renounce that potential to shape our values and instead succumb to culture and society around us, succumb to what Heidegger calls the “they-selves,” and what Gabriel Marcel calls the renouncing of personhood. To have faith, then, in this sense, is to integrate the self and then to be conscious of the effort to integrate.
Faith in the sense of authenticity does not make reference to the content of faith. Faith is not only usually identified with religion but especially with a religious creed or a set of beliefs. But what we need to look at is not a set of beliefs but the very act of having faith, the act of believing or thinking or reasoning.
These acts involve the core of what it is be human. The content that follows is largely based on culture and society. Authenticity in one or another person must have a continuity of value, a quality that is separate from and transcends culture, society, or even the set of beliefs. Otherwise, faith is merely a description of someone’s beliefs, and pits one faith against another, one person against another person.
The tension between authentic faith and what is derived thoughtlessly from culture and society is both humanity’s opportunity and curse. If we can focus on core human consciousness or potential, then we can see human expressions as universal. We can begin to find what is the core of any possible authenticity in faith. Thus the Dalai Lama will express to visitors that he does not say to them to become Buddhists but rather to become compassionate. Compassion as a human efficacy both precedes and transcends any particular culture, society or religion. Humanity’s opportunity resides here, in this search for fundamental authenticity.
But the curse is in the residue of our non-conscious behavior. Not non-consciousness as in the animal faith of Santayana, which can be seen as a pure existence in the moment, a state or faculty which humans seldom achieve. Rather, the residue is in the apparently involuntary tendency to grasp power, to desire, to have greed. All of these are topmost in our social and individual behavior, and consume our lives as worldly beings.
We may call this a curse without knowing where it comes from, like the Fall or some divine punishment, or some mistake of evolution accelerated and not smoothed out by time. However we choose to see this “curse,” we are bound to pursue alternative paths, which we will call faith because we need an efficaciousness to overcome the failings and vices. We need a system of values and virtues to make ourselves authentic, to make of ourselves individuals who are doing exactly what makes them content.
And this contentment is itself the beginning of faith.
Faith is a process of self-discovery that involves various faculties such as intellectual, imagination, will, but also a renunciation of input that has preempted the process, namely accretions of society and culture and upbringing. In solitude and silence we create the conditions for such a process, and ensure that the process with be authentic.