A Journey Into Faith, and Out Again
Just how important is faith? The world’s many religions generally demand acceptance of a lengthy credo of belief, and even Sant Mat offers a fairly detailed account of how the world is, or should be seen (in terms of theological and ontological structure), if we peruse the literature with that in mind. But ultimately none of those details is essential, because spirituality is a matter of practice rather than theory, and faith is secondary to love. What follows is my own experience of liberation from the bonds of belief.
I was brought up as a Christian in the Church of England, which can be such a liberal environment that faith is strictly optional. Often, all that is assumed is a vague sense of the numinous and a measure of sociability and social conscience. In many sections of the Christian archipelago your typical churchgoer is not expected to demonstrate actual belief. In addition, my parents considered a lack of scepticism to be in very poor taste and religion as something not to be discussed out loud.
Easy as that sounds to live with, I couldn’t get comfortable. As in many long established religions, structure seemed stressed over content, and the actual implicit belief structure, when I examined it privately, struck me as contradictory and out of place historically. So I wandered off into the desert of atheism, which although spiritually arid at least did not challenge my credulity and did satisfactorily comply with my instinctive devotion to Occam’s Razor (that whatever theory posits the fewest entities and rules is the most likely to be true – in other words, don’t ask yourself to believe any more than you have to).
I assumed that I had taken up permanent residence in the unchallenging land of smug disbelief, with the occasional foray into wondering. I stifled a vague sense of the existence of some kind of ultimate truth with the solid conviction that even if there were such a thing, it would necessarily be inaccessible.
Then by chance (or not) I came across a completely new approach to spirituality, one based on action rather than belief. And it felt right; so I climbed on board. I had, miraculously, somehow stumbled into certainty, a clear way forward, and hope: everything that I had never even dared to long for.
However, after several years the old discomfort started slowly to surface. Occam’s Razor began to slice at my faith; and certainty began to feel a little like credulity. At first I fought against this, but that just resulted in a sense of being at odds with myself, even of failing to be true to myself.
So at last I tackled it head on, and asked the question about faith directly. And so I found the answer:
You don’t need faith. All that is needed is love. And even the love doesn’t have to be felt; only loving action is required. Out of that will arise actual love, and out of that love will come faith. At last understanding will come, and on that understanding we can build hope.
So now, I don’t ask myself to believe anything. Neither do I reject belief. But I don’t see faith as the starting point, the keystone on which everything else rests. I know that it will come, in the wake of love. And that sometimes it will go; but that no longer worries me. I can accept too that at times even the love will be beyond my awareness, although it will still be there. Because I know that all I need to do is sit down, and look inwards, towards that love. And that if I practise, it will come to me.
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.