Having Faith and Relying On Yourself Are Often Seen as Polar Opposites
Is faith really a secular concept that has been adopted by the church?
The Bible and other religious texts, as well as many current psychological self-help books tell us to have faith that the things we wish for most will come to us in due time. We are told that if we just believe in and focus our thoughts on good things, on being our ideal self at least in our own minds, this will manifest itself in time as if by magic. Books like The Secret, and 1950s era self-help gurus like Napoleon Hill to those of the present day like Wayne Dyer have continued to promote this idea that we can accomplish our dreams primarily by just shifting our belief system.
Yet science and pragmatic thinking says that nothing good comes to anyone except with hard work, patience, careful planning, dedication, (and often a lot of money). We are told that wishing will not make it so. That reality is not subjective, its full of cold hard facts that you have to work with to accomplish anything.
Are these two concepts hopelessly incompatible with each other? In the modern world science has begun to show us that reality is directly affected by our observation of it and that we can never be completely detached observers. We affect what is around us just by our expectations of what we will experience, filtering out what we don’t expect and focusing on what we do. This makes faith seem like an ethereal concept that has no place in the day-to-day world.
When I think about the conflict between these two approaches to life I'm often reminded of a quote by the great science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin. She once said, "From a distance, everything always looks beautiful, planets, lives. But up close a world's all dirt and rocks, and day to day life's a hard job. You get tired, you lose the pattern."
Faith is a prominent subject in religious teachings. Some instances though show us where there is a direct link between faith and physical reality. In the Bible we're told that “faith without works is dead.” This indicates that belief is an essential step in generating good, but we must also act on that belief if it is to become our reality. We can’t just sit back and hope to one day become a millionaire. We have to do the things a millionaire would do every day, think big and long term, invest resources wisely, see our time as precious, imagine what our highest contribution to others can be and find a way to make that contribution…
The real distinction between faith and self-determination seems to be in the order they usually take place in. Faith comes first, as it’s a raw, pioneering feeling, a risk taken in a complete vacuum that things can be better than they are now, when there’s no actual evidence to suggest that’s true. This is why the Bible says that “faith is the evidence of things unseen.” It’s the first indication, in our minds, that something good will actually come to pass. Just these thoughts alone can start the process even though they have no physical existence and nothing else in the world suggests that what you believe is remotely true or possible.
Once someone believes, things start to happen (or so we are told). Yet faith is so common to human thinking that it often occurs unconsciously. It is present in the most agnostic among us, but goes by different labels. When we look at people who have accomplished great things we some times ascribe it to secular actions by saying they were “optimistic” or “forward thinking” or “not afraid to take risks” when in reality they were really exercising faith. Someone who is faithful will continue to have momentary doubts at times but not let them impede or discourage the overall belief. They choose to be immersed in what they hope for, and it draws them toward acting to hurry along the manifestation of it.
The one primary element that both faith and self-determination seem to have in common is that they serve both as cause and effect in orchestrating change. Faith is the vision that compels someone to think of a better life and its effect is that it motivates someone to act. Self-determination follows this in an unending cycle of believe, try, believe again and try again. Causes lead to effects, producing new causes in a loop where it becomes impossible to truly determine what the first spark was that led to a desired outcome.
This endless repetition in nature of overlapping cause and effect is often used as an excuse to deny faith and say that its irrelevant to accomplishment. Yet without a mind first thinking of something new and better, how can it be brought into existence? In the absence of Newtonian action and reaction in the universe, physicists tell us we are looking at ultimate entropy or heat death, where nothing distinctive exists. Imagination and creation – or very existence itself, are essential to one another it seems. This holds true whether you are a beaver building a dam on a river or a human being starting an cupcake business.
Another reason faith is often denied its rightful place in the formation of the physical universe is because people tend to lack sufficient patience to see their dreams through to reality. Ross Perot once illustrated the failure of this dichotomy to produce results. Using a football analogy, he said that most people who are pursuing a dream “give up on the one yard line, about to make the winning touch down.” This is the hallmark of many failed projects, faith is lost, and action comes to a halt right when both seemingly opposing views of the world were working seamlessly together, on the edge of producing profound results.
Perhaps the greatest reason that nuts and bolts people, scientists and the non-religious deny the need or value for faith however is that it is often acquainted in popular culture or in the mind with God. Faith is seen as a direct petition to God to somehow bless your life without any undue effort on your part. If this were true however, the Bible wouldn't have passages that indicate that human beings must have a direct partnership in the process.
We must not only imagine and believe in the best, we must believe it so strongly that we are motivated every day to live that reality as if it has already taken place. In this sense, all the gurus are right about how belief can transform your life. If you do believe in great things, you will act differently, making it more likely for them to take place. Faith and self-determination therefore are really two forces that work together to shape reality. It seems impossible that one could even exist without the other.