More on Religious Faith
As stated in the last essay, religious faith is an essential element in any religious context. Usually, but not always, religious faith refers to unquestioning belief in a transcendent principle, most often called God. Even in the so-called atheistic religion of Buddhism, one talks of various Bodhisattvas who have trans-corporeal existence. Other important elements which give meaning and relevance to life are also associated with religious faith, such as hope for the future, certainty of post-mortem persistence, and the intrinsic value of goodness. Thus, religious faith is implicit belief in something that is not material and obvious, tangible or easily recognizable. When it is stated that “the Gita can only be perfectly understood by devotees,” it is an expression of religious faith. As one reads in the Bible (Revelation, ii,10), “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
In the scientific realm, seeing refers to recognizing all the convincing data one can get through sensory faculties, and through reason. In religions, it means recognizing meaningful and fulfilling convictions through intuition and deep commitment. Thus, it has been observed that there is this important distinction between science and religion: In science, one believes what one sees, whereas in religion one sees what one believes in. As St. Augustine asked rhetorically, “What is faith if not believing in what thou seest not (Quid est enim fides nisi credere quod non vides)?” (St. Augustine, Ch. 40, sec. 8).
Countless people have benefited from, and been enriched by religious faith. People with religious faith are fulfilled in their spiritual longing and religious commitment, whether they be church-going Christians, Makkah-going Muslims, bhajan-singing Hindus, or of whatever tradition. According to Harold Koenig, “Systematic research indicated that in some parts of the United States, 90 percent of persons with serious medical illness use religion at least to some degree as a coping resource, and approximately 50 percent of those persons report that religious faith is the most important factor that enables them to cope (i.e., it is more important than family, friends, work, or any other known coping resources).” This is equally true in many other parts of the world.
In the following statements from the scriptures of three major religious traditions, it is of religious faith that one speaks:
“But those who with faith, holding me as their supreme aim, follow this immortal wisdom, those devotees are exceedingly dear to me.” (Bhagavad Gita, xii.20).
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give three a crown of life.” (New Testament: Revelation, ii.10)
“Those who believe and work righteousness, their Lord will guide them because of their Faith. Beneath them will flow rivers in Gardens of Bliss.” (The Qur’an, x.9).
Some have wondered how faith which serves religions so well, happens to be inappropriate in Science. Thus, when Robert Ingersoll declared that “investigation is better than unthinking faith,” what he had in mind here was religious faith, and not Intelligibility faith. It is not always recognized that the religious faith of religion has little to do with intelligibility faith of science.
When one fails to make the distinction between the nuances of faith, arguments and impasses are bound to arise. Then, we will have difficulty differentiating between fundamental science and metaphysical theology. Referring to some of the challenging problems of modern cosmology, John Barrows says categorically, “If our methods fail, then any boundary between fundamental science and metaphysical theology will become increasingly difficult to draw. Sight must give way to faith.” It is not clear that in the context of a puzzled science, religious faith is really helpful for scientists. If anything, in such a context science should reconsider aspects of the intelligibility faith on which it rests and functions.