Hello again. I’ve been thinking about the future of metapunk lately, and I’ve decided I’d like to overhaul the site a little bit; give the theme a facelift, and get rid of that redirect page on the main URL to the blog. I’ll also be re-focusing the content somewhat, including a bit more structured attention to the “holodoxy” aspect of the site. The process will take some time, but hopefully it will make the site much better. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going, and let you know when the new site goes live.
In the meantime, I’d still like to develop holodoxy a bit more on the current site. Just remember: what I’m trying to convey with the label of “holodoxy” is not really a formal system of beliefs or principles, but rather an outlook, or a set of attitudes toward life and knowledge. It’s a personal form of spirituality that I think is useful, but by no means finished, conclusive, or necessarily universal. Food for thought, and that’s all.
With that in mind then, I’d like to spend the next few articles on metapunk on some definitions, in holodox terms, of some words which frequently show up in discussions of spirituality or religion. Our word for today is “faith.”
Dictionary.com defines faith as follows:
- confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
- belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
- belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
- a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
Take careful note of the distinction between definitions 1 and 2. The first definition is an emotional attitude that has very little to do with knowledge or belief. The second is an epistemological claim (I know X, despite not knowing, or caring, how I know).
It’s been my experience that debates about the relative merits of faith vs. rationality, or religion vs. atheism, etc., are almost exclusively framed in terms of the second (epistemological) definition for faith. Yet it is my contention that the “faith” of any genuinely spiritual person is almost entirely of the first (emotional) sort. It means: “having confidence and trust in life, being, existence.” Even if someone says they have faith in God, as we’ll discover as we explore religious words further (in later articles), “God” is in large part just a reference to life, being, or existence.
Think about it. Claiming to have knowledge that you can’t demonstrate is decidedly idiotic. Atheists are not wrong to feel that people who say they believe without evidence are simply being stubbornly contrarian, and irrational.
However, someone who adopts an attitude of trusting oneself, trusting life, and trusting people in a general sense is generally much healthier, happier, and more stable than someone who doesn’t have that attitude. It’s the feeling that you’re going to be okay, whatever happens to you; and it’s eminently adaptive, if not rational, compared to either a constant state of anxiety about life’s inherent unpredictability, or the false certainty of denying that unpredictability.
And this really gets at the heart of the whole religion versus secularism debate: spirituality is about mental and emotional health much more than it’s about metaphysical claims. The metaphysics is only there to support the health aspect, even though it seems to overshadow it.
So, whether you’re an atheist or a believer, please stop framing the debate in terms of beliefs and evidence. Genuine spirituality is not about what a person believes or doesn’t, and why. Rather, it’s about how a person is able to respond to life: with clarity and confidence, or with anxiety or cynicism. That’s what real faith is about—and it’s not exclusive to any one point of view. It’s just a way of being in the world.
Addendum (Feb 19, 2013):
I came across this quote as I neared the end of what is now one of my favourite SF stories:
“I believe,” he thought. “I have faith.”
He jaunted again and failed again.
“Faith in what?” he asked himself, adrift in limbo.
“Faith in faith,” he answered himself. “It isn’t necessary to have something to believe in. It’s only necessary to believe that somewhere there’s something worthy of belief.”
—Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
Although Bester uses the word “belief” here to describe faith, I think he’s talking about the same thing I was referring to above. ”Belief” here refers to a recognition of possibility, rather than a statement of fact (or some metaphysical claim). It’s a recognition that the future is always uncertain, and thus always contains the possibility of something better.
It’s all too easy to forget this, and convince ourselves we know everything there is to know about ourselves, our lives, our relationships, and our world. This kind of certainty is seductive. After all, we can always look for and find evidence (real or imagined) that supports our views on life. But when we do that, it we risk dwelling on what we can’t change or control, and spiralling into despair and cynicism when life doesn’t go our way. But the future is always wide open, and if you invest your attention in the wonderful possibilities it holds, and act toward that… if you have faith (or hope, or dreams)… you’ll always find a way out of whatever trap you’re in at the time, and your life will be an adventure.