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"Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones." –Bertrand Russell

Faith and Belief:
A Systematic and Structured Approach
Updated: 05/31/2021

Faith: what it is not

We will use the somewhat outmoded word "faith" to define belief on its most fundament level.

Faith is not a belief system, a paradigm, a set of positions or tenets, a creed, knowledge, conviction, intensity, fervor, or transaction. It cannot be bought, sold, traded, nor coerced: nor can it be taught, learned, programmed or instilled. It is not subject to the 4 laws of reasonable belief and knowledge.

Given there is such evil afoot in our world, and we all are exposed to its trouble, trauma, bad experiences, pain and suffering, experience in life cannot be used as a basis for faith. The basis for cynicism and negativity is at least as great as for faith. If we need a basis for faith, we must look elsewhere other than personal experience. Here is what Brian Appleyard has to say about it:

"Religions have usually attempted to relate their spiritual systems to the material experience of the world.  In doing so they have depended on the conviction that value and meaning can be found in the facts of the world–precisely the conviction that science has so successfully defied and apparently disproved."- Bryan Appleyard, Understanding The Present, Anchor Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY. 10036, 1992, p. 80.

Definition/Description of Faith

Faith PRECEDES understanding which engenders further and more specific belief. Faith can only be awakened or inspired.  It can only be chosen without direct outside influence or pressure, even at the risk of one's own eternal life being at stake. It is sourced in our idealism, the spark of God within us, and bounded on one side for our desire to live, and on the other by unwillingness to exist unless real goodness is imminently available.

Faith is like love, it cannot be forced. - Schopenhauer

FAITH n: the personal commitment of volition to choose to believe that real unmitigated goodness exists in an agency that manages the universe and cares about you personally. Taking the attitude for belief of the best or personally most positive aspect of issues rather than the negative. To first trust that agency has given you an innate ability to recognize and know the truth, and ultimately, to trust that ability to understand and appreciate the goodness that is available. and trust that you will actively led in your understanding and appreciation. A general stance that the prevailing ethic in the wider universe is goodness, not evil. See believe.

Faith is the continuation of reason. - William Adams

The person of faith WILL continue to change and develop his belief system to be compatible and consistent with his faith, and conversely, faith is fed, nurtured, fortified and sustained by valid belief.

Belief: what it is not

Belief is not assumption, opinion, perspective, knowledge, conclusion or learning. Belief is not just a position that we take, because positions are more provisional, held more lightly, and can be changed more readily.

For instance, no matter how widespread or fervently defended, the three foundational cornerstones of Protestantism are not belief but assumption positions. See: Common Theological Assumptions

Most importantly, belief is NOT holding onto that which we have been trained, programmed, or unconsciously been conditioned or accepted, that which we have NOT consciously examined nor chosen.

Definition/Description of Believe

BELIEVE v: To choose to incorporate a certain conception from an issue, which is NOT in the domain of knowable, into your belief system because you like or LOVE the concept; from "be" meaning live or exist and "lief" meaning like or love. To make some significant level of life commitment to a concept, idea, a principle, or a value.

Secondarily this word means to retain the chosen concept in one's belief system, but just holding onto a concept that one did not consciously choose is NOT real believing. Specifically, in a moral and religious reference, (believe) is used in the New Testament of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul (Thayer's GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON of the New Testament, 4th edition). See belief system, knowledge, choice, conception, idealism, religion.

As defined by The Analytical Greek Lexicon: "to be persuaded of, to be confident of, to be induced, to be convinced, to yield belief, to assent, to be assured, to be confident, to trust, to rely on, to confide in."

BELIEF n: a conviction or mental acceptance by or through CHOICE of something or certain things as true and real in the SPIRITUAL REALM, the arena of life and morale. Distinguished from knowledge in that belief is not fully based on sensory input, experience, empirical evidence or logic dissociated from purpose and reason. It is compelled by either or both attraction to goodness and/or objection to evil.

BELIEF SYSTEM n: that intellectual structure of assimilated or learned knowledge, indoctrinated concepts and chosen beliefs that determines our will, conscience and ultimate behavior. The foundation of a belief system is our paradigm See definitions of choice, conscience, decision, will, religion.

CREDO n: generally same as creed. Latin for I believe, and thus a personal statement of belief. CREED n: a brief and specific statement of beliefs, generally held to be authoritative by some formal organization.

KNOWLEDGE n: learned structures of information or logical conclusions that take on quality, value and meaning for a person in the INTELLECTUAL REALM; the arena of information and science. Not the same as belief. See information, logical, truth. See Knowledge Categories

When people stop believing in something, the
danger is not that they will believe in nothing,
but that they will believe in anything.
- Chesterton

The Nature of Belief

The overwhelmingly important aspect of belief is that it involves your life and its wellbeing. True beliefs are life supporting and enhancing, and false beliefs ALWAYS have undesirable, unproductive, and ultimately devastating consequences. It is the truth that sets us free, safe and in touch with reality, not falsity. False beliefs keep us disempowered and imprisoned, keep us in bondage to the wrong purposes, values and directions, and keep us focusing on and doing the wrong things.

A simplistic example is that, if we "believe" it doesn't matter how long or strong our bungee cord is, when we jump off the bridge into a canyon we are likely to get our head bashed in. When we step on a floating lily pad thinking it to be capable of holding our weight, we are going to get dunked.

Out of the multitude of extreme examples, just one of these is that in Islamic cultures because of their belief, it is common for a father or brother to kill his otherwise beloved daughter or sister if she marries a Christian, or gets raped, or otherwise sexually dishonors her family and the "honor" of its males. The fabric of familial psychological peace and bonding for the survivors is usually destroyed, and of course, more and more the perpetrator is held with contempt in the wider civilized world world and is going to a tangible prison.

"When ignorant men argue, everyone loses. When
 wise men argue, everyone wins."
- George Lizer

Two Important Issues Concerning Belief

What more can be said about belief? What are the issues concerning belief? When it comes to the "views" or positions that we hold to be true, which are usually loosely called "belief", there are two very clear and distinct issues:

1. Strength or intensity of the conviction
2. Validity or correctness of the conviction

When we look at these two issues concerning "belief" we should have no trouble seeing that the second is more important or of a much higher priority than the first. Who would argue that a strongly held false belief is better than a weakly held correct one? Wouldn't we actually say that the more strongly a false belief is held the more mischief is caused, the worse off the person is? And do we think that any reasonably mature person (the Creator?) is more pleased or impressed with intensity or "sincerity" than with correctness when we "believe" something bad or wrong about important issues, ourselves, others and him?

We can confidently say that everyone has some beliefs that they hold with varying degrees of intensity or strength. When it comes to dealing with people, they may have flaws, weaknesses, unwanted proclivities, but their belief systems are generally the most problematic. People cling to and always defend their belief systems at the risk of some part or aspect of their lives, sometimes risking mortality, and tend to confuse these beliefs with themselves or their personal value. It is like they are trammeled or held captive by them.

The enlightened person always has a belief system, but it doesn't HAVE him. He is in personal control of his belief system; he has it because he loves it and it suits the true him, yet he is always willing to not defend it but to change it when that becomes necessary in the face of better information or better understanding.

On the other hand, the person who has not taken full responsibility for his belief system and seriously vetted it for himself is usually busy convincing himself that he believes what he thinks he is supposed to believe, or what he has unconsciously accumulated in conjunction with an unchallenged paradigm. Of course, when the chips are down, we usually find no substantial commitment to that kind of belief system at all.

Principles of Believing

To believe, or not to believe? That is the question! Would a reasonable person (God or the Creator) ask us to believe anything without a reason, justification or basis? Without adequate grounds?

Sometimes belief is characterized as a "leap of faith", and so people using that metaphor usually say that we should leap in the light–not in the dark–so that the leap is an educated one.  I have come to accept the following principles:

1) True belief is formed in conjunction with a commitment to know the truth.
2) Genuine belief is always consonant with rationality, logic and reason, always associated with intellectual responsibility,
3) Understanding ALWAYS precedes genuine belief,
4) We should commit to believe something only when it is more reasonable to believe than to not believe.

The above principles demand that we sincerely care about our belief system and that our beliefs measure up to being rational, logical, reasonable, and intellectually defensible. Necessary prerequisites for true belief are intellectual honesty and responsibility.

The Problem of Belief

At the present time, is the perversity of the human mind
to cling to unworthy beliefs greater than the love of God?

There are many people that would answer the above question with a "maybe so", or at least admit it is only slight hyperbole, while they are somewhat smugly thinking that it applies to others but not themselves. After all, they are reasonably mature, spiritually grounded, schooled in the dogmas and doctrines of their religion. Their thinking is that if they have a somewhat mainstream view in their culture, isn't it then mostly a matter of perspective and largely inconsequential?

It should be clear enough that Jesus came to inspire faith and engender belief. When the crowd on the other side of the lake asked him the great question of that time in that culture, "What is the work we can do to please God?," his answer was to "believe in him whom he has sent." It should be obvious from the dialogue that followed and many other passages that this belief should not be a simplistic or shallow one, such as seeing him as the Messiah or simply as the savior. He is asking us to believe everything that he said and demonstrated, asking for our complete understanding. That is exactly what he promises the Holy Spirit will deliver, as in, "That one will teach you all things" and "that one will lead you into all the truth."

Is it worth mentioning again that it is more important to believe rightly than it is to believe intensely? Is the kind of belief being sought in us by Jesus the belief that will make THE difference, that will literally bring the empowerment to move a mountain into the sea if that were needed and productive? Obviously we don't find that level of belief in the disciples and followers, nor in the history of Christendom, especially today.

Questions concerning Belief

How do we get that kind or level of belief? That is a valid, pertinent and pointed question, and the answer better not be complicated, obscure or unclear.

Does this kind of belief come from ratcheting up the sincerity or intensity of our current belief?
Does this kind of belief come from clinging to what we have been programmed to believe? Does this kind of belief come from tradition, confusion, misunderstanding or mysticism?
Does this kind of belief come from being willing to challenge our current beliefs and to address everything that we don't understand or with which we are not comfortable?
Does it come from being based on a worthy foundation?
Does this belief come FROM SHEDDING OUR UNWORTHY BELIEFS and from operating in the faith that God is truly good while we continue to look higher and seek to UNDERSTAND ALL THE TRUTH?
Doesn't this means that one need NEVER say, "I just believe...."?

Shouldn't we be able to defend and explain WHY we believe the way we do? Understanding ALWAYS precedes genuine belief, and when we understand adequately and believe, then that belief will not be countermanded by experience but be reinforced. IT DOESN'T WORK ANY OTHER WAY! This kind of belief is affirmed when every aspect of our understanding and belief makes sense!

"A great many people think they are thinking when they
are merely rearranging their prejudices." -
William James

How the word "belief" is used in the Gospels

Overwhelmingly in the Gospels accounts the words "believe" and "belief" are used by Jesus, not so much by others and not much in the narrative of the Gospel writer or compiler.

A serious mistake I have made in the past is thinking that, when a Gospel writer says a person, group or crowd believed, the writer was using the word the same way and, meaning the same thing that Jesus meant. This turns out to not be true.

Or even worse on my part was thinking that they believed the essential truth or that they believed who Jesus really was, believed in him as the original God and were now prepared to listen to him and accept what he would reveal to them. Maybe this came out of wishful thinking, rooting and cheering for the good side to win, but the acceptance of this equation or meaning is another serious mistake.

So, two questions that should always be asked when coming across the word "believed" in the accounts are:
    1) "Believed WHAT?" and
    2) "How is this different from or less than what they SHOULD have believed?"

There is one other very salient piece of information that is needed to put things into the proper framework. In Koine Greek, the word translated "faith" is the same word for "belief". If the speaker or writer of the word meant some nuanced difference, one must pick that up from the context, or in some other facet of implication.

To put things into the perspective that Jesus had late in his time on earth, we can read his rhetorical question in Luke 18:8, "Nevertheless, when the son of man passes, will he find belief on earth? Obviously not!"

Now, don't fault me for supplying the words, "Obviously not!" The negative is ALWAYS implied in this particular Greek structure, and even though I am unaware of a single published translation that does anything but leave the embedded sentiment out, there should be no question that this is what is meant and this is how it should be translated

Thus, when Jesus was nearing the end of his ministry he did NOT expect to find adequate belief. No wonder he called the disciples "puny-faiths", or referred to them as, "Ye of little belief." No wonder things did NOT progress in the right direction after he left. No wonder his most extravagant statements about belief seemingly have to be taken as symbolic or metaphorical by Christendom!

Obviously, in his life on earth the J person did NOT engender the kind of belief for which he was looking. This suggests why he said, "Narrow is the way and few there are that find it." He did NOT say this to discourage us, but merely as an observation. Of course, the "narrow way" has the criteria of being rational, logical, reasonable and good, intellectually defensible and responsible by being free from darkness, confusion and mysticism. Above all, consonant with the ideal. That is what is so narrow and hard about it!

Let's look at one example. After the incident with the woman at the well, we have the Samaritans asking Jesus to stay with them, and so he stayed for two days. John 4:41, 42. "And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.'"

OK, so they believed that he was the savior of their world, but THAT IS NOT ENOUGH! That is what the essence of being the Messiah was all about. They needed to see that this was the Creator/God come to reveal himself. They needed to understand that this was what the Creator/God WAS/IS/ALWAYS WILL BE! A human being! Of course, one empowered, one of wisdom, maturity, and grace, but a HUMAN. Not intrinsically different, nor separate.

This idea of a different nature and separateness is the Devil, the original lie, a lie that isolates us as being unequal, inferior, lower than the creator and thus destined to be his servants!

Personal Experience

Although I have unshakeable belief in the efficacy of my own reasoning ability, I find that I cannot accept it as either perfect or complete, and cannot and do not get comfortable with the outcome until I have affirmation/confirmation(?) from some other person that is capable and that I trust. I have made too many careless mistakes in the past for this to be anything other than foolish to do otherwise. This applies to ALL areas of intellectual activity in ALL of the realms, be they philosophical, theological, or relating to physical theory. Of course there are always varying degrees of conviction, and I do not abandon my positions for any other reason than rigorous logic and reason that shows them to be false or incomplete. And I can hold my convictions in the face of ALL other minds claiming they are wrong, until they engage with me to reason together, and we come to a mutual better understanding. I am actually eager to do this, because I have faith that we can arrive at it, and the truth is always good and valuable, more so than my own ego gratification.

Science as Knowledge

The word “science” was originally synonymous with knowledge. So, regardless of the nature or source of inspiration, IMO the “scientific method” hinges upon neither trusting my own, the posited or THE existing thinking without doing the reality checks, be they confirmatory or discomfirmatory experiments; and at the very least getting an independent party to verify, or better, to duplicate the results. Concepts and ideas are not worthy of becoming beliefs or knowledge until they have been challenged, agonized over, and are independently confirmed.

It has taken me many years of hard struggle to clean out my personal compendium of false belief and knowledge from what I was taught, injected with, or what I uncritically accumulated. It is an agonizing process, but I don’t ever want to be caught holding on to something because of an ego problem, or momentum, or just because of “comfort” or because I was the original source of the concept, because it was MINE! That process is largely over, and as well, I no longer uncritically accumulate. Changing belief and knowledge because of sound logic and reasoning always demonstrates the bigger person than unworthy clinging does.

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