Today I have been giving some thought to the concept of ‘Faith’. Now if, like me, you received a religious upbringing, you probably associate the word Faith with churchy things. You were probably introduced to the Apostle’s Creed, which begins with the words ‘Credo in unum Deum.’ Translated into English this means ‘I believe in one God’. That, I expect you were taught, is a declaration of Faith. It marks you out as a Christian. To become a Muslim you must repeat the words, in Arabic, ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet’. Saying that, and meaning it, would be enough to enrol you into the Muslim Faith and even allow you to join ISIS without having your head chopped off. In fact it is a requirement. However, none of this is really ‘Faith’, at least not in the tems I want to discuss here.
Now here in the West rather fewer people than in the past profess themselves as Christians. Even if they do it is probably with provisos. They likely do not go to church except for special occasions and they may have serious issues with what they are expected to believe, for example that homosexual relationships are inherently sinful or even that sin itself is a concept that needs to be taken seriously. They may also have little faith in their priest or vicar, who maybe drinks too much and they know has been having a long-term affair with a married woman. These are all valid reasons why many people today have turned their backs on the church, preferring instead the certainties of modern science in preference to an archaic system of beliefs that require a child-like naivety comparable to accepting Father Christmas as a reality. Little wonder, then, that especially among the most intelligent there is an attitude towards religion that is at best agnostic (‘I don’t know’) and quite possibly Atheistic, in which case repeating the words ‘Credo in unum Deum‘ is an outright lie.
None of this, however, is what I want to talk about here. I want us to look at ‘Faith’ in a much broader context than the dead words of someone else’s catechism or the conformist mantra that will allow you to join the terrorist group of your choosing. I want to look at what Faith actually is, not what you may think it is.
Now it may surprise you to hear that we all of us do have faith and exercise it all the time. When I agree to an appointment in London on next Tuesday at 2.00 pm I know that this is going to require me to get myself to the station by, say, 12.30 to catch the train at 12.40 pm that will get me to Charing Cross by 1.30 pm, thereby leaving me a margin of half an hour to go on to the location of the appointment by bus or tube. Now this entails many acts of faith. Firstly I am stating a belief that both I and the person I am meeting are going to be alive on the given day. Then I am placing my faith in the transport system: I believe that the trains and buses are going to be running reasonably close to schedule so that I am going to make it, on time, for my appointment. If I didn’t believe this and the appointment was important, I would need to budget in more time. Perhaps I would take a morning train or, if the meeting was really critical, book into a hotel and stay overnight in the vicinity of my destination.
Such little acts of faith characterise our lives day in and day out. We have faith that the car will start in the morning and get us to work. We have faith that the supermarket will be open and have in stock the food we require. We have faith that the pills the doctor prescribes won’t poison us. We have faith that the money in our pockets and bank accounts, be it dollars, pounds or Euros, is not going to suddenly lose its trading value and leave us destitute. We may or may not pay lip service to the Apostle’s Creed but we sure as hell have tons of faith in all manner of other things. However, is this enough? What do we really mean by Faith?
In this context, one of my all time favourite movies is ‘Envy’, starring Jack Black and Ben Stiller. At the start of the movie, the Jack and Ben characters are across-the-road neighbours working for the same company that makes sandpaper. Ben is the slightly more senior of the two, with his own office and reclining chair. Jack is less of a company man, being rated as lacking ‘focus’. He is, however, highly imaginative and constantly thinking up new ideas for money-making schemes. One of these is a product called ‘Vapoorise’, which when sprayed on animal faeces, makes them disappear. He has no actual product, just a name and an idea for one. He invites Ben to invest in this sure-fire idea that he is convinced will make them both millionaires.
Quite naturally, Ben declines to take such a huge risk in a product that doesn’t even exist. However Jack has faith in his potential product and employs an eccentric chemist to develop a chemical solution that can, indeed, make faeces disappear. Of course the chemist is successful and to Ben’s amazement, when sprayed on some dog turds, it makes them vanish. Jack starts his company and pretty soon he is living in a huge mansion.
Of course this being a comedy movie, it all goes wrong but that is not the point I want to focus on here. What made the difference between Jack and Ben was the former’s unquestioning optimism and belief that he was capable of inventing something that would make him a fortune. Ben’s pessimism, coupled with his fear of losing what he already had, condemned him to the slow lane of life. Putting it another way, Jack’s faith created a thought-form that was bound to manifest in good luck. Indeed even after it all goes wrong with Vapoorise (which turns out to be poisonous to animals who eat food contaminated with it) he goes on to invent something else and makes a fresh fortune.
Now you may think that this has nothing much to do with you but it does and here I want to tell you another story. In an earlier piece I talked about the time in late 1973 when I set out to hitch-hike from Los Angeles to New York with just $30 in my pocket. What I didn’t mention was that I used thought-forms to make it happen. I didn’t just stand at the side of the road with my thumb out, I visualised that cars would stop for me and that all would be well. In the event I went from Barstow California to Chicago with just two major lifts with and extra, short one to the outskirts of Denver. Here I was in the the middle of nowhere and had every right to feel desperate. However, I still believed that I would get a lift from there and, because of this and not through luck (whatever that is), my wish was granted. Because my faith was strong, two guys turned off the freeway specifically to check the spot where I was standing just to see if anyone there needed a lift. They found me and took me all the way to Chicago. Although I didn’t use these terms, this was an example of faith in action. My Faith that I would get a lift was so strong that it caused the desired outcome to happen.
This is one example but but I have other evidence of how faith can change things for the better. A few years ago I developed stage 3 heart failure on the New York Classification. Stage 4 would mean I was bed-bound and, assuming I didn’t have a heart transplant, soon to put on a wooden overcoat. Needless to say, I was in a pretty bad state and could only walk a few yards at a time.Now I didn’t accept that from now on I was going to be an invalid and therefore fought back against this prognosis. I managed to get myself fitted with a very advanced pace-maker and since then have been visualising that my heart is recovering. This, in fact, has happened. For just last week I went to the hospital and was told that my heart is now functioning normally again. It has indeed healed itself and I am gradually rebuilding my fitness so that I can do what I want to do not what a heart with New York Stage 3 failure will let me do.
I am telling you this story not out of any wish to boast but simply to indicate that, if we will only give it a chance, Faith really can move mountains. You do not need to state a belief in God to make this happen. God is not really an old man with a beard who sits on a throne as he enjoys watching people kneeling down in church and telling Him how wonderful h He is. God is an ineffable power. The fact that we don’t understand this power or where it comes from doesn’t really matter. He/She/It doesn’t care if you have forgotten the words some 4th century Bishop wrote down at the Council of Nicea and stamped with the authority of ‘The Apostles’ Creed’. All God cares about is that you have Faith that you can change things for the better. If we do this in little things then gradually we will develop the Faith necessary to achieve larger goals. One day, like St Peter, we may be able to raise the dead. For now it is enough to know that, if you have faith in yourself, you have the power to change your own life for the better.
So I propose we change our idea of Faith from one of adhering to a dogma to that of having so much conviction about something that we trust it. After all, if I didn’t have faith that the chair I am sitting on will obey the laws of Physics and bear my weight, I would not sit on it. Perhaps one day I will have enough faith to walk through walls. Till then I will just have to use the door.