(Interactive session on 21.9.2013)
Keynote address by Mr. Ranjan Chatterjee
(Other participant speakers: Mr. R. K. Gupta, Dr. Kalyan Kumar Chakravarthy, Ms. Valsa Abraham, Mr. Asim K. Banerjee, Ms. Manimala Das, Dr. Suhas Majumdar, Mr. A. K. Sengupta, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. Somnath Sarkar, Mr. Debashis Bhattacharya & Ms. Sumana Bhattacharya)
[Opening song by Ms. Sikha Majumdar]
Anchor, Introduction & Conclusion: Asish K. Raha
Is faith always blind? If not, and if it is driven, moderated or regulated by reason, can it be called faith? Is faith conditional? Suppose that a person has faith in God in the belief that God will always protect him from all adversities, and his belief is belied and, therefore, his faith in God disappears. The above example can be extended to one’s faith in an institution, system, one’s spiritual master and/or individuals, which may become non-est for reason of adverse experiences. Can such variable and conditional faith be called faith? Is blind faith desirable? Is reason antithetical to faith? Should faith be preceded and accompanied by reason? Since reasons are also variable and never infallible, should it be allowed to predominate faith? Just as reason can be prejudiced, convoluted, motivated, fallacious and illogical, faith also may be destructive, hate-mongering, superstitious, unscientific and anti-growth. The question is how do we reconcile faith to reason and vice versa. These are the questions that often torment the mind of a seeker of the Truth.
So far as faith is concerned, there are following two popular dictums of universal application. First, God is attained through blind faith only. Second, before you repose your absolute and unconditional faith in a spiritual master, put him to test. From the first dictum, it follows that God is beyond the precinct of reason and cannot, therefore, be put to test. The second dictum, oft-quoted by no less a person than Sri Ramakrishna in approval, suggests that a person appearing to be a spiritual master may be deceptive and, therefore, ought to be tested by the one who seeks to repose faith in him for spiritual advancement. What if a person is fundamentally an atheist or an agnostic? Is the word ‘faith’ a taboo for such person? Is the questioning mind antithetical to spiritual quest?
Before we seek answer to above posers, we need to look into the dialectic history and genesis of the concepts of faith and reason.
Since time immemorial, there is an ongoing issue regarding Faith and Reason. Faith and reason are interrelated concepts as far as theology is concerned. The systematic and reason based study of religion also suggests that there is co-relation between the two. In theology, there are proven facts that are further backed by faith and reason. Reason is the power that is a condition precedent for thoughts. Reason is a faculty of human mind that has characteristics to study, analyze and explore the things and ideas and its dimension is the perspective of right and wrong. Reason, therefore, gets transformed into the prejudice but only for the ignorant. These prejudices could easily be seen in the conflict between the church and Galileo Galilei. Reason is thus the catalyst to stay away from prejudice.
The key aspect is that “Reason” depicts the use of logic and logical principles to current and available facts and information.
From the days of Greek Philosophers, the relationship between faith and reason has been hotly debated. Plato argued that knowledge is simply memory of the eternal. Aristotle set down rules by which knowledge could be discovered by reason.
Rationalists point out that many people hold irrational beliefs, for many reasons. There may be evolutionary causes for irrational beliefs. For instance, faith may promise infinitive reward, while the rewards of reason are seen by many as finite. One more reason for irrational beliefs can be explained by conditioning. For instance, road accidents are very often caused by the rich and young. There is faith in the father’s ability to bear them and consequently there is less faith in the rule of law.
Believers in faith often believe that salvation is through faith alone. And that every one holds beliefs arrived at by faith, not reason. The belief that the universe is a sensible place and that our minds allow us to arrive at correct conclusions about it, is a belief we hold through faith. Rationalists contend that this is arrived at because they have observed the world being consistent and sensible, not because they have faith that it is so.
Beliefs held “by faith” may be seen existing in a number of relationships to rationality:
- Faith as underlying rationality: Here, knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others. Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from rationality. According to René Descartes, rationality is built first upon the realization of the absolute truth “I think therefore I am”, which requires no faith. All other rationalizations are built outward from this realization.
- Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality: Here, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would be otherwise unanswerable.
- Faith as contradicting rationality: Here, faith is seen as those views that one holds despite evidence and reason to the contrary. Accordingly, faith is seen as pernicious with respect to rationality, as it interferes with our ability to think, and inversely rationality is seen as the enemy of faith by interfering in the minds.
- Faith and reason as essential together: This is the papal view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.
Marriage of faith & reason is the overall object of faith & act of faith which means all things believed. The ultimate object of faith is God Himself. The act of faith is more than a mere act of belief. Some theologists believe in a hierarchy of faith that is:
i) Emotional faith includes trust and hope;
ii) Intellectual faith is belief. This is stronger than emotional faith in that it is more stable and unchanging, like an anchor. My mind can believe while my feelings are shaken. This belief, however, is held tight, unlike a mere opinion. The old definition of intellectual faith was “the acct of the intellect, prompted by the will, by which we believe everything God has revealed on the grounds of the authority of the One who revealed it.” It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds;
iii) Volitional faith is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behaviour, that is, in good works. Just as a hope deeper than a wish is central to emotional faith, and a belief deeper than an opinion is central to intellectual faith, so a love deeper than a feeling is central to volitional faith. For the root of volitional faith is the faculty or power of the soul that is closest to the pre-functional root and centre called the “ Heart.”
iv) Faith in Heart is actually the sole of scriptures as per Christianity.
Protestants & Catholics differ in matter of faith. The object of reason is all that reason can know. According to Aristotle, it includes three kinds of things, corresponding to the “three acts of the mind” in classical Aristotelian logic. It means all the truths that can be (a) understood by reason (That is, by human reason alone without faith in divine revelation), (b) discovered by human reason to be true and (c) proved logically without any premises assumed by faith in divine revelation.
Vedanta & Bhagavad Gita
Unlike Abrahamic tradition, the Vedanta does not believe in sin or evil/Satan. The essence of Vedantic philosophy which has been summed up in Bhagavad Gita, is that God resides in every living being and we can be one with God by following one of the various paths of Yoga as have been delineated in Bhagavad Gita. Only a self-realized Yogi can pronounce to the world – Sohoham (I am He) and Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That). In other words he exclaims: I find God not only in me but in you as well.
In Chapter 17, verse 1, of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna, “What is the state of those who, endowed with faith, adores you by ignoring the injunctions of the scripture?” The Lord replies in following verses that the faith of such person born of his own nature could be either Sattvic, Rajasic or Tamasic (verse 2, ibid). He is verily what his faith is (verse 3, ibid). Thus the acts done with faith in Sattva lead to supreme blessedness, with faith in Rajas lead to material prosperity and with faith in Tamas lead to delusion.
The word Sat is used in the sense of ultimate reality and also of goodness. The opposite of Sat is Asat which implies impermanence and delusion.
In Buddhist philosophy there is no mention of God. Therefore, faith in God is a misnomer in Buddhism. What is emphasized instead by Lord Buddha is to follow Dhamma (path of Truth). For the householders he has prescribed middle path while for the monks it was austerity aiming at Nirvana (blown out or liberation). The essence of Buddhist philosophy is that we all are potential Buddhas as the Buddha lies within us. The faith in Buddhism at the highest level is this faith in our innate Buddha nature which is enveloped by the fire of ignorance and desire which need to be extinguished (through Nirvana) to attain Buddhahood.
As per Christianity, faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves. Both faith and reason are tools that God has given us to find Truth – to find him. “Reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.” There is no conflict between faith and reason.
In the Sufi sect, just as in the Hindu and Islamic traditions, the disciple reposes absolute and blind faith in his spiritual master and the spiritual bonding between the master and his disciple is one of love. The essence of Sufism in a single word is love for God as also for all living beings and the Sufis have abiding faith in that essence of their spiritual pursuit.
Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881
Thomas Carlyle was born in Scotlant, 1795 and taught mathematics in university in 1819 where he had a crisis of faith, losing his Christian faith but not his Calvinist values. His powerful and satirical writing was appealing in Victorian era England and his work was influential in New England transcendentalism. Following are the famous quotes of Thomas Carlyle :
i) A man cannot make a pair of shoes rightly unless he does it in a devout manner;
ii) A man lives by believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things;
iii) A man with a half volition goes backward and forward, and makes no way on the smoothest road; a man with a whole volition advances on the roughest, and will reach his purpose, if there be even a little worthiness in it;
iv) A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.
v) A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason;
vi) All greatness is unconscious, or it is little and naught; and
vii) All work, even cotton spinning, is noble; work alone is noble….A life of ease is not for any man, nor for any god.
Swami Vivekananda was more on the side of rationality and less on blind faith. He who dogmatically believes in his own religion or faith, is inclined to reject or dismiss other’s religion or faith as untrue or false and thus take the path of conflict. Such approach fetters reason and entirely blinds our perceptions of anything outside our own particular faith, which in fact is no faith at all, but a temporary belief, the delusion we labour under, at some particular time of life. As per Swami Paramasukhananda, a monk from Ramakrishna Math, Ulsoor, Bangalore, faith, trust, belief and devotion are all taken to be synonymous terms. In Sanskrit it is called Shraddha. The entire natural world rests on faith and trust, though man often betrays it in every relation. Faith is the creative power in man which, in ordinary life, he exercises unconsciously, sometimes producing extraordinary phenomena which are regarded as “miraculous”. “There is a weird and formidable potency in human will and imagination, whether exercised consciously or unconsciously. Faith is a quality endowed with most potent creative power”. Adepts exercise the power consciously and intelligently with a premeditated end in view, while we unconsciously and blindly, mistakenly attribute results, if extraordinary, to some god or saint in whom we may have faith. Faith in itself cannot save us unless it is founded on the right knowledge of what is true and real. Faith is blind when something is believed in without knowledge and accepted on the authority of an individual. Both these kinds of faith produce physical, mental and moral results of far-reaching consequences widely different from each other – one tending to darkness and retrogression and the other to enlightenment and true progress. Organized religions have over centuries, mostly become crystallized into sets of beliefs and dogmas, resting on dead-letter interpretation, enforced by priestly authority, and blindly accepted and followed by the masses. The idea of God, for instance, has fallen from the grand philosophical conception of ubiquitous Absolute Deity and Law into anthropomorphic god of the churches and temples, who is to be feared and propitiated for obtaining personal favours or salvation or to save one from misfortunes. Belief in such a personal god is repugnant to logic and the moral effect of belief in such an outside god, according to the Swami, kills self-reliance in the believer, accentuates his selfishness and makes him morally irresponsible. In his words,
“The old religions said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is the atheist who does not believe in himself.”(‘Practical Vedanta’, Part I – vol. 2 of the Complete Works).
As per Abdu’l-Bahà, man is distinguished among all creatures because of his reasoning power and his intelligence. The man uses these faculties even in the study of religion. Thus the balance of reason and science weigh carefully and presented as religion. If it passes the test (reason and science) it is worth accepting as the truth. If, however, it does not conform, it is worth rejecting it as ignorance. The independent investigation of truth is the cornerstone of the Bahà’ i faith. So many of the problems in the world come from the blind adoption of the patterns of thought and practice of our society or community. These lead to prejudices which are accepted because someone else, such as a parent, a spouse, a friend they trust, believes in them. It is only when we investigate reality for ourselves, when we reflect, that we are able to find truth for ourselves.
In the early years, many people see religion through the lens of faith, and at that time, faith is separated from the rational mind. Even if they did not have answers to the questions they may have, they closed their eyes and trusted in love and power. Abdu i Baha, the son of Baha u llah and the interpreter of his words, said “if religion were contrary to logical reason then it would cease to be a religion and be merely a tradition.” Thus if religion must not contradict reason then faith constitutes conscious knowledge and practice of good deeds. Faith, therefore, first becomes conscious knowledge. The mind and the heart do not have to be separated but be embraced. Faith is something that compels us to act, to play our part in making this world beautiful. It is the practice of good deeds. In the words of Abdul Baha:
“All religions teach that we must do good, that we must be generous, sincere, truthful, law-abiding and faithful; and this is reasonable, and logically the only way in which humanity can progress”
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda asks for experimentation in religion. He says” “Why should we merely read and hear discussions about god, and know nothing from personal experience? It is possible to put religion into practice, to use it scientifically. Without practical application, religion is of little value”. The first experiment with religion ought to begin with silence. This is the first step towards meditation. As Yogananda says” “If you make a supreme effort in the silence of the night or early in the morning, then after a little while you will see a glimmer of god’s light or feel a ripple of his joy coming to your consciousness.” Experimentation with religion is very different as the results take place right inside you. Truthfulness is another spiritual principle recommended for experimentation. Yogananda says that truth is always wholesome. Giving happiness to others is vital to one’s own happiness. The world outside is an extension of the world inside. So we ought to practise self-control, forgiveness, and communion with god in our day to day life. Prayer is surrendering oneself to God completely. It does not demand intelligence or eloquence. Swami Sivananda says that one should pray for god’s grace, not for earthy goods or for heavenly pleasures. Selfless faith and prayer and patience can work wonders.
Russell, who was a staunch atheist and a rationalist, brought up the issue which comes first – faith or philosopher’s prod? He pointed out the fallacy of declaring God as omnipotent while at the same time envisaging a Satan who constantly opposed and defied God. According to Russell’s logic, if God is omnipotent, nothing can happen against His will. Yet Satan or Devil is supposed to be the one which always acts against the will of God. Obviously, therefore, God cannot be omnipotent. Hence, according to him, faith in God is entirely misplaced inasmuch as there is no existence of God. His conclusion, however, appears to be sweeping, though his premises are apparently logical.
Faith in question
Faith in what we term as Gospel Truth has come under critical scrutiny of rationalists from all walks of life, and in all religions. Let us first take up the case of Adam and Eve in Genesis from the Old Testament that describes the first ever sin committed by the above two humans created by God in His image. The sin they committed was by eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Wisdom that God had forbidden them to eat as the same would make them distinguish good from the evil and would make them mortal. It is stated that upon eating the fruit at the instance of the Serpent (Satan), both became conscious of their nudity and hid themselves from the sight of God. The rationalists have questioned the validity of the statement that Adam and Eve committed a sin by eating the forbidden fruit which had made them conscious good and evil and also of their nudity and eventually led them to apply their mind and intelligence. If getting dressed was sinful in Old Testament, becoming nude became sinful in New Testament. Thus the rationalists among the Christians admit that even the concept of sin has undergone change in course of time, as we progress, and so has the Gospel Truth.
In the Rig Veda it is stated that from the Brahman (God) came out the Virata Purusha (the cosmic being). The Brahmin, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra emerged from his head, the arms, the thighs and the feet respectively. The above narration in the Rig Veda was interpreted by some Brahmin scholars during later Vedic period to give pre-eminence to Brahmins as a class as they originated from the the cosmic being’s head. The claim for predominance was founded on the ground that since the head directs the body, so should the Brahmins direct the society. The Kshatriyas representing the arms, the most active limb, occupied the second rung, and the thighs the next. The Shudras representing the feet occupied the lowest rung in the society. Thus an irrational interpretation of the Vedic text which had nothing more than a symbolic connotation, marked the beginning of a rigid caste system that led to exploitation of the Shudras.
The blind adherence to faith has led to several conflicts, battles, wars, massive destruction of historic monuments and innocent lives.
Let us, in the light of the foregoing discussion, revert to the original posers made in the Introduction.
The question that has been addressed in particular by a number of participants during interaction is whether faith is blind. The consensus is in the affirmative and to the extent that if not blind, it is no faith. In other words, if a person subjects his/her faith to constant scrutiny, his belief at best may qualify to be termed as hypothesis and not faith. As for example, a scientist or a researcher may begin his/her research with a hypothesis, subjecting the same to necessary scrutiny till he/she comes to a positive finding. When such finding is of the nature of unimpeachable truth, such as the speed of light, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, we call it postulate and have unshakeable faith in it. In the spiritual domain as well, we take the existence of God as one such postulate. However, when we take a fragmental and sectarian view of God, and call it a postulate, we commit an error. The error is in delimiting God Which is without limit. The proposition that my God is real God and your God is not and, therefore, my faith is divinely ordained while your faith is satanic is ex facie fallacious. As long as my God is the same as all others’ God, and we all are connected as children of God, my faith would pass the scrutiny of spiritual inquest.
The finding of the Quantum Scientists and ‘M’ Theorists is converging on the postulate that not only we, the human beings, but also the photons, electrons, molecules etc. that constitute our bodies, are connected, despite distances that may range from few millimetres to several light years. All these are ultimately connected to their source which in scientific term is described as the cosmic egg of microscopic dimension that exploded 13.7 billion years ago into trillions of universes. The spiritual dictum also postulates our inter-connectivity and connectivity to God, and that God resides not only in every living being but also in the minutest particle. Thus there is apparently no contradiction in having faith in God and rendering self open to scientific researches as to the creation of the universes, life and consciousness.
Faith, as has been posited by the Bhagavad Gita, is threefold, viz. Sattvik, Rajasik and Tamasik (refer verses 2 & 3, chapter 17), depending on one’s state of mind. We may grade it into three different levels of our spiritual status. At the lowest level, our faith deludes us into observing irrational rituals causing harm to self and other beings. At the middle level, we observe austere rituals to satisfy our ego and to achieve material gains and domination over others. At the highest level, we treat all fellow beings with utmost respect as embodiment of the Divinity and feel a sense of identity, empathy and inseparable bonding with them.