Faith & Spirituality

Faith: believing in what you cannot prove

July 21, 2011

I’ve been thinking about faith a lot recently, more than I usually do which is saying something. I am an immensely curious person when it comes to faith and how it is personal to each and every of us. I find myself reading the accounts of others on how their faith affects their lives, and regularly get myself in a philosophical tangle trying to understand how so many religions and spiritual paths have developed over the centuries, many teaching that theirs is the “only way” while completely missing or even denying the common threads that bind them all together.

This is something I think I will be confused by for the rest of my life, but this past week I realised something that made it that little bit easier for me to grasp. I cannot remember exactly what I was watching or reading at the time but I do remember suddenly feeling very clear about the idea that faith is believing in something that you cannot prove.

I think I always knew this at some level, but realising it so clearly made me realise just why I find it so difficult to fit into many religious or spiritual communities. I quite simply cannot work out the balance I need between sharing common thoughts and experiences while remembering to honour those which may not feel quite so true for us personally.

And this leads me to wonder exactly how we’re going to introduce and teach faith and spirituality to our child in a way that provides the least confusion whilst leaving it open for him to find his own personal faith. Young children want firm answers to most of their questions, and can often take what you say or do as the absolute truth that they should follow in life. I know this is a part of growing up, but I do want to try and give our son the best chance of knowing that whatever he feels to be true is the most important thing for him when it comes to faith.

How, for example, do I teach him the difference between science and faith? Science is something that relies totally on proof. We accept the ‘facts of life’ such as the world is round and the boiling point of water is 100ºc without question. And yet, at the same time, all of our major scientific breakthroughs come from a person’s ability to look beyond the obvious and question the ‘facts’. Perhaps there is a little more in common between science and faith than first meets the eye. After all, a scientist and a pilgrim are both seekers of ‘truth’, the first being unquestionable proof, the second being more personal.

For me personally though faith is so much more. It is an act of trust in something you cannot know for sure, and that is a huge commitment. Asking someone to believe in the power of gravity is a lot less than asking someone to believe in something that cannot be proven in any concrete way. With faith you have to decide what feels right to you in your own heart rather than relying on the convictions and reassurances of another. I know I could never question that gravity exists, yet I could easily dispute the idea someone has about God.

And this brings in another aspect of faith: how do we fully trust in something beyond ourselves without feeling the need to prove and justify that trust when someone else has a completely different view on the matter? How do I introduce my child to the world beyond the obvious without giving him too many of my own ideas as ‘the truth’? For me the things I believe may be my own truth, and I’d be happy if my son decides he believes in something similar, but how do I ensure he has the opportunity to seek for his own truth as well?

I do not want to project too many of my own ideas onto his life because I want him to be able to follow his own path in life. But I know that in his first few years he is going to need someone to trust and follow to even begin to develop an understanding of something beyond himself. So I guess it is all about finding the balance between sharing my own (and Tim’s) faith with him in these early years but subtly teaching him that it is perfectly okay and valuable to question and seek for his own answers. I hope that by finding some kind of balance like that, he will find it easier to choose his own path when he reaches an age where that is what he wants and needs to do.

When I think back to my own childhood, I realise took everything for granted. If someone told me something about life or God then I accepted it. And yet I also see that even at a young age I had beliefs that I cannot possibly have been taught by anyone else because they are uniquely personal to me and it took me many years to realise that they didn’t really fit in with the groups I was a part of at certain times in my teenage and early adult years. So perhaps I am underestimating children’s ability to question and find their own path with even the most minimal input from others.

Young children are inherently trusting: they trust their carers to show them how life works. They watch and mimic us to develop skills for life, and even overcome what must be the scariest experiences when they come across something new and alien to them. I remember once walking along a beach and a young family we passed were trying to introduce their toddler to the feeling of sand under her feet. The little girl was obviously very unsure and uncomfortable of this new substance, and clung to her parents and lifted her feet as far away from the sand as possible. And yet, within minutes she had decided to trust her parents and take her first tentative steps and effectively learnt that all was well and the sand was actually quite fun to play in!

Such trust in those who care for us is immense and we often forget that. As adults we become used to using our own discernment to decide if something is safe or not. We have gained enough knowledge and experience to trust in our own understanding of the world. But for a child this knowledge and experience is still being built and they have to rely on their carers to provide this for them. And I think this is why the faith we have as children is so much purer and secure than that which we have as adults. In some ways we have a lot less freedom in our ability to have faith as adults than we ever had as children.

Which brings me back to my original point: faith is believing in something that cannot be proven. As adults we seek confirmation and proof of most things in life, which for me explains why we so often feel the need to justify our own faith to others. We need to feel that our convictions in life are accepted by others, not just because we crave acceptance but also because it gives more strength to our ability to believe. But the beauty of faith is that we do trust in something that we cannot prove.

I could write about this for hours, but I don’t want to. What I will do though is leave you with a clip from Futurama that I saw the other day and which brought it all home to me once again. Isn’t it great when even our comedy shows can have things that make us think on such a deep level?


  • Reply
    July 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    I’ve just got to say that, for someone who’s as interested in science as me, a lot of the conecepts you describe here as being ‘absolute’ are far from it: gravity, for example, if it is what we think it is, should have a paricle associated with it. But it doesn’t, no-one’s found it. See, physicists have just assumed one exists until a better theory comes along. And that’s what science is all about: believing in theories until something better comes along. There’s currently a theory starting up that everything is MATHS. No, not hypothetically or as a metaphor, but REALLY. All those symbols have come from somewhere and they actually, REALLY make everything up. And some people think religion is daft…

  • Reply
    July 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    You know, I wondered how long it would be before someone said something like this! I spent ages trying to think of the most concrete scientific thing I could because I know that we know so little about things and a lot of it is following theories. And actually quantum physics comes up an awful lot in new age spiritual circles, so the lines are so blurry. You just couldn’t give me that little bit of a break, could you Dawn haha!!
    Seriously, though, what I was trying to get at is that it is easier to believe in something concrete such as the “theory” of gravity (i.e. if you trip, you fall to the floor and if you drop something it will also fall to the floor) than an unknown such as an idea of God because the former is something we have all experienced (rather painfully and/or annoyingly) many times in our lives and our experience usually coincides with that of everyone else (i.e. it hurts when you fall down, so watch out for that gravity!!) Faith isn’t like that, it is believing in something that no one else will ever experience in exactly the same way you do.
    That doesn’t mean science doesn’t take faith in its own way (like trusting that one thing leads to another and therefore such and such may be true, so let’s test it out) but it is also very different.
    It is very hard to express what I mean sometimes!

  • Reply
    July 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Great post Amanda (and great Futurama episode too!).
    It’s a tricky one because I think you’re right that during a certain stage of your son’s development he probably will just want to have some kind of definite answer from you, and struggle with the concept of multiple views being simultaneously valid. And he will just naturally follow your example so it’ll be hard for you not to influence his ideas one way or another. But at the same time you may just need to have some faith in him. Young children will struggle with complex topics like that because their brains generally aren’t ready for it, but as he enters his years as an older child/teenager and really starts thinking for himself you can start to show him much more what you mean. You can show him you value his opinion even if it differs from yours or other people’s (and teach him also that some people have problems accepting differing points of view, but that is ultimately their problem and not his!). The fact that you are so open-minded and respectful of other people’s views is a great thing to teach him though – I don’t think you’ll have too many problems 🙂

  • Reply
    One Day
    July 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I’m sorry I missed this post- I must have not seen it on my reader! But what a lovely one- you write so eloquently.
    I like what the previous commenter said- she’s right, there will most definitely be that time you’re talking about when your son just wants to know the “answer” as if there was one and only one. What matters is that when he gets to that age to start to understand “the grey” if you will and the importance of your own relationship with open-mindedness, that you also teach him about that. Because yes, you are incredibly open-minded and it’s such a beautiful thing.
    I also HAD to say thank you yet again for your lovely comment on my blog. And no, I don’t enjoy some of your comments. I enjoy EVERY SINGLE ONE of your comments and all of the glorious advice and perspective you have for me. Thank you thank you thank you. And as for the childcare- yes, it was an under 1 room so some of the kids were walking and some weren’t and I hadn’t even thought of it the way you revealed- again with the great perspective, thank you. I’m going to keep writing about my qualms with daycares so I can keep getting your brilliant insights. 🙂 You’re the best.

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