Faith, Knowledge and Belief

We all have faith in something (or things) but what does that mean exactly? What is faith? Well, what it’s not is knowledge. Believing in something is not the same as knowing something. For example, kids might believe in Santa (faith) but only until they discover the facts (knowledge). Having said that, their innocent but misguided belief doesn’t mean their Santa experience is not real because like you and I, children are the creators and inhabitants of their own reality and experiences.

The fat bloke in the red suit is just a story but their experience is real. You only need to watch young children on Christmas morning to see that they have total faith and that despite the non-existence of a sleigh-flying, immortal, toy-making, super-hero, their joy, excitement and happiness is completely authentic. So does it matter that if we have faith in something that may or may not exist? Great question. With no simple answer.

In some ways, it depends.

When it comes to kids believing in Santa, probably not. With adults threatening, hating and even killing each other because of their conflicting and unprovable beliefs, it matters. But more on that another time.

By definition, faith is believing in something that we can’t prove. Something we can’t know for certain. In fact, for faith to exist (belief in a loving creator of the universe, for example), knowledge must be absent because when we have absolute knowledge, then the concept of faith (regarding that particular matter) becomes redundant. And before anyone makes an erroneous assumption or throws a literary stone, no I’m not discounting the possibility of a God. At all. If you think this is some kind of veiled message regarding the existence (or not) of an all-knowing deity then let me be clear… it isn’t. I’m simply sharing my thoughts on faith, knowledge and belief.

Nothing more.

Many people believe that we humans have a soul. In fact, some believe it’s the thing that separates us from animals. And while we might believe it (have faith in its existence), none of us can know it. Why? Because we can’t prove it. Yes, we can be emphatic, convincing, compelling and sincere in our “we all have a soul” argument but emotion is not knowledge.

No matter how much we want it to be.

And before anyone writes to ask…  do I (Craig Harper) have faith in things I can’t prove or know for certain? Of course I do. Many things. In fact, of all there is to know, I know almost none of it and never will. And I’m totally okay with that. Comfortable, even.

In fact, letting go of my ‘need to know’ was one of the most liberating, anxiety-reducing, ego-destroying and empowering things I’ve ever done. Having to know everything (What happens once we die? Is there a God? How old is the universe? What existed before the big bang or creation? Will Miley Cyrus keep twerking?) is exhausting, unrealistic and ultimately unhealthy. And mostly, it’s a by-product of fear.

You could give yourself a tumour over that stuff.

The older I get, the less compelled I am to know, to be right and to have an opinion on everything. I’m happy to not know. And to be wrong. I’m happy to have faith in things that I can’t be certain of. I’m happy to learn and unlearn. In my experience, faith can be a positive in our lives until it becomes interwoven with ego, intolerance and judgment.

My knowledge is my knowledge.
My beliefs are my beliefs.

And I am neither. :)

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Evan November 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Faith isn’t absence of belief in traditional christian teaching Craig.

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Evan November 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Neither is it belief in what can’t be proved or facts.

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Loretta November 7, 2013 at 5:08 am

Hi Evan,
That’s exactly what faith is. If you can see it and prove it, you no longer need faith in it.
I’m curious how you would define faith? You’ve mentioned a couple of things that faith isn’t, how would you describe what faith is?

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Evan November 7, 2013 at 11:34 am

Hi Loretta, faith has a receptive element. It is different to agnositicism and also hope – which has more of an active feel I think.

Not every experience beyond the empirical is the same.

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Johnny November 6, 2013 at 8:36 pm

What do you mean Santa isn’t real!!!!

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Chebbieanne November 6, 2013 at 10:46 pm

People have beliefs, acquire knowledge and desire to know stuff because it is in our nature. We want to believe therefore we do. Having a belief system is central to our concept of purpose. What we believe is irrelevant but that we believe is paramount to the ability to function on a daily basis. The belief in a power greater than ourselves is both reassuring and inspiring. Mortality is easier to accept if we believe there is something more. Santa is an icon but to many the concept of a Christmas represents a reason to celebrate peace and goodwill on a global scale and a good enough reason for a holiday or two. Belief that life is both sacred and worthwhile helps prevent wholesale massacre of those who piss us off or alternatively the opposite if we believe some life is not sacred enough. Our beliefs are important but they only exist in our imagining which is handy as we can change them at any time. If they were real we would be stuck with them forever.

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NY Steve November 7, 2013 at 3:01 am

I think there could have been a spoiler alert about Santa :-)

Thanks for your thoughts.

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Gideon November 7, 2013 at 3:56 am

The definition of a soul can be explained by numerous verses from the good book The Bible, ill just choose one.

The scripture Genesis 2: 7 reads : And God proceeded to form man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life and the man came to be a living soul. So from this scripture we can conclude that a human ( a person) is a soul.

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Kelly November 7, 2013 at 8:16 am

Hahahaha Johnny, yeah it took me a while to get over that one too!

Craig, fantastic article. I’m agnostic but remain (I hope) respectful of others beliefs. If a belief keeps people treating others well then Yay!

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Elly November 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm

No Santa????
next you’ll be telling me there’s no Easter bunny or worst still no tooth fairy!

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Anonymous November 7, 2013 at 5:13 pm

hopefully before you write about people and their conflicting ‘unprovable’ beliefs you’ll be able to address the popular myth that religion causes war: http://carm.org/religion-cause-war

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Sonia November 12, 2013 at 10:01 am
Anonymous November 13, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Hi Chebbieanne, some people may find it more comforting believing that there isn’t “something more” therefore avoiding the pressure to conform a particular religion. A simple belief that this is it. They are able to live life using their own moral compass, which may be more virtuous than some of the recognised religions.

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chebbieanne November 18, 2013 at 4:51 pm

It is interesting that people think one needs to belong to a religion to have a moral compass or value system. I think that belonging to any religion or group in no way implies morality anymore than believing something makes it real. It is having a belief regardless of what that belief is which is important to the individual.

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Cathy S November 17, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I thoroughly loved this article! I love that I came upon it on a Sunday too!
As a survivor of both a fundamentalist Christian family and a long term relationship with a fundamentalist atheist (lol), I found myself nodding along with every point made!
I personally love to live with a bit of a sense of mystery about what we humans are living in. I don’t want to know all the answers. I don’t want to look at a full moon and analyse the experience to the point of removing its magical aura. I also don’t want to spoil that experience with analysis as to which god put what where and when. For me it just is and it’s beautiful!
However, if the next person wants to analyse what makes the moon reflect the light to make it glisten in the night sky then I respect that but please don’t spoil my experience assuming I have the same need or desire for omniscience or faith in an omnipotent being to be able to appreciate its magnificent glow :)
As for Santa, he is totally real ;)

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