Thursday, May 15, 2014


If faith is for you the kind which makes you stand before a God praying for your or anybody's welfare, or to be optimistic that good things happen to good people, or that everything happens for good, or somebody out there created you, loves you and takes care of you, well, consider me an atheist.

And yet, I am sure that there can be no action, no life, without faith. But that faith needn't be only of the above kind.

What is faith? The most important characteristic of Faith is that it is irrational. This is not yet to mean that faith is bad; remember, I just asserted that without faith, life would be impossible. Then? Faith is a meta-physical belief, which means that you believe in a thesis or proposition which isn't yet proved or may be actually unprovable within the framework of scientific methodology. For example, believing that God exists is a faith. Believing that God doesn't exist is also a faith. Not believing that God exists or doesn't exist, is agnosticism, and is not a faith!

An extreme version of faith is blind faith, in which you have decided on your faith a priori, and in order to preserve it, resort to selective observation, misinterpretation, misrepresentation and even manipulation of facts. An even more extreme version of blind faith is fanaticism. If the facts which go against your faith come through human beings, you decide to silence them through intimidation, persecution and even murder.

But I repeat that faith, this irrational belief, is central to anything sentient beings do. Here's a list of some faiths that drive many of us, even those who would claim to be avowed rationalists:

  1. I am the best.
  2. Knowledge is power.
  3. Money can buy happiness.
  4. Humans aren't an inherently vicious race and can be educated to behave.
  5. Technology is benign.
  6. Consumption drives the economy and leads to prosperity.
  7. Competition, as long as fair, leads to ethical business.
  8. We are in a mess right now. But something will happen, somebody will do something, to take us all out of it.
  9. Some animals are crops. It's OK to eat them.
  10. And this one probably applies to all of us living: It's better to live than to die.

Many of the above are blind faith, and they are kept by very rational people.

I too have a bunch of faiths. Which means that they are irrational. They can't be proved. Yet, I feel as if they were planted in me before I could have decided whether I wanted them or not. They, of course, have evolved and have taken an articulated form over time. And surprisingly, I don't resent them. For me, another of those who swear by rationalism, they form the foundation of my life. Here they are:

  1. There's something called goodness. Value exists. Beauty exists.
  2. I am good.
  3. Life is good.
  4. Universe is beautiful.
  5. I am a part of that beauty.
  6. We all get glimpses of that universal beauty, some in more quantity, some in less.

For me, to remember those glimpses is an act of faith; to forget that is heresy. To try and turn that glimpse into a vision is an act of faith; to ignore, benumb, or kill it is heresy. To contribute to that beauty is faith; to destroy it is heresy.

Would love to hear what your faith is!


Sambaran said...

Thanks Sujit for a brilliant blog post (as usual).

Sambaran said...

It needs awareness to know one's faith. I thought for some time since I read your blog yesterday. I do not know my faith.
I do believe in couple of the things you listed in your post like: "knowledge is power", "fair competition is good". However, I arrived at these conclusions by reasoning & observation and not by faith. As you noted, faith should be beyond reasoning.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Thanks Sambaran. Through your two comments I have received the biggest compliment ever to my work. And that compliment is hidden in the date difference between your two comments. I interpret it that you spent some of the intervening period between your two comments in actually thinking about this. :)

Thank you!

fuse me said...

Very thought provoking.

I think of faith more as a premise than something irrational. Anything rational require a premise too. 'If' these conditions are met then then the following is true is what rationality brings according to me.

Therefore, I don't find it inconsistent that perfectly rational people have a blind faith in something. It is their premise on which they have built their rational world.

However, not everything is consistent in this world and cannot be explained by rationally extrapolating from a single premise. You cannot explain every observation in the world without adding new premises, and new axioms. Now there is no way to prove that every axiom is consistent with the other. Hence in search of completeness, all of us have to let go of a bit of our rationality.

fuse me said...

Something about Sambaran's comment. It possible to have very different faiths and come to deduce what others may consider faith logically and rationally.

For example, I may start with a faith that people are good in general and hence deduce that fair competition is good. The reverse line of thinking can also be rationally deduced

If I started with the faith that people are bad in general, then I wouldn't be able to deduce that fair competition is good.

So even though you, Sambaran, may not know what the starting point of your faith system is, you may still of a network of faiths that can be rationally deduced from each other.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Ananth.

fuse me said...

I came back to this post today after I made a connection with Godel's incompleteness theorums ('s_incompleteness_theorems)

What he has proven rather formally is that for every set of consistent theorums there is at least one statement that is true, but cannot be proven from those theorums.

So I wouldn't be so disparaging as to calling your set of faiths irrational. If not for these set of faiths, you couldn't have been rational at all!

DDey said...

I think ‘Faith’ arises out of a mental awareness. This awareness might be a conscious one (which we often term rational, since we consciously, actively arrive at a conclusion and hence are aware of our thought process); or the awareness might be a subconscious one, giving rise to the inexplicable faith, which we might term ‘irrational’. I feel we term it so since we don’t know how and when that seed of faith was sown into us. However, this faith is born out of a very active crosstalk between our incessant thoughts, emotions and experiences, mediated by those complex jargon-ic names inside our bony helmet (hippocampus, amygdala etc.) which try to make some 'rational' sense of all those thoughts, emotions and experiences....synthesizing from them beliefs, inferences, conclusions and faith…..the kind of faith we often can’t understand the rationality of.

Some of my ‘consciously-derived’ faiths are:
1. Hard work never goes waste
2. Relationships, people are the most valuable asset in one’s life
3. Patience bears fruit
4. Humans have been given the brain power because of their physical vulnerability to survive Nature’s vagaries and the wild

Some of my ‘subconsciously-derived’ faith are:
1. I am here for a purpose
2. Nature is the best teacher
3. Knowledge is power
4. Today might be a hot day… .tomorrow will be better
5. Nobody is right or wrong because every perspective is unique and is an interesting mirror of the brain!

It was an absolutely wonderful post Sujit da and loved the 'churning effect' it had on my rational (and irrational) thinking since I read it! :-)