“I’m not so sure I believe in God anymore”, my friend Merete confided to me when I visited her this Easter.
“hmm” was my first response, quickly followed by “Why?”. We have known each other for about 20 years and I knew her when she didn’t believe in God, but was searching for spiritual meaning. After some years, she managed to go from an atheist into believing in God, found Catholicism, and had been a devoted catholic since. So what had changed?
Photo by: David Gallagher. License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“There is no proof that God exist.” We talked about this issue on and off during the days to come, since its such an interesting subject.
Later Merete’s husband complemented the discussion by saying “There is no proof that God exists, but it’s impossible to prove that he doesn’t exist either”.
I wasn’t surprised by this answer, and it’s a well known issue for anybody who start’s asking themselves the existential questions “What is my purpose on this earth?” Both Merete and her husband are interested in science and academia, so it was no wonder this issue would arise. In hindsight it would have been more surprising if this question hadn’t surfaced at one point.
A belief in God is connected to faith, and faith in itself is subjective. Just read the second description of faith from dictionary.com:
Faith [feyth] –noun
- Confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
- Belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
- Belief in god or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
I have a christian upbringing that I remember little of, and Christianity never attracted me. I have been within the Krishna conscious movement since I was 17 and that’s what my foundation is based upon. One of the things I have understood is: Never discuss the existence of God with an atheist. There is no where such a discussion can go. There is nothing one can say or do that will change the position of either person. I have no idea what it takes to make a person believe in God, except God himself.
Merete can hardly be called an atheist, and it’s an issue I think many religious people experience at one point in their life. I would believe the different religions would have lots of information about faith, but I haven’t heard much about faith as a subject except in my own beliefs. But it’s not only about faith, it’s also about evidence and I will discuss this in regards to my own belief, though I will try to look on how it applies to all religions.
In Vaisnava siddhanta-mala it’s stated that there are three types of evidence (pramana):
- Direct perception (pratyaksa)
- Logical inference (anumana)
- Statements of the vedic scriptures (sabda)
1. Let’s say that God materialized in front of our eyes, would we be able to recognize him as God, or even acknowledge him as God? If he walked down the street some meters away from us, would we be able to see him as God? I don’t think so. Let’s say he strolled up to us and mightily stated: “I am God”, what would your reaction be? “Prove it”!
And then we started flying like superman, saw the world, and he showed us his magnificence one way or the other. Most likely we would become very scared, submissive. But that’s not the kind of relation God wants from us. He wants our love, and his opulence can be in the way for that.
Direct perception can be of two kinds, external which I just wrote about, and internal. My experience is that faith is internal perception which is better explained here.
2. Logical inference is the method by which knowledge is derived from another knowledge. It is an indirect, mediate knowledge. I look at this big world with billions of people. I look up at the universe where I as a person barely registers in this vastness, trying to imagine it’s grandness. How can I look at this world and the universe without believing in God? It’s obvious for me that God exists when thinking about the universe, but this evidence only applies to me. Again, so much better explained here.
3. At some point one have to accept an authority. It might be the bible, Vedic scriptures, Koran or a person (guru). Such a knowledge needs no verification, unless of course there is doubt about its reliability. Or like Merete stated “If there is a God, I have no doubts that Catholicism is the correct philosophy”.
In my beliefs there is much information about faith (sraddha). Faith is the beginning of spiritual life, and in krishna consciousness it’s the first step in a process of eight steps leading to pure love of God and creating a relation to Him. So how do we develop faith according to krishna consciousness?
According to Confidential Secrets of Bhajana faith comes from past impressions, which are the result of coming in touch with people, places and things which have a direct relationship with the Lord. Past impressions may have come from hearing about His name, His form, His qualities and His pastimes.
So if one has another faith, then it seems like if one wants to develop one’s faith one has to go to church, synagogue, mosque etc. and read it’s scriptures. Faith is dynamic, a relationship one has to continually work on and keep vibrant. It requires to put in the work.
Now, this is a rather universal conclusion. My religion has tons more information on this subject, but that requires more studying on my part and most likely will apply only to my faith.
So how does faith apply to me?
I’m a disciple to a Guru who lived his life as an embodiment of the things he preached about, the vedic scriptures. There was no difference between what he said and how he lived. I don’t live and practice my belief as I should, so I’m not qualified to be his disciple. Yet, he accepted me. When he accepted me there was only one promise I could give and keep: That I would never leave him no matter what happens. I have never questioned my decision or faith, and somehow that promise have been enough.