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?