Faith as Power

Just some philosophizing here…

In the past two weeks I’ve had multiple experiences with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons) who are struggling with doubt regarding the veracity of the religion. It’s curious to me that all these experiences between unrelated individuals happened within such a short time-frame, but that’s neither here nor there…

Each individual’s situation seems to be different, and yet they each also appear to be similar in certain ways, and it has got me thinking about various ideas that I’ve had in my head for a few years now that I want to flesh out a bit here. The first is regarding faith as a principle of power.

It is only natural for our experiences to affect how we see things. If a person is bitten by the first 10 dogs to which they are exposed, it is not unreasonable for that person to assume that the 11th dog will also bite them. Statistically, and all other things being equal, this assumption is completely ridiculous. But to the person who has been bitten 10 times in a row and knows nothing else, the assumption is 100% logical.

The key is that the person who has been bitten lacks complete information. If they had access to perfect statistics regarding dog bites throughout history, they would know that their experience was incredibly unusual and that they shouldn’t be afraid of the next dog they meet. Of course, being human, they would be, and nobody would blame them given their experience, but again, it is not having the facts, or not trusting the facts, that create the fear.

The real challenge in life is that none of us has complete information. It is simply impossible to acquire all the information needed in order to make perfect decisions, and therefore we must do “the best we can” with what we’ve got. We therefore balance the value of spending more time and effort on gathering data with the value of making a speedy decision, and when the value tips towards making the decision, we make it. This is generally a subconscious process, but one we go through hundreds or thousands of times per day.

We can understand more about this dilemma by examining the extremes. What would happen if we never made a decision without perfect information? Then we would be paralyzed. What if we made all decisions without any information? Then we would make a lot of bad decisions, and those that produced good results would be purely serendipitous. Therefore we must find a happy medium that generally produces good results.

“Finding” this happy medium is much of what life seems to be about. As children, we fail to gather information regarding fire, or do not trust the information given to us, and so we learn by experience. The information given to us by touching fire generally results in a change of behavior, and the results from that new behavior are more conducive to what we might call “happiness”.

But some information is easy to come by, whereas other information is more difficult to obtain. Finding out if fire burns can be done quickly, cheaply, and easily. Finding out if going to medical school and becoming a highly skilled surgeon is the right choice is substantially more difficult. In addition, the choice is exclusive of others. Going to school for that many years necessarily means not going to school to study something else. Since the judgment of the value of the decision cannot truly be made until one has gone through all the schooling and is well along in their career, there needs to be other means by which information is obtained, but more crucial, there also needs to be trust of that information, and that trust can be called “faith”.

Thus, in order to survive, let alone prosper, we find that we must make decisions with incomplete information. The extent to which we can make decisions on limited information that generate successful results is the extent to which we “succeed” in this life, regardless of what your definition of success is. In other words, he who can make the best decisions with the least information becomes the most successful. He who can make good decisions only with extensive access to information cannot be as successful, at least not within the same time frame.

We therefore, much of the time subconsciously as I mentioned, turn to trusted sources of information. As long as those sources are trustworthy most of the time, that is they provide us with correct information, we will succeed, and this is key, even though we may not understand the information ourselves. For example, if I were a betting man, and someone I trusted told me that I should place a bet on a certain horse, and I did so and won, it does not matter that I do not understand how my friend knew that horse would win. That is, the attainment of success in winning money does not depend on me understanding the details, I only need understand which horse to bet on.

Thus, faith is a principle of power, if we define faith as being a trust in information provided to us which we do not fully understand, but which is correct. That is, we trust the information even if we do not understand the information, and the information turns out to be correct–this is faith. I think it also important to understand that faith is not, or defining faith as not being, trust in information that turns out to be false.

And so, let us suppose that there is a God, and that he desires that we do certain things during our lives because only by doing those things can we attain “success” as defined by him. But let us also suppose that in order to attain that success he wants for us, it is critical that we freely choose to do “those things”. This means we cannot be fully aware of the reality of God, or those things. If we were, then we would not be free to choose. Thus, ignorance and doubt are key to God’s plan, for only in the face of ignorance and doubt are we truly free to make our own choices.

However, since God wants us to do certain things, he needs a way to communicate to us what those things are, but in a way that allows us to still be free to choose. This means he must be able to communicate with us such that he can place ideas, and thus choices, in our heads, but without giving us a perfect knowledge that he exists or what the consequences of those choices might be.

But, let us suppose we have two individuals. One individual has perfect knowledge of God and those things he is supposed to do during his life, and other has an imperfect knowledge of those things. The one with perfect knowledge would be able to easily speed through doing those things and get far ahead of the individual without perfect knowledge. Is there a way the individual with imperfect knowledge could keep up, or at least follow at a close pace, the individual with perfect knowledge? Yes, through faith. Through faith, the individual with imperfect knowledge could make all the same choices and take all the same actions as the individual with perfect knowledge, and therefore would have the same or nearly the same power as the individual with perfect knowledge.

In reality, the individual with perfect knowledge would actually not succeed at all, since as I mentioned, one of the conditions of the plan is that we are not able to have perfect knowledge and still succeed. But the point is that a real individual with imperfect knowledge is as nearly able to be as successful at making the right choices as a theoretical individual with perfect knowledge.

And so if there is a God, and if he has a plan for us, if that plan requires us to have imperfect knowledge, and if a few other things are also true, then we can see that faith is indeed not just a principle of power in terms of temporal pursuits such as obtaining physical security, but is also a principle of obtaining eternal power, or power that lasts beyond this life and forever.

And given that it is late, I’m tired, and I generally don’t like to read what I’ve written, I will exercise faith that what I have written is not only complete but awesome, and I will go to bed. Hopefully my faith is not in vain. If it is, let me know and I may make some edits.

Comments

  1. Hi. Found your blog somehow. Hope we can have a discussion. I'll try to be as civil as I can because I disagree with what you are saying. Heh 😉

    That is, we trust the information even if we do not understand the information, and the information turns out to be correct–this is faith. I think it also important to understand that faith is not, or defining faith as not being, trust in information that turns out to be false.

    I'm not sure if you are just using different definitions that I'm used to. So maybe this is just semantics but this paragraph doesn't make sense. When you had faith in your friend who gave you that horse-racing advice, you applied that faith before you knew whether that information was true or false. I think 'faith' can have slightly different meanings in different contexts, but in this one it seems to be synonymous with trust. Your trust in your friend didn't become faith afterwards because it was faith all along. It become a confirmation of faith of sorts. Your experience added stronger evidence that your friend does have some kind of knowledge. IMO, I think it is weak evidence – if that one experience is all we have.

    Anyway, hope that make sense.

    • Yes, could be that we are talking semantics, or do have differing definitions of faith. The definition I am working from is that faith is belief in something of which one lacks concrete knowledge, but that "something" is true. If one has sure knowledge of something, that isn't faith–it's knowledge. Faith necessarily means we don't know all the facts, and aren't quite sure what is the truth. So in the example of my friend, yes, I was exercising faith before I knew the information was true or false. Once I know whether the information is true or false it is then impossible for me to exercise faith, because I already know the facts.

  2. Hrm. Ok. Your definition of faith is indeed weird because you can still have faith in something even if that something is false (or still yet-to-be-determined one way or the other), it does not necessarily need to be true. That's what I was trying to get at.

  3. You can indeed exercise faith in something that is false, but then the faith is vain, since things won't work out according to the faith you are exercising. I suppose you could say there is "true faith" and "false faith", but I would say that faith in something false isn't really faith at all but rather a false belief. Of course this is just me telling you what my definition of faith is for the purposes of having a clear discussion. It's not as though I have a monopoly on the term outside of this website.

  4. Um, ok. I wouldn't necessarily say that faith in something that is false is vain – unless there is no way to falsify the theory or idea. In this case, if I had faith (trust) in my friend and it turned out that he was wrong, I then can use this experience to decide whether I should trust him in the future. That is useful. It wasn't in vain.

  5. Semantics gets us once again :) When I use the word "vain" I don't mean useless, but rather that the specific object of my faith was not true, or the intended results of my faith did not come to pass.

  6. So therefore faith isn't necessarily "powerful". Sometimes, it leads to things that don't come to pass.

    • Well, then it wouldn't be faith, since faith is a belief in things that are true.

  7. You can indeed exercise faith in something that is false

  8. Semantics once again. It just depends on what you mean by faith. "Faith in something false" is what I would call a false belief, false faith, untrue faith, vain faith, etc., but not true faith. But again, that's just my definition of the word, according to the scripture in the Book of Mormon that says “If ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Now, perhaps I'm misunderstanding that scripture and need to be corrected, but it seems to make sense.

    More on the Mormon definition of "faith" >>

  9. I don't think you can chalk it up to semantics by arbitrarily defining "faith" however you please in a manner that suits your argument.

    Why would anyone knowingly put faith in something that is false? You're not making any sense. You put faith into things that you believe are true. That doesn't make them true. It only means you think they might be true based on whatever reasons – good or bad. You may know that somebody else is putting their faith into a false premise or theory, but that other person doesn't necessarily agree with you and probably sincerely believes that they are putting their faith into something that is true.

  10. "Why would anyone knowingly put faith in something that is false?"

    They wouldn't, of course.

    "You put faith into things that you believe are true. That doesn’t make them true."

    I agree, except that I would add that if what you believe to be true really isn't, then it's not really faith. It's not faith because you believe something to be true, but because it is true. In other words, it can be tricky to know whether you're really exercising faith or are laboring under a false belief.

    "You may know that somebody else is putting their faith into a false premise or theory, but that other person doesn’t necessarily agree with you and probably sincerely believes that they are putting their faith into something that is true."

    Exactly, so the natural follow-up question is how do we know if we're exercising faith, or believing in something that isn't true? Chapter 32 of Alma in the Book of Mormon is focused entirely on this question, but the essence of what it says there is that you perform an experiment. You exercise faith in something as a test, and you see if you get positive results. If you don't, you move on to something else. If you do get positive results, you keep working with them and follow where they lead. Gradually your faith is replaced with knowledge, and like a large puzzle you eventually get all the right pieces in the right places.

  11. Ok, I think I see what you are saying. You are merely qualifying the faith. "False belief" is still belief/faith but qualified in the negative. We don't know if our faith/trust/belief is confirmed or falsified until it is tested (preferably in a number of ways – not just one).

  12. I think we get each other…although I might be more confused myself than when I started :)

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