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Article Specs

Article ID: 12725

VoxAcct: 287757

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 3,792

Times Read: 3,334

RSS Views: 24,992
Belief or Knowledge?

Author: Deirdre Hebert
Posted: January 4th. 2009
Times Viewed: 3,334

I like people. It really doesn’t matter much, so long as they are decent people, what they believe. I just like people.

So this week, right next to my office, there was a revival / miracle / healing service going on, that was being done by a Pentecostal church. I decided to check it out. When I got there, they were having a bit of a problem setting things up, so I thought I’d lend a hand.

A bit later, there was another minor problem with their monitor speakers and the sound system was picking up a local radio system … which can be a bit distracting, so I helped out there as well. Being an engineer at a radio station sort of helps, and so does some experience as a sound engineer … so we got things going. All in all, their revival seems to have gone fairly well.

What was interesting though was a chat that I had near the end with one of their music ministers. He came up and asked if I was saved … I explained that I’m a Pagan, and that while I appreciate his faith, that mine is something different. I didn’t begrudge him his faith, but I’m quite certain where my path is.

I think things would have been fine if they had been left alone there, but the exchange went on a bit further. At one point, I heard that I was placing my trust in garbage, that Satan was deceiving me and on and on. Fortunately, I’m quite used to this, and having been a Christian at one point, I used to think like this, so I really didn’t take offense. I did ask though if he would have been insulted had I claimed that Jesus was garbage. He was quite man enough to understand what I was getting at and even apologized. I respect him for that.

The interesting part of the exchange came when I told him that I respect what he believes, and he told me that he “knows” that the Bible is the unerring word of God. I countered that what he has is faith and belief and trust, but he claimed to know.

Well, later on, I was wondering about that … what does the word “know” mean?

I think that so much confusion in the world results simply because we use the same words, but have different meanings. When I say I “know” something, to me that is a direct perception … I know it because I see it, feel it, touch it … it is beyond doubt. This gentleman, on the other hand used the word “know” in the sense of “being convinced”. To him, faith results in knowledge. He “knows” that the Bible is true because he has faith.

That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. However, when we let our beliefs ascend to the level of proved fact, we diminish the meanings of the words we use. Hyperbole can quickly become the norm.

I think it’s important to separate the words we use for faith from those we use for science and law, or at least to use these words appropriately. While it can be comforting to say that what you believe is a fact, that your faith is in a known quantity, the truth is that conviction and empirical knowledge are two quite different things.

It’s human nature to wish to convince others of what we are convinced of. If others believe along with us, we are ourselves more convinced. It’s a synergy of belief. If only one person believes a thing, it may or may not be true. If another person has checked it out and believes it, we’re able to expect that there might be something behind it. That’s the whole method of science … one person poses a hypothesis … he checks it out and publishes the results for others to verify it independently. After enough verification, the hypothesis becomes recognized as a valid theory.

There’s a difference though between science and religion or philosophy. Science proves repeatable phenomena; religion and philosophy are not as tangible. Religion places a great deal (whether or not it’s admitted) on subjective feelings and human behavior. When people make a claim about the reality of god or their experiences in worship, whether or not they accept it, they are making claims about their feelings.

I’ve had those feelings myself. In my own spiritual journey, my recovery from an illness and similar events, I have to admit that I have nothing that I can point to that I am able to show beyond any doubt is real. It’s simply my subjective experience. While that’s valuable to me, and while I in once sense “know” that my life is changed, I can’t say with certainty that I know it’s some deity that has effected those changes directly in my life.

What do I know? I “know” that some years ago, my life was a complete mess. I “know” that I made a decision to live my spirituality rather than to simply read about it and experience it half-heartedly. I “know” that there have been qualitative changes in my life. But to claim that I “know” that my experience of deity is right, and all others are wrong is a far different thing. It’s a thing that borders on the dangerous.

Why is it dangerous? It’s dangerous because of where it leads human nature. When we know that what we have is right, and what another has is wrong, we are bound to try to change those others. At first, we might try to convince them gently. But as time passes, and we become more convince that what we have is right, and what they have is wrong, we become more determined to change them.

Over time, that determination becomes fanaticism. When that fanaticism begins to drive a large group of people, the smaller groups will encounter the wrath of the larger. That’s precisely the situation that many of our soldiers are in the middle of. The ideology of a large group will become determined to rule over the “wrong” ideas of the smaller group. It might begin subtly … “we’ll have religious freedom, so long as they behave in what we believe is a moral fashion”, but sooner or later, those with the power will require others to believe a certain thing.

We’re experiencing it here, at home. People say, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” when what they mean is “don’t tolerate behavior that goes against our own religious convictions. After time, this whole process results in one group trampling the rights of another, and can, in the extreme lead to genocide. While we’re not at that point yet, there are many people who aren’t at all saddened by the death of a homosexual. Many wouldn’t be too alarmed if someone was killed for their religious beliefs … a Muslim for example.

The driving force behind all of this is the conflation of the words ‘know’ and ‘believe’. A belief is something that people may share, or not. I can have a belief, and it can contradict yours. They can coexist. Knowledge, on the other hand, is usually universal. To ‘know’ something is to accept it as fact. If I know something, it must be just as true for you as it is for me.

In religion, knowledge is a dangerous thing. Faith, belief, trust … these things are wonderful. They make us better people, they make the world a better place. But the moment we conflate these things with absolute knowledge, we’ve added an ingredient in the recipe that results in feelings of superiority, which will ultimately result in others being looked down upon.

Wherever you are in your spiritual life, please recognize that you believe, and that belief is a wonderful and marvelous thing. Live your faith well. Experience your religion, your god, your love. Even be willing to share.

But please don’t mix up that belief and faith, thinking that your way is the only way. Here in the United States our country was founded on the principle that no religion was right to the exclusion of others … at least legally. When we try to change that position by enacting laws that codify the beliefs of any religion, we stray from that principle; and that is the beginning of a very dangerous journey indeed.

Copyright: (c) Deirdre Hebert, 2008


Deirdre Hebert

Location: Dover, New Hampshire


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