Vantage point

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


I have often wondered about faith. By faith, I mean faith in god. And no, I don't mean faith in any particular god, but in the very existence of god. For me someone who believes in the existence of any god, be it Brahma, Krishna, Allah, or any god, is one who has "faith".

So what is the source of faith? Where do we get it from? Is it something inborn and within us? Or is it the influence of our parents and our surroundings? Is it at the core of our exitsence or is it cosmetic? For instance, the function of walking. No matter where you are, you will sooner or later start walking. You will feel hungry, you will go to sleep. You don't have to be taught these things.

Is faith something like that or is faith something like....the table of 4. You learn the table of 4. When you learn it, you are told that 4*1 = 4, 4*2 = 8, 4*3 = 12 and so on. Kids are not taught at school the meaning of 4*3 = 12. No one takes 3 bunches of 4 sticks each, holds them together and arrives on 12. No. Kids are told "4*3 = 12, because I say so. Now memorise it." The kid is also told "Close your mouth while eating". Now closing your mouth while eating is not a truth, it is a norm we follow in society. Even for that there is no logical explanation other than "It looks bad". So the kid learns "4*3 = 12" and "Close your mouth while eating".

But imagine a kid left alone in the Mowgli. His hobby is picking leaves from four-leaf-clovers and gathering them. With habit, he will know that once he breaks off the leaves from 3 clovers, he gets 12 leaves. Habit will teach him 4*3 = 12. Mowgli "knows" that 4*3 = 12 because he has actually learnt it, as opposed to the kid in school who has just memorised it. So Mowgli may learn that 4*3 = 12(of course there is a distinct possibility he may never learn it). But Mowgli will NEVER ever learn that you are supposed to close your mouth while eating. It is not a truth of nature, just a norm. So as long as he doesn't meet another human being we will not learn it.

So what is faith? Is it "4*3 = 12"? or is it "Close your mouth while eating"? Is it a truth or is it a norm? The age at which we start "believing in god" we know nothing. We are just told to pray and we do. After this reality of God is firmly stuck in our mind, we interpret everything to fit with that reality. But like 4*3 = 12, we have just been told that God exists or we should have faith. Actually it is not like 4*3 = 12, it is more like "Close your mouth". Because even if you are told the table of 4 as a norm, you can later verify it as a fact. But the close your mouth can never be verified.

I think faith is not an ingrained truth. I think that if we conduct an experiment where we leave Mowgli in a jungle by himself and go to fetch him 23 years later, he will not have an idea about God. he will know that sun rises and sets everyday. he will know that when it rains, he will get wet. because those are truths. But since faith is a cosmetic norm that is imposed by society, he will not have that.

On what grounds do i say this? Because in the whole faith system, I find nothing absolute that can be derived from nature. You have to hold some axioms at heart and then proceed. Howmuchever you argue with a religionist, he will stop at a point according to his faith. A theist Hindu will stop at "Brahma wrote the vedas" or "The vedas are infallible". A Muslim will stop at "Allah is the only god and Muhammad was his prophet". A christian will stop at "Jesus Christ was the son of God". These statements can not be scrutinised. Suppose I were to ask, "Sez who? prove it" to these statements, what would happen? Nothing. The believers take these statements true, because someone told them. Mowgli will be able to defend his belief that "4*3 = 12" but the schoolkid can not defend "Close your mouth while eating".

And these axioms, these absolute truths are passed down from generation to generation. In legal terms, they are "hearsay". So the source of faith is not something intrinsic, not instrinsic to our psyche or even intrinsic to nature. The source of faith is society's norms.