With the passing of Christmas and Chanukah, I thought I’d write about faith. I appreciate how both holidays engender serenity and redemption in the face of brutality, shine light during times of darkness, and bring forth messages of hope. Yet we live in a time when people ridicule those of faith.
Human beings have many faculties at their disposal. We have a brain to process information, emotions that move us, and intuition that guides us. We have our sensory tools of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. So where does faith fit in?
Many don’t view faith as a basic human faculty, rather they see it more as the absence of reason. Others are even more cynical, claiming that faith is a sign of weakness, something to resort to when all else fails. In earlier times, cynics say, faith was a necessity because man didn’t have science to help explain the laws of nature, but in the face of reason and all of man’s brilliant accomplishments, we have outgrown our need for faith. Isn’t faith simply a creation of our imagination to deal with issues we can’t comprehend?
We know how to access reason, as we have cultivated it our entire lives — at school, work and elsewhere. We are all born with faith, it’s a natural state. Young people readily accept notions they don’t understand because faith is inherent in all of us.
Faith is not, however, to be confused with childish naiveté, gullibility or laziness. Children tend to lose faith as they grow older in our society, when they experience hypocrisy or have been lied to. The child, to protect himself, begins using reason alone to process ideas, effectively silencing his inner voice telling him that, even though something cannot be grasped with his hand or totally understood with his mind, it may exist.
We all realize that we can’t sense everything, yet know it exists, as two examples — radio waves and electricity. Yet we don’t allow ourselves to contemplate an omnipresent higher being, writing that off as fictional storytelling.
Consider your family dog. He certainly possesses certain human-like qualities, including the ability to express certain emotions. Like us, he has the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Even as smart as he seems to be, he can’t operate a car, contemplate his future, solve a crossword puzzle or be amazed at the artistry of Mozart. His brain has certain limitations.
Like our family pet, isn’t it possible that we also have limitations, albeit at a higher level? Can we not reason that human beings may be limited in some way that hides the Eternal from us? Could this incapability be by design? Is there a spiritual reality beyond that which we can see, feel, hear and touch?
Using reason, we can contemplate the wonders of creation and begin to recognize the breadth of the infinite power responsible for it. Reason also leads us to understand the limit of human knowledge and how much is beyond our scope. Reason, therefore, can lead to faith. Well-developed reason arrives at the obvious conclusion that reality is far greater than that which we can experience with our senses and our intellect. We come to realize that this reality is not a product of our mind, but that our mind is a product of this reality. Reason may lead us to the door of this reality, but we need different tools to enter.
Scientific reason is often used to explain away faith. Science and faith need not be mutually exclusive. Science is used to explain many things. It makes our lives more comfortable and work more efficiently, but does it explain how to make our lives more meaningful? Science may explain the what and may even explain (partly) the how, but it never explains the why. One can therefore say that secular or scientific reason deals with what the universe is, while spiritual wisdom deals with why it is and what it means.
Faith isn’t always easy. As we wrestle with an uneasy past and an uncertain future, it may seem more comforting to cling to the lives we know. But the thirst for redemption is coupled with another trait that all humans share: hope. Hope for health and prosperity. Hope for justice and virtue. Hope for freedom from the darkness.
Make your home a loving environment, make your office a place where generosity and compassion replace selfishness and aggression. Above all, share these ideas with your family and friends.
Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.
Note: this column was almost entirely adapted from the book, Toward a Meaningful Life — The Wisdom of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson by Simon Jacobson.
© 2019 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.