Faith And Spirituality

From the warm embrace of a mother's hug to the repeated success of placebos in clinical trials, the many variations of faith play a critical and pragmatic role in shaping meaningful lives in society.

Faith And Spirituality

A dictionary defines the word, faith, as “confidence or trust in a person or thing”; “belief that is not based on proof”; “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion”; “belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.”; “a system of religious belief”; “the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.”; and “the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.” To be concise, faith is a subjective trust. As such, faith is not metaphysical or spiritual, nor is faith a substitute for the practice of introspection, self-reflection, or meditation, nor is faith a substitute for the repetitive rituals of mysticism whose intent is to have a divine experience or to be one with a supreme deity.

Faith itself is found to be innate and built experientially and cognitively in humans, probably in other lifeforms too, which is reinforced by seemingly supportive signs and sensed by cognition or emotion. As an early example, during its birth, the infant cries the moment it exits the birth canal probably because the infant is suddenly displaced from the enclosed, warm, familiar, nourishing, environment of the trustworthy womb to an open, cold, unfamiliar, non-nourishing environment of the outside that is not yet trustworthy to the infant. As soon as the crying infant is picked up by the child-delivery person (doctor or nurse) and starts feeling the warmth of human hands while being cared for, cleaned and dressed up, the infant starts feeling secure and hence begins to trust the caring person and the new adapted environment and eventually stops crying. 

Further, after it is handed over to the mother who caringly hugs and kisses it, the infant feels warmer and more secure, which aids in strengthening the essential trust in the mother. As such, through these primitive personal experiences, the infant starts to have faith in the new environment and the humans encountered during and after the birth. This faith was probably needed by the infant for its own survival or for it to feel secure after being out of the womb. It may arguably be humans’ first faith—a faith in the caring and loving mother and/or father.

Scientifically speaking, faith is nothing but a psychophysiological and psychoneuroimmunological response, which, in other words, is also known as a placebo effect that is found in research and development of medicinal drugs, which involves double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials conducted using a drug and a placebo (an inactive sugar pill). Neither the clinical trial workers, nor the participants know which is which and all the participants are told about the cure and severe side effects. After the trials, the participants report any side effects during the follow-up visit by the drug study researcher who knew which was which and had kept the record. The studies found that an estimated 15% to 72% of the participants in the placebo group (that took inactive sugar pills) reported the side-effects or cure in clinical trials. This shows that the placebo group had faith in the clinical trial workers and believed what they had been told by these workers.

Faith is supported by intuition or instinct or by intellectual prosses based on past experiences often unrelated but somewhat applicable and plays a role in building hope for the desired outcome so as to have a peace of mind or sense of accomplishment. Faith is basically a means for attaining material accomplishments that are concrete (not abstract). So, there is no spirituality in faith. However, faith is used in religious spirituality and also in secular spirituality, which is hereinafter referred to as human spirituality.

Faith is not a cure for crises or diseases either. It is simply a practical enabler for a person to help think, plan, and put the plan in action with a hope to achieve the desired results, helpful or harmful, depending on the intent---good or evil. Also, in life, purpose comes first and then comes faith. A person, without either or both, is half-dead or zombie. Therefore, purpose is a provision for a meaningful life while faith is fundamental and must for human survival or success, especially, faith in oneself, as faith gives hope.

As indicated above, faith is innate, but it needs to be realized and used daily in every aspect of life including relationships to build trust among people, and reinforce the ability to even encounter animosity, to resolve the inner conflict or address the issue of revenge tendency, to take actions and demand fairness for sake of justice (not revenge), and then to offer forgiveness to the wrongdoer after the price is paid by the wrongdoer so as to deter any potential wrong deeds that may be done by anyone in the future. Also, a person's faith can be abused by another person to do harm, make money, possess property, or propagate an ideology, such as a religion that has a deity.

It must be noted that religious spirituality is not the same as human spirituality. The religious spirituality, which makes a religious person surrender to a deity, is self-imagined and often for a selfish reason only, and which uses faith in the deity that is an imaginary being or idol, which is imaginatively believed to be omnipresent and higher than humans and to have supreme attributes, even though the imaginary being or idol obviously cannot speak, listen, or act. Religious spirituality may give a temporary illusion of inner peace or a temporary relief or have a temporary cooling effect during a crisis by helping divert the religious person’s attention. It is temporary because it is imagined as the mind normally does not stay on one thing for too long. Also, religious spirituality has practically no personal or social value as it does not change things in reality anytime except for rare coincidences or self-fulfilling prophesies. Moreover, excessive religious spirituality may lead to delusion, which can cause false expectations or harmful effects.

On the other hand, human spirituality, which helps a person believe in themselves, is realistic and often based on deep deliberation with an inquisitive intellect and uses faith in oneself or knowledge that is published or referenced by trustworthy public or private institutions. Human spirituality is all about self-care with adoption of a proper lifestyle, connecting with and caring for others, having a purposeful or meaningful life, and doing things that help humanity, for example, inventing or designing vaccines, medicines, medical devices, architecture, furniture, machines, infrastructure, facilities, tools, or transportations; founding or building academic or research institutions, clinics, or hospitals; or developing natural, astronomical or social sciences, technologies, engineering, mathematics, or arts. Human spirituality is often found in caring, conscientious, empathetic people who often do good for the better and feel happy or content with the mental reward for doing good. 

So, with regards to faith and spirituality, the choice for a person would be to have faith in a deity and surrender and pray to the deity for help/guidance, or to have faith in himself/herself and stand up and use their natural abilities (like all animals do) or ask the right people for help/guidance as humans have infinitely immense potentials—positive and negative. A third choice would be to have faith in a deity and also in oneself, but it may often create inner questions or contradictions.

The author is a Pakistani American based in California and is the founder of a medical devices research and development company.