So yesterday we discussed ideology and how it evolves from the ideas of those who dominate in a culture, using patriarchy as an example. (I don’t mean to pick on men exclusively here. Radical feminists too have an ideology. But, as a feminist, I happen to believe that patriarchy in its extreme forms and fueled by religious extremism is dangerous to women, so bear with me)
It’s a given in sociological terms that the powerful control the current ideology of any societal group. So what is religion then if not another ideology? Religion is a subset of any society, an ideology within an ideology you might say. You gotta’ love ’em, Wikipedia describes religion as
…a set of beliefs and practices generally held by a community, involving adherence to codified beliefs and rituals and study of ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and mystic experience. The term “religion” refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.
It’s fascinating that Wikipedia leaves out all mention of gods or goddesses in the description. They make it sound as if it’s just another ideology. But religion has one more ingredient that political ideologies don’t have. A religion is all about an accepted set of practices generally agreed upon to appease or pacify the group’s gods or higher powers. (That’s my definition) There is an aim or an end to their devotion and sometimes an expected reward for all their hard work toward that end, usually in the form of Nirvana or heaven or reincarnation. Christians worship God, Muslims worship Allah. Even Buddhists worship Karma or the higher power within us (used to control our desires and alleviate suffering). Worship is adoration directed to that aim or end. Whether you worship a process or an actual God, religion is all the surrounding accouterments including rites, implements, and mythologies used in appeasing said process or god. Religions are fueled by faith in the mythologies offered by each religion.
Since ideology is fueled by belief in a societal system and religion is fueled by faith, exactly what is belief and what is faith? Is there a difference? First, what is belief?
1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another:
2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something:
His explanation of what happened defies belief.
3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.
Second, the definitions of faith are:
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one’s supporters.
4. often the theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.
5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
6. A set of principles or beliefs.
There doesn’t appear to be much difference between believing something and having faith in something does there? But I think there is a big difference. Most people are taught to believe things that are true based upon scientific evidence. Seeing is believing, we’ve always heard. To me, I believe something because I see evidence of it and know it to be true from either my own experience or from verifiable tests or data. I believe in gravity because I see that we don’t fly off the face of the earth as it rotates. Faith isn’t necessary because the evidence is obvious.
On the other hand, Faith believes something without evidence. This is where Christians and other religionists get all touchy and nervous and angry about definitions. They like to use the fact of air and gravity, as a means to explain to the unconvinced that faith in God isn’t a much farther step than “faith” in air or gravity. They say, “Well you can’t see air or gravity but you have faith in that!” That’s a stupid example. I don’t have “faith” in air or gravity! There is actual evidence of air because we breathe it in. There is a chemical constitution to air and our bodies use it to survive. We’ve seen examples of what happens to human beings, animals, plants, and the whole material world if there is no air. So what if we can’t see it? You can’t see molecules either. Take gravity for instance. There is evidence of gravity because I’m not floating in space right now. We see gravity in action with rockets launched, or failing to launch, into space. Tests prove that without gravity things float and with gravity, things fall down. Therefore I believe that there is air or gravity based on my experience and the verifiable tests of science, so faith isn’t necessary.
However, there is no evidence whatsoever of a God or gods beyond personal, mystical experience. So I don’t have to believe another person’s experience if I don’t want to, including those experiences written down by men in the bible. As Thomas Paine said about such “revelation,” “It’s only revelation the first time, after that it’s hearsay.” (paraphrase mine) This kind of experience is not self-evident. There are no verifiable tests to prove that God or gods exist or that they interact in our lives in any way shape or form. People SAY they have experience, but it’s not verifiable nor is it re-creatable, therefore it can’t be classed as scientific evidence. Now, I could choose to have faith that God is there based on someone’s story or on my own experience. That’s a different story. Faith itself is not evidence however. (See definition #2 in the Faith entry above). If people want to believe in gods, UFOs, fairies, goddesses, or any number of things, they are perfectly free to do so. I just don’t think that people should be enjoined to believe such things and threatening them with damnation if they don’t believe it, without the evidence. That’s totalitarianism (yet another ideology).
Next up, in Part III, we will return to ideology and see how beliefs in ideologies and faith in religion can turn ugly.