Grasping lightly can lift us up; grasping too tightly holds us down
Dictionaries generally provide two definitions for the word “faith,” one being the trust or confidence we have in someone or something, the other a strong belief in God or a doctrine of religion irrespective of evidence. This image of a mother holding a child’s hand clearly speaks to the former, but in it I see where both aspects have their origin.
As infants and through childhood we are completely dependent upon others. Trust is given and “a given” if we are to survive. We take on faith that someone, usually parents or guardians, will be there—and able—to provide for our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. It seems like this should be an inalienable right as a prerogative of birth, because care given by responsible adults is what it takes minimally for children to become whole, healthy and contributing persons. That too often these essentials are not provided, deepens my appreciation for what I took for granted as a child. Even as adults, we have faith in family members and friends. They are the ones we can usually turn to in difficult times.
We also have faith in the systems that provide the contexts for our lives—schools, churches, small businesses, corporations, non-profit organizations, local governing bodies and the Federal government. My careers in education and business were all grounded in faith—that my teachers knew what they were talking about, that higher education would lead to desirable and creative work opportunities, that the economy would grow, that salaries in my field would be enough to support a family and so on.
Along the way we learn that some of our faith in people and institutions was misplaced. Neither individuals nor institutions can always be trusted. Not everyone is responsible, not everyone behaves ethically. People and circumstances change. And so, through disappointments we develop some discernment as a hedge against misplaced faith.
Faith has higher and lower vibrations. The “higher” is acceptance of what is. Bo Lozoff, an American writer and interfaith humanitarian wrote that “Faith is a profound acceptance of life’s ultimate goodness no matter what happens.” At the opposite end of the faith spectrum is fanaticism—excessive, irrational, uncritical zeal characterized by an unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in opinion or belief. Robert Pirsig, author of Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance wrote that “No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because they are in doubt.”
In this regard I think of President Biden’s campaign perspective, that “We’re engaged in a struggle for the soul of America.” Former California State Senator John Vasconcellos said the same thing in 2014, adding, “We are struggling between two visions of human nature: faithful and cynical.” Indeed, held lightly and with an open mind, faith can unite and lift us up. Grasped too tightly it divides and holds us down.
In the long run the fate of a civilization depends not only on its political system, its economic structure, or its military might. Perhaps, indeed, all of these ultimately depend in turn upon the faith of the people, upon what we believe and feel about man; about the possibilities of human nature; about our relation or lack of it to such intangibles as the meaning of morality or the true nature of value.
Ashley Montagu, Anthropologist
Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)