This discourse is a critique of religious faith. But the meaning of faith as used here needs to be clear, because there can be two different meanings of faith. The meaning of faith in this critique is when a person simply believes without any question that a particular teaching is true. Using their own intelligence, reasoning, intuition and experience; they may not actually understand a passage or a dictate from the teaching, but they faithfully believe it anyways, and even if their intelligent reasoning thinks it is wrong, they believe it anyways, adhering to the absolute truth of the teaching with this pious attitude of faith. This is really a blind faith; because there is no self intelligence to back it up. No reasoning, no personal intuition, no clear understanding of its truth; just faithful belief.
Fundamentally, the person has faith that the teaching and also its practices have come from a pure and absolute spiritual source, and thus, since this is so, there is no question as to its truth. A side-effect of this faith, consequentially, is that it also requires an abandonment of one's own intelligence, reasoning and intuition, whenever there is a conflict between our self intelligence and the teachings (which in faith are assumed to be beyond questionable doubt and perhaps beyond our human capacity to rationally understand). So this is the kind of faith referred to in this critique.
There is no problem with a different meaning of faith, which is to have a certainty of truth based on one's own intelligence and experience. For in this sense of faith, one could have faith in God, or in some spiritual or physical truth, that is based on one's own intelligence, reasoning, intuition, and experience. This could not then be called blind faith.
When it comes to truth we really have no better alternative than to trust our own intelligence, reasoning, intuition, and feeling. This is not to imply that our mind and heart are always right. We can be wrong in our thinking, in our intuition, and also in our feeling concerning what is true. Nevertheless, there is no better alternative than to trust in our own intelligence and heart. Because what other alternatives are there?
We could trust in others, or in someone who we believe is especially intelligent, intuitive or spiritual. This is a very common practice. Many people go to intellectual lectures, many go to intuitives or mediums, and many go to spiritual teachers or holy people; all in order to find Truth or something about the mysteries of life. Now this is very good. It is part of our natural incentive to learn. We can learn from others; and in fact, we do learn from others.
Yet who should we ultimately trust? If there is a difference between what they say and what we intelligently reason or intuit, then would we abandon our own intelligence and sense, and believe them instead?
Likewise, is it rational to simply have faith in what others say is true, or in what a religious book says is true? That is, a faith without any questioning or doubting, which is what faith usually demands. Or should we look clearly at anything said and assumed to be “the Truth”; then ultimately base our understanding of Truth on our own intelligence, reasoning and intuition?
As already stated, this is not to suggest that we ought to never listen to teachers or read spiritual holy books. That is not the point. We can gain insight and learn from many possible sources outside of ourselves. But this insight and learning ought to be verified by our own intelligence; rather than rely on faith or trust in what we hear or read.
The point here is that the final judge of truth, or the final sense of truth, should ultimately be our own self intelligence or self intuition. This is because there is no reason to believe the intelligence or intuition of others, over that of oneself. There is reason to sometimes believe others, but only when our own intelligence and intuition confirms it. There is good reason to listen to others, in order to learn what we might not have thought of by our self, but we should only believe this when our own intelligence and intuition confirms it. To do otherwise is simply irrational or perhaps being just gullible.
Let us consider a belief in a special holy book. For this example, imagine a group of people who tell you that this holy book is God's Truth, God's Word, God's Message or Teaching. And because it is assumed that God is all-knowing and wise, one would then be inferring that this is a Book of Absolute Truth. Since God wrote the book or dictated it, then it has to be absolutely true. Of course!
So these people could just as well be calling this the 'Book of Absolute Truth'. They will also usually be suggesting that one should have total faith in the book and believe everything it says, even revere every word as gems from Above. And all of this is necessarily based on a belief that God did create this Book, which has no confirmation except that its followers say this is true.
Now if this was simply a case of presenting a book to you, and asking you to read it and consider what it says with your intelligence, intuition and heart; then that would be reasonable. But in the religious case, there is usually more being asked, or implied. The followers of this book will usually say, at some time, that faith is necessary in believing what it says. This is because many parts of this book are not naturally confirmed by the reader's intellect and intuition.
In other words, since many passages in the book are not confirmed by people's natural intelligence, or may even be counter to our intelligence, the religion and its followers have to make faith in the whole book a requirement. For if faith was not required, our natural intelligence and own intuition would dismiss the book. Thus, the followers need to stipulate that faith is necessary, since they themselves need to exercise faith in what would otherwise be unintelligent, illogical, or unknowable to them.
The most common stipulation is something like this. The Absolute or Highest Spiritual Truths cannot be understood or confirmed by a person's intelligence, nor by their own intuitive sense; because these truths are beyond man's knowing and capacity of intellect. Therefore, when special spiritual truths are revealed in a Holy Book, faith is necessary, because your own intelligence and intuition cannot possible understand and verify it. So when your own intelligence, reasoning and intuition doubts, questions, or disagrees with what is said in the Holy Book, you should abandon your own intelligent perspective and replace it by faith in this book or in this religion and all it says.
This might even be in the book or teaching itself, that certain parts of the teaching or certain passages in the Holy Book are beyond one's human capacity of intellect and intuition. Therefore, we need to have faith, because our intelligence and intuition cannot confirm what is said. It might also be said that certain kinds of Truth cannot be discovered by a person's intellect, nor their intuition, nor their own heart knowing; and therefore, this very Holy Book had to be given to humanity in order to reveal those Truths that we would not be capable of ever knowing ourselves. Yet we can now know those imperceptible Truths, if we just believe faithfully in what the Book says.
In other words, this special Holy Book reveals Truths that could not otherwise be known by way of our human intelligence and personal intuition. Thus, you need to have faith in what it says, accept what it says without any doubt or argument, and follow whatever it says should be done. This faith is necessary, because you don't have the full capacity to know the truth by your own intelligence and intuition. So the ultimate message is this: you need this Book, this Teaching, because you are lost without it!
But there is a logical problem in this kind of assumption and faith. The problem is this. If you cannot trust in your own intelligence and intuition, or trust that you should be the final judge of Truth, then how can you make any intelligent judgment about which people and which books are actually revealing the truth?
This holy book and its followers and its religion say that it is God's Truth and/or reveals absolute true teachings. But all religions assume or believe that their teachings reveal the Truth. And perhaps they all do; or perhaps just some of them are true; or maybe just one and not the rest are true; or maybe there are a few false teachings pretending to be true or a few charlatan prophets of truth, or maybe there are just a few mistakes in the teaching or incorrectly stated sentences? And maybe the person preaching this teaching, or teaching you about it, is making a few incorrect interpretations or using a inaccurate translation?
There are many possibilities here. So who and what do you believe?
The first evident problem is that there are many different teachings of Truth, each claiming to be the absolute truth. It could be that many of this teachings have much more in common than is normally seen. So we might here a slogan of ‘it is all one' – but that slogan is doubtfully absolute, since there can be some very significant differences in teachings of truth.
So, the first problem would seem to be how to judge what is true in a marketplace of Truth-sayers? There are two main approaches to answering such a question. You could simply believe with faith in just one of these 'truth teachings', and usually this is the teachings that just happens to fall at your feet, or the one you were born into. Or, you could question each teaching with your own intellect and intuition, then decide what is true by your own abilities.
The deeper problem here, though, is a logical one. If you accept as true that your own intellect is incapable of discerning certain spiritual truths, and thus you need to simply have faith in the holy revelation and in those statements you cannot understand with intellect; then what are you going to use to discern whether this particular 'revelation' is really true?
Here you have this particular revelation of Truth, or of God's Word, as it is revealed by this holy person, or enlightened person, or chosen prophet of God. So then, how can you really know that this whole deal is true? What are you using to discern whether or not this is true?
If you are using your own intellect or intuition to know that this particular teaching is True, then you are already basing the truth of this teaching on your own intellect; in which case, there is no logical sense in later doubting this same intellect when it comes to certain dubious passages in the teaching. You might as well be using your own intellect for a solution at every instance of confusion or doubt; since you already trusted this same intellect to believe that this teaching is true.
Thus, in any instance of a spiritual or religious teaching telling you to simply have faith in what it says since you do not have the ability to discern its truth with your own intellect; the contradiction is that you must have used this same intellect to discern whether this very teaching was true.
Finally to say, it is a contradiction of logical common sense to distrust one's own intellect and have simple faith in what seems to the intellect as being confused or mistaken; all because one accepts with faith and without question a particular teaching or holy book, which itself demands some degree of relinquishing our intellect and to simply have faith in whatever the religion or the holy book says.
The contradiction is that, in instances of intelligent doubt regarding particular passages in the holy book, if one really doubts their self-ability to discern the Truth by way of their own intelligence and intuition, then they ought to also be doubtful of their Faith in this overall teaching or religion; since one would assume that their overall Faith in the religion is not merely a blind hope.
Of course, it could well be that you merely accepted with blind hope and faith that this religion and this holy book is absolutely true. But isn't that admitting a 'gambler's approach' in the pursuit of truth? Find something that seems 'pretty alright', and then wholeheartedly accept every word it states with pious religious faith and devotion, while abandoning or suppressing every instance of intellectual doubt as to its truth. So that when a passage or part of the teachings appears to the intellect as false or confused, you abandon your intellect and submit to the Faith. This is the kind of faith that is blindly irrational. It almost seems foolish.
So, one of the lessons in this inquiry is to trust in our own intelligence, using our reasoning, intuition, and experience. But there needs to be some degree of caution in this, because this is no guarantee of truth. For it is quite possible that we are wrong. We could be wrong in our thinking, and the teaching in question could be right. So this discourse should not simply be construed as a message to just trust in one's own intelligence and all be well. There is no guarantee that our own intelligence knows the truth, anymore than there is a guarantee that a particular religious-spiritual teaching is necessarily true. Confusion and deception can be in either.
But the insight here is that if there is any conflict between what the good book says and your own intelligence; then it is irrational and unintelligent to abandon your own intelligence for the sake of this book or this teaching. For if you cannot trust your own intelligence, then why trust a teaching that you intelligently believed was right? Because why did you ever think this teaching was right, or what caused you to follow it? Was it because you had some intelligent insight or intuition about its truth? If so, then you already trusted in your intelligence and intuition in order to think it is true. Or alternatively, you believe in this teaching without any intelligent confirmation about it at all – meaning that you are just blindly believing, or perhaps believing because someone you trusted said it is true.
Now it is truly practical at times to believe other people and even to trust other people. Our lives would be extremely insecure and we would be continually living in an anxiety of ever-present doubt if we did not trust people at least to some extent. But to trust someone when they say it is raining or that a certain restaurant is good is quite different from blindly trust someone who tells us that a particular religion is the absolute truth or is the very word of God, or that every sentence from a particular book is the holy spiritual truth, because any of these ultimate and universal claims are far too spectacular to believe blindly without any questioning or critical thinking.
What is really happening in any such blind faith, without intelligence, is some kind of grasping for either instant hope or an instant solution to life. And some people seem to really need the security of this kind of instant simple hope and solution in regards to life. It goes like this. We want a security of knowing, rather the insecurity of confusion. We want to feel that we know absolutely what is true. We want the emotional security of feeling that we know; and by believing or having faith, we eliminate our feelings of doubt or confusion concerning what is truth. We also want to follow something and be a part of something greater than our own separate self, so we submit to the faith. And whenever we have any doubts about it all, we pretend to ourselves that we know this teaching is true, or else we faithfully sacrifice our intelligent doubt.
Religions and cults very often ask that we surrender our reasonable doubts and our own rational intelligence for the higher sake of faith. In fact, any religion could just as well be called a cult, if it asks this, because a cult is typically asking people to follow whatever it says, which religions also tend to do.
But a religion or group could encourage your own intelligence, including both reasoning and intuition. This would be a group that does not demand blind faith; but instead encourages individual intelligence and questioning.
One of the problems inherent in most religions and also in most traditions is the unquestionable sanctity presumed about its truth. Sanctity is, of course, a cornerstone of religions, which gives each a special aura of being a flawless teaching of divine or universal truth, especially because the teaching is presumed to be given to humanity from a perfect enlightened teacher or perhaps from the almighty God. Then, once this presumption is believed, the next easy step is to simply believe everything stated in that religion. So there is a whole monolith of belief held together by this very simple assumption - that the source of the teaching is absolutely flawless and therefore all that is stated there from must also be flawless. People hold on to this monolithic structure of belief, even when parts of the teaching appear at times to be flawed or else naive. They feel as though their whole reality would crumble if even just one of the sacred bricks of the teaching were to crumble from any intense scrutiny. So they desperately hold on to the whole meal.
In contrast, a critical thinker and devoted pursuer of truth does not have such neurotic anxiety, so they are not so psychologically desperate to defend all parts of the whole teaching even when some parts look from one's intelligence to be flawed. A sincerely devoted pursuer of truth would not allow anything to stand in the way of the pursuit and also would not simply believe whatever is told. Everything has to be permissible for scrutiny; thus no religious sacred cows; no unquestionable, sanctified, irreproachable teachings.
Most religions demand, either explicitly or implicitly, a no-questioning attitude, which is a sanctity assumption that every part of the teaching must be free of any criticism or doubt, as if every part of the teaching were in a temple sacredly protected from such disrespect. Yet the pursuer of truth is free to accept or reject whatever, without any attachment to the whole monolithic structure of belief and without any feelings of disrespect when there is a rejection. The real pursuer of truth does not believe in any irreproachable sanctuaries. So he/she will ignore, without guilt, any sign saying "Sacred Teachings" of which questioning minds should not trespass. This is because one's own questioning and pursuing intelligence has to be the discoverer of truth, rather than being subjugated by an assumption that a particular teaching it is so sacred that it is beyond intelligent scrutiny.
First of all, then, one needs to dis-attach themselves from this falsely assumed aura of sanctified teachings; the aura of irreproachable truths that should not be disrespectfully doubted or questioned. For no teaching is beyond intelligent questioning.
Realize that this critique is not against all religious teachings. Rather, this is merely suggesting a questioning attitude and a freedom from feeling that one has to believe in the whole thing. For in the questioning attitude, one could accept or reject parts of the teaching. It does not have to come down to an all or nothing result. One does not have to reject all of a teaching, just because a few parts are rejected. And one does not have to feel that all parts of the teaching crumble into disrepute, just because a few parts of it are rejected as flawed or confused. The absolute follower seems to feel that the whole monolithic structure will crumble into humiliation and disgrace, if certain parts of the teaching are intelligently admitted to be flawed. But the intelligent pursuer of truth does not have this all or nothing attitude, because he/she can intelligently accept or reject whatever. In other words, certain parts of any particular teaching can be understood as true and valuable, while certain other parts may be rejected as flawed, unhelpful, or perhaps even stupid.
What is very important in all of this is a sincere honesty of thought and feeling, rather than an artificial politeness or a fear of ‘the sanctified'. The pursuer of truth is free of any sanctified assumption, for there is no artificial respect for any sacred temples of truth. Thus, certain parts of a teaching can be regarded as true, but not necessarily all parts, because one is not trying to uphold a whole monolithic structure of absolute sacred truth.
One should not become complacent in the search for truth, due to faith. For if there is a discrepancy or tension between your own intelligence and this faith, then you should be pursuing an impartial quest to discover the truth, rather than simply ‘holding faith' and relinquishing a rational and intuitive search for a satisfying understanding. It is our own spiritual soul that is in search of truth. Or in other words, our innermost human essence has this quest for truth. So there is nothing unspiritual about the search for truth and it should be disbanded at the insistence of a religion that faith will now replace this quest.
Religions and cults very often need to first teach the necessity for intellectual abandonment, because otherwise the teaching will probably be rejected, unless the intellect is abandoned and replaced by faith. Religions and cults often give the impression that faith in its said truth is essential, while any previous intellectual or intuitional quest for truth can now be abandoned since the ultimate truth has now been found. But this is simply another form of mental manipulation and their need for us to abandon our own intelligence, intuition and reasoning, because this religious teaching or parts of it do not make much intelligent sense.
Yet at the same time in our spiritual quest for truth and the most beautiful way of life, we should be respectfully considering the said truths of all religions and all admired spiritual leaders and moral philosophers. Because a sincere quest for truth and rightness would listen well to all teachings and would not dismiss any teaching without due consideration. What is said by religions or their proclaimed prophets of truth may possibly be true, or else could possibly be wrong or misinterpreted. We should hold a non-naive attitude about anything that is said to be true; which is to not simply believe whatever people tell us, because anyone can lie or invent things, and just because a lot of people think something is true is not enough reason to believe it. However, what we hear from the prophets of truth and their religious followers could very well be true and also very useful in life.
So we should check it all out, then think for ourselves what is verified as true by way of our own intuition, reasoning, and experience. And in the final analysis, we would be most wise to trust ourselves, rather than just the beliefs of others. What is offered from the religions and teachers of truth is either really true or really not true, and either is possible. Or perhaps some of a teaching is true and some not so true or not so useful to our lives. But each person alone must check it out on their own. No one else can do that for you. Each person is all on their own in discovering what is true.
It would be nice if we were not all on our own in this. Yet there is no other alternative but to check it all out and discover what is true on your own; since the only alternative is to just simply and naively believe whatever someone else says is true; whether this be a ‘teacher of truth' or a ‘religion of truth' or a ‘book of truth'. So this is not to suggest abandoning all religions or rejecting whatever we hear is true from the proclaimed prophets. What is being suggested, rather, is to not succumb to the psychological hope that realizing the truth will be easy -- as easy as simply having faith in a particular religious tradition or in the words of a particular prophet of truth. Blind hope and blind faith are very related.
Yet, we ought not abandon the religions, anymore than we ought to abandon the rational intellect. We will want to listen well to what might be true and give such teachings enough time in our consideration, rather than hastily reject the whole teaching just because of a few inconsistencies, contradictions, or untenable beliefs. Any teaching will probably have some weak points or some apparent contradictions. This might be because there really are a few weaknesses or contradictions in the teaching. Or it might be because of our own inability to see the larger picture or the context of a statement; that is, the apparent contradiction or mistake might be due to our wrong understanding of it. So we need to be cautious about any hasty conclusions -- giving any teaching enough time and study before finally dismissing it. In the majority of cases, we will usually discover at least some wisdom in any religion or teaching. So only certain parts of a teaching, or of their holy scripture, might be dismissed, while other parts might be understood as right-on. For if there are mistakes or contradictions in a given teaching, according to our intelligent scrutiny and intuition, this is an insufficient reason to abandon or disbelieve in every part of the teaching.
What we need to develop is an ability to accept some parts of given teachings, while also being able to dismiss other parts, and still be respectful and appreciative of this teaching in general. Also, one may not be a wholly devout follower of any single religion or way, yet nonetheless admire and appreciate certain parts of various teachings; which results in being an eclectic, multi-religious devotee, but one who follows the truths of each religion that intelligently and emotionally seem to be appropriately right, while having no religious guilt or qualms about intentionally ignoring certain other parts of the teachings.