Faith and Belief

I’m a bit of a follower of Paul Tillich, and in his Dynamics of Faith he describes faith as “ultimate concern” and a centered act that involves the whole person. He also says what it is not. It is not believing the unbelievable. Our beliefs may change over our lifetime as mine certainly have, yet my faith remains solid. In fact, last December, I decided to stop believing anything. I adopted a beginners mind and read widely on spiritual matters. In the end, I’m back with Radha Krishna devotion but on a higher level.

What do we have faith in? Do we have faith in God-dess, Radha Krishna? or the teachings of a guru? or what it says in some old books? or the process of devotion? the grace of God-dess?

We need not believe anything to have faith, yet beliefs form the content of faith. Those beliefs are expressed in symbol and myth. They may be changed and altered over time just as we may rearrange the furniture of our home. The symbols and myths point to God-dess, but are not God-dess per se. Yet they partake in the nature of God-dess and are therefore simultaneously one and different from God-dess.

Bhaktivinode was influenced by Unitarian theologians and his views are very similar to Tillich’s. One important point for Bhaktivinode was that these symbols were not based on material conceptions, but on what we may call spiritual archetypes, and here Jungian thought and Joseph Campbell are relevant. This world is seen as an emanation of the spiritual world, and therefore, the patterns seen here are derived from there rather than projecting our patterns on the spiritual world.

I am very impressed by Tillich’s view of faith, and one of the writing projects I have lined up is to write an essay on it. I think it is very important to make this distinction between faith and belief so that when we find out the Bhagavad Gita wasn’t written by Vyasa, 5,000 years ago and transmitted to us exactly by the infallible disciplic succession, or when someone like me says we need to transform these myths and symbols to make them relevant, we do not lose faith because our beliefs are challenged. This is a progressive Protestant way of thinking. I think we need a reformation of our own. Let’s transform some sacred cows into gourmet burgers (metaphorically speaking of course).

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