With baseball season just a couple weeks away, I am reminded of the popular baseball movie, "Bull Durham," the classic film about baseball, love and ... religion? In the movie, Annie Savoy admits that, after experimenting with most major religions, she worships at the Church of Baseball, and Crash Davis professes his belief in the hanging curve ball, good scotch, opening presents on Christmas morning, as well as a number of romantically erotic sexual acts.
Beliefs, as Annie and Crash so expertly convey in "Bull Durham," do not necessarily involve things like the Immaculate Conception, resurrection, a divine afterlife or original sin.
So what, then, is belief? And, similarly, what is faith?
Faith and belief are tricky concepts, to be sure, particularly with respect to religion, when they often become divisive words that fall prey to misconceptions and stereotypes. Non-believers may criticize faith as irrational, gullible and misguided, describing all faith as blind faith, devoid of truth and reason. Conversely, believers may use their theological views as a crutch, as a means to justify a purported moral high ground or to support a particular political position.
But belief and faith are not nearly as complicated, or as categorical, as they seem. In his hotly debated recent Huff Post article, Peter A. Georgescu argues that faith isn't irrational, even though religious beliefs might be, writing that "[religion] isn't about irrational belief. It's about the constant choice between doing good and doing harm, with a faith that the human world will bend constantly toward the good, if the God in us all chooses collectively to make that happen."
While faith and belief certainly do conjure up many strong opinions from believers and non-believers alike, I would suggest that the two words do not necessarily have anything to do with religion.
Faith is both more than and less than Georgescu's idea of faith as "an existential commitment of the heart, a way of life, a set of behaviors and emotional responses woven into every hour of everyday life." Rather, I would suggest that faith is simply whatever a person uses to fill the gap between what is known and what is unknown. The depth and breadth of that gap differs for each person, just as what is used to fill the gap is different for each person. A devout Christian or Jew, for instance, might fill the gap between what we know about science, nature, humanity and the universe with images of God or a god-like image. An atheist, on other hand, may fill the gap of inexplicability with faith in undiscovered scientific data or a reliance on learned human behavior.
As I recently wrote:
Faith is not adherence to a prescribed set of rules for obedience sake alone. Faith is not the absence of reason, nor is it gullibility, naiveté or simplicity. Faith is not a catchphrase, but a frame of mind. Faith is hopefulness, optimism in humanity and confidence in oneself. Faith is what fills the gap between what is known, what is supported by science and what the mind can logically grasp, and that which is unknown and is perhaps eternally unknowable. ... Faith is respect for the unknown, reverence for the magical, and acknowledgement of the great mysteries of life.
Scientists can tell me when and how the universe may have been created, but their facts and data and research can only go so far. Faith is what fills these unknowns, these variables, these mysteries. I fill these gaps with faith. Faith in a cosmic, divine energy that links us all. Faith that miracles can happen, if not through divine intervention, then through magical coincidence. Faith that trust, love, patience, and devotion can make the impossible possible. Faith in the soul, a spirit-filled energy, a cosmic legacy.
Others may fill the gaps with faith in something else entirely. One person might have faith in science, another might have faith in the resurrection of Jesus, and still another might have faith in random luck and misfortune. Perhaps you have faith in the teachings of Buddha or the prophecies of Muhammad or the depths of human kindness. Whatever we use to fill the gaps, it is faith. It is faith which comforts us, inspires us, holds us up, and tucks us in at night. Faith holds our hand as we walk down this street called Life.
Belief, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily fill any gaps. In fact, belief might even contradict what is known or provable. Belief may fly in the face of knowledge, evidence and proof. Yet because of the impact that a particular belief has on a person's life, he or she overlooks fact and reason and continues to believe. Belief can be as simple as human kindness and as profound as quantum physics, and everything in between.
Belief can be rational, irrational, downright absurd or wholly nonexistent. Whereas, all people have faith in something -- whether it is God, humanity, science or the ego -- not everyone has belief. In fact, some people live in a perpetual state of disbelief and doubt, while others have such strong, unwavering convictions that no amount of evidence can convince them otherwise.
Like Crash Davis in "Bull Durham," I do not believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of the heart, nor do I believe in a judgmental, patriarchal God. I do, however, believe in a God that connects us all by strings of human kindness, love and compassion, and not by rules and doctrine. But for that matter, I also believe that dogs can read our minds and that empathy is the most underrated and underused human emotion. I believe that there should be a Constitutional amendment outlawing reality TV. I believe in cheap wine, good shoes, loud music, laughing until you cry, crying until you laugh, and wearing yoga pants regardless of whether one actually practices yoga.
Although some of my beliefs are perfectly reasonable (who can argue with the virtues of yoga pants?) and others may be irrational (evidence of mind-reading dogs is tenuous at best), they are in me and they are mine. My beliefs are personal, delicate and organic. My beliefs shape me, my decisions, and my life, serving as a pragmatic spiritual compass. Though some of them might touch on religious issues, many of them have little, if anything, to do with my religion (though I have been known to wear yoga pants to church on occasion).
Faith and belief are not necessarily delusional, nor are they reserved for the naïve and gullible. Where the problem arises, however, is when a person or a religion forgets that beliefs are personal convictions that may or may not be true, and likely differ from person to person. Religions tout their beliefs as the one true way, despite the inherent lack of proof that one set of beliefs is any more likely to be true than another.
Troubles also arise -- personally and culturally -- when we fail to take stock of our beliefs and, instead, treat them like rules that are written in stone, never to be questioned, reevaluated or altered. As Jay Bakker recently wrote, beliefs become problematic when they become dogmatic. "You can't prove it to anyone, and so you end up insisting that you are right instead of insisting on what is right."
Maybe if we remember that the presence of faith is universal even if the specifics of faith differ, and that beliefs are completely personal, we can use our faith to better respect the beliefs of others.
Because in the Church of Baseball -- Annie Savoy's "religion of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time" -- there are a million different kinds of strike-outs, homeruns, curve balls, fastballs, bunts, stolen bases, pitching changes, errors, pop outs, grounders and foul balls. And without a doubt, every season will have its share of rain delays.
If nothing else, you can have faith in that.
You can read more of Christine Organ's work at www.christineorgan.com.