On New Year’s Eve 2012, I posted a website about my 96 year old Grandfather. One of the entries, the hardest for me to write actually, was about faith. Writing about his faith had me questioning my own faith and even the word faith. What is faith? What does it pertain to? Can you live happily without faith in anything? Can you be confident without faith in anything? How can one cultivate faith? 
I started asking my friends, teachers, and anyone close to me who had something to say about faith. I asked physicists, psychologists, yogi’s, buddhists and philosophers to name a few. I read books, blogs and articles.
Below is a compilation of what people had to say about faith that I found interesting, challenging and sweet.

In their own words:

What is faith?
  • “Faith is a word to explain something that can’t be explained. Similar to how enlightened people have a hard time explaining enlightenment. You have to go beyond knowing and actually experience it yourself, and have faith in order to do so.”
  • “Faith is an inner knowing or belief in something or someone.”
  • “Faith is simply believing. Whether it’s in yourself, a higher being or some aliens that build pyramids, faith is believing that the uncontrolled in some way, impacts your life. I personally don’t believe in God. I don’t prescribe to any religion because it absolves humans of accountability:

         "I don’t have a job because God has a higher calling for me.”

          No. It’s because you are lazy.

          “My success is because of my faith in God.”

          No, it’s because you worked hard.“

  • "A belief in something you cannot quantify; in something truly magical and bigger than anything you can possibly hope (or want) to explain. Faith is pretty magical, it’s what I hold on to when the world doesn’t make sense. It’s the lifeline I reason with when the world around me loses all structure.”
  • “Faith is about embracing mystery - belief in the things that cannot be proved. There is a sense of magic to life.”
  • “Faith is believing in something that doesn’t exist.”
  • “Faith is believing in something that we cannot prove. Either we assume it to be true or we bend/ignore logic to allow ourselves to believe.”
  • “Faith is belief in oneself.”
  • “Faith is an understanding within you of your core values and place in existence. As human beings we all want to feel like we matter and faith gives us the belief that we do, we have and we will matter. If you have faith (and by this I do not mean religion) then you have a physical and mental feeling that never leaves you. It balances you and gives you the strength to go out and face the world every day - to get back up when it all goes wrong.”
  • “Faith is the focus on getting to know yourself, till you dismantle the ego. Distraction from this focus is seducing, that’s why it takes faith, to trust your ability to stay the path.”
  • “Faith believes in the energy of life, the energy all around you - which fully encompasses death. Energy, however, doesn’t stop there - it moves on. A physicist will tell you the same - energy doesn’t stop, it just moves. Trusting in the movement of that energy, in whichever direction it moves, to me, is faith.”
  • “Faith is trust that life will offer you something new, even if it feels bad, because that darkness always brings light. Similar to how the best art is often created when the artist is going thru hard times.”
  • “Faith is the underlying sense of ‘trusting’ in something and knowing that all is, and always will be, well.”
  • “Faith, to me, is the act of believing. It’s open to grace: an active engagement with what is, no matter what that might look or feel like.”
  • “Faith is the start of a journey that leads to the end of suffering. It is the unwavering belief — whether in God, religion, or your future — that one may experience joy moment to moment. It means embracing your total experience, your senses, your environment, and your neighbors. It means relaxing into the moment and weaving each part of your experience with gratitude, love, and compassion. Faith is unity and happiness. Realize that Heaven is here and now. I believe Heaven resides in each and every one of us. As Jesus Christ said, “the Kingdom of God is within you.” My spiritual journey is about waking up to that.”
  • “Faith is working through doubt. Even Jesus doubted God - his own father! on the cross “Why have you forsaken me?”“
  • "Faith is prayer and reading the Bible. It’s the only way of getting closer to God.”
  • “My Dad used to say ‘you don’t have to go to church to talk to God, you can talk to him on the toilet if you want to!’ and I agree with that. I address this entity as 'the Universe’ because to me that encompasses everything. To me everything is God and vice versa. Faith to me is my belief and understanding of the power and complexity of it all, most of which I can never hope to understand. I also wouldn’t want to. I think the unknown adds to the magic of it all.”
  • “It’s being with the Universe as it is. It’s a true spiritual action.”
  • “Faith is the ultimate act of creativity. Creativity is believing in possibility in every moment. When there are no more rational solutions, there are always creative solutions. A creative person always believes there’s something more. That’s why it’s called creativity - it goes beyond and finds possibility. Faith = possibility = creativity.”
  • “Faith is seeing the true nature of all things and trusting that that true nature will bring possibility.”
  • “Faith is liberating. Believing in a world of endless possibility, where you know and feel the whole Universe. Faith is when you know everything is the Universe. When you eat, you eat the Universe. When you love, you love the Universe. That’s faith.”
  • “When you look for the purpose of life even after you’ve achieved everything, that’s faith. You’re looking, but you don’t know what you’re looking for. Everybody has that calling of "What am I missing?”. It’s not that their missing anything, it’s that they’re not experiencing the Universe. They’re not experiencing God. Faith is not just believing.. it’s beyond believing and beyond knowing. It’s feeling the Universe and feeling God. It’s living that connection with the Universe and God.“
  • "Faith to me is a complicated relationship between trust and introspection. I believe there is a magical order to this world, however we can easily fall out of balance with this order. If we over-think or become too cynical – we override this order. On the flip side, leaving it all up to the ‘world’ or ‘trusting it will all fall in place’ puts you in a position where you are no longer an active player in this order.”
  • “Faith is a very personal, deeply held belief that gives a feeling of strength, courage, hope, support and love.”

Characteristics of faith:
  • “Faith involves work - figuring out how to hold faith in each situation as you experience it for the first time.”
  • “‘Faith’ is often used to anticipate something good that hasn’t yet happened, similar to the word hope. For example, “have faith” or “have hope.””
  • “Faith doesn’t come with a set of rules or an outline of what heaven looks like, but it means I’m slowly opening up to the possibility that I don’t need to try and control everything cus it’s outta my goddamn hands.”
  • “Faith starts to develop within a person throughout their childhood experiences… depending on the culture, socioeconomic status, race, religion, location… which determines the type of and level of faith they have.”
  • “Faith is nourishing. It nourishes our spirit and in turn our body. It is all connected after all.”
  • “I find that some people equate faith with religion. In my world faith presents itself all the time, but I am not religious. In my world, faith has no rules, no doctrine to follow. In my world, faith is free and limitless. I believe that faith is both individual and universal. What if we could, without judgment - acknowledge, appreciate and accept that the fundamental principles of faith are the same?”
  • “Faith grows stronger in numbers, so when a group of people band together to create a community based on similar ideas of faith, it becomes greatly strengthened. If one has faith only on their own, it can become weakened by ideas from outside friends, family, co-workers. etc. If faith doesn’t have a solid root system (which can take years, or even lifetimes) it can be vulnerable. Skepticism of others can weaken our resolve.”
  • “If one has true faith, it becomes part of a person. Like a limb, or an appendage. It is the appendage of the heart-mind and shapes the persona into a solid structure.”
  • “I feel the need to prove my faith. Perhaps, that means my faith isn’t all that strong if I feel the need to have it proven. Or perhaps, I want others to feel the immense trust I am feeling but I can’t seem to ‘sell’ them on it without proof.”
  • “In order for faith to exist, it requires a viewpoint of evidence that is slanted towards a belief. An individual will experience many rare things in their life: a log that looks like a sea monster, a strange inexplicable feeling, hoaxes, weather balloon, an improbable photo, etc. But when there is an underlying belief, people tend to explain these rare events as related to what they believe in. For anyone who believes or has heard of a UFO, a weather balloon becomes a UFO. Round spots in a photograph can be lensing effects to a photographer or magical orbs for those who want to believe in something more.”

Is it possible to live a fulfilling life without faith?
  • “No you can’t live a fulfilled life without faith. Because by accepting faith, you are accepting that there is a percentage of your life that is out of your hands. It’s accepting that life throws uncontrollable curveballs at you and you just have to live with it. Not accepting that is deluding yourself of reality and the harder you try to control the things you can’t, the more miserable and frustrating your life will be. But can you live a fulfilled life without believing in a higher being? Sure.”
  • “No. Life has many challenges and without faith or God, it can be unbearable. God gives you a peace and the wonderful promise of eternal life.”
  • “I think to have any kind of happy life, you have to have a belief in something. An internal drive, a sense of belonging and a point from where you understand things from. I don’t think that 'belief’ has to be a God though or anything to do with religion. It could be science, family, love, happiness. If you don’t have that then you don’t have meaning and what’s life without a sense of meaning? I think that’s why so many people struggle with depression. I believe they have lost their faith, their understanding of things and it throws them into a spin where they don’t know what to do or how to feel 'right’ again.”
  • “Faith in God or faith in self - it’s vital for a sense of purpose and for managing the challenges of our everyday existence.”
  • “Fear is a lack of faith, so no, I don’t see how that can be fulfilling. Fear is a powerful motivator to avoid things in life. Imagine living a life without fear of having difficult conversations, without fear of trying something new, without fear to follow your heart. The more we can diminish fear, the more fulfilling life becomes  - it allows us to stay in the moment more and appreciate all that is being offered.”
  • “At times life can be very difficult but faith can provide a sense of ease, peace, freedom; especially in times of uncertainty or misfortune.”
  • “When lacking faith (as most are in our society today), we are often lacking understanding/knowledge.”
  • “Without faith there is an empty space that often becomes filled with fear, and doubt. Faith has the power to fill that space with trust, and truth. Faith heals.”
  • “Faith is not a necessity for some. There are a good percentage of people who either have low sensitivity (i.e., have minor emotional reactions) and therefore have little emotional need for faith. There are also many who have not had a life experience to awaken them from the day-day bliss of not having to think about their own mortality (or that of the troubles of the world). In either case, they can feel fulfilled by doing what they perceive as worthwhile activities without faith. However, for those who cannot ignore the harsh “reality” of life, faith can feel very good. These are the “seekers” in the world… trying to understand their purpose or the meaning of life itself.”

What does faith pertain to?
  • “You can attach it to a religion, you can also attach it to yourself.”
  • “Faith is usually used in a religious context.”
  • “Faith applies to everything. Work, home, school, gardening, walking, recreation, vacation, wherever you are–these are better with God in your heart. He is always with you if you allow him to be. What a comfort that is!”
  • “I think so many people have gotten faith mixed up with religion and rules and a lot of that is because of our constant human need to feel powerful and in control in response to fear. I have never been religious, was never christened and never studied any religious texts but I always feel like I had faith. I always had an innate understanding that there was a power/force that I held respect for and looked to in awe.”
  • “I think that it’s different for everyone and we shouldn’t try to put it in to a specific box or quantify it. A person’s individual faith is one of the most (if not the) most important thing in their lives and to try to quantify it is disrespectful in my opinion. Your own views and beliefs should always be respected in those ways. Sadly, they are often not and then we have wars!”
  • “For me, faith pertains to what’s being offered to me, in my world, as it is. But I’m not offended if someone else’s faith pertains to something different. I love meeting people with different faith. It’s the connection of hearts thru having faith, that I love most. The differences in what it pertains to is less important than the commonality of simply having faith.”
  • “Faith pertains to everything and anything. A favorite story of mine is from Ram Das where he explains that Mararaj-ji would eat from anything, a gold plate or a leaf. Point is that we are all part of this consciousness. Hierarchy is created for the sake of understanding: having faith that you can get dressed in the morning is no less important than having faith you can overcome a great illness or find love. In many ways faith is seeing without this distinction.”
  • “Faith in the spiritual or religious sense is the belief in something we cannot prove. Something that makes us feel that “everything will be okay” … enough so that we can continue living with reasonable peace of mind. If we need this faith and don’t find it, we feel that something is missing. U2’s famous lyric, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” is a great example of that need to find faith in something more.”

How are faith and confidence similar or different?
  • “Confidence IS faith. But then it depends how you define confidence. Confidence can be very superficial in the sense that it’s easy to feign confidence, but how many of us actually have a deep sense of trust? in ourselves? in our inherent goodness? in the tangible value behind our basic needs and desires? That’s faith.”
  • “We can cultivate faith in the face of fear, confidence in the face of doubt.”
  • “Faith means having (blind) confidence in God or a belief or a person. Hope means having a measure of optimism in something that is to happen.”
  • “Faith and confidence aren’t the same.  Confidence is understanding yourself and understanding that you’re good and competent at something.  Faith would be not knowing how to do something and hoping for the best. Hope is an extension of faith.  It’s the positive belief that the uncontrollable will work out in your favor.”
  • “Faith, hope, and confidence all point to the same thing. There’s a certain underlying knowingness of our true nature that becomes a catalyst for our journey.”
  • “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
  • “Confidence and hope in themselves are not faith. Although, confidence and hope are qualities, like trust and introspection, that work together to understand your relationship with faith.”
  • “There will be a correlation between a lack of confidence and the need for faith… that feeling that “everything will be okay”. Hope can be a precursor to faith but it is not enough to satisfy the needs of those who need real faith.”

How can faith be cultivated?
  • “Fake it till you make it. Don’t take faith as something casual. Have a daily practice.”
  • “You can cultivate faith in as much as you can dream.  It’s one of those things that I think needs to be curbed by reality. Blind faith is a dangerous thing.  It’s gambling.  But then again I like gambling.  So maybe in ways I do have some faith.”
  • “The way to cultivate faith is through direct, experiential insight. All teachings — whether from a teacher, book, podcast, video, etc. — point back to your experience. That’s the purpose of every teaching you hear, to relate it back to you. A good teacher shows you how to look at your own experience, your own life, as your ultimate teacher, which then becomes the source of experiential insight. It’s important to differentiate between intellectual knowing and experiential insight. Experiential insight goes beyond conceptualization. Meditation is an excellent tool to aid in this practice.”
  • “We can cultivate faith by working with what we know. I think we need to set the stage for faith to arise naturally rather than work towards building faith - creating the right surroundings for faith to arise on its own. In time we may see that our faith in what we had hoped would be, could be, and is!”
  • “The first question is whether we should cultivate it? Millions of people have died through human history because of “faith”. Further, what if there isn’t something more? Should we throw logic to the wind and believe anyway? Is it better to live a life of knowing or a false life of faith? Assuming that there is something more to believe in, gather up evidence and be around people who believe as you do.”
  • “I think you must always cultivate faith. I don’t believe in ‘blind faith’ - for me that is not a co-participation in life.”

  • “Humans should be quick to realize their own limitations. Millions, possibly billions of people have faith in something that is simply not true (e.g., just going by the fact that there are conflicting beliefs and millions of people on each side). There are stories of religion’s abuse, leaders who lead their followers to mass suicide, etc, etc. Humans are incredibly fallible when it comes to faith.”
  • “At first, when learning prayer, I found I couldn’t pray to some white haired, bearded angry guy in the sky; I had no interest in asking that kind of entity anything. Someone tried to teach me the Zen tradition of bowing, but it wasn’t for me. I’m not interested in any entity, person or supernatural that needs me to bow or become smaller. I didn’t need to be less for anybody.”
  • “Faith could be an adaptation to help us deal with our level of intelligence (e.g. primates who are smart enough to know they will die). Intelligence itself was a tremendous advantage for our ancestors and instead of evolution selecting less intelligent people to survive, perhaps it selected those who could deal with intelligence by adding faith as an adaptation. The fact is, without some type of faith, life would be rather meaningless. We are born, live out a rather short life, die and then are forgotten with time. It is this awareness that the emotional need for faith stems from.”
  • “If the universe is so accidental, why then do we have so much influence over how things turn out? Why do our choices dictate how reality unfolds both at the microscopic level and macroscopic level? Why is the universe so well designed for life? To me… it is like finding an empty can of coke on a lonely beach. We can assume that it was accidentally created by geological processes (which is not impossible) or we can have faith that there is indeed something more. We just don’t understand it all yet… there is certainly more than we can understand today.”
  • “Quantum physics is the world of “possibilities”. In fact, it appears from experiments that everything is a possibility until an observer watches. When the observer watches the experiment, it changes from possibilities to something real. Why is an observer important to determine how things work? The nature of the reality we create seems to depend on how we are looking!”
  • “The discomforting properties of quantum physics have led to numerous “beliefs” in the science community. Beliefs such as that there are an infinite number of universes, that the universe we see is literally determined (from possibility to reality) by us looking up into the sky and that consciousness itself is somehow linked to the workings of the universe. Quantum physics is about as close to “magic” as you can get. And that magic is somehow related to the observer watching it…. perhaps our consciousness itself.”
  • “There is nothing to say about faith. It can’t be defined intellectually, don’t waste your time trying.”

What do you think about faith? Leave a comment!