The Fine Line Between Faith and Delusion, Part III of III

In the previous part, I came to the conclusion that faith has motivated courageous and entrepreneurial people, and that despite attempts to avoid it, I myself have unknowingly promoted faith. This conclusion is difficult to accept because it is difficult to distinguish between faith and sheer delusion.

Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth. -- Mahatma Gandhi

I recall this quote before attempting to make the distinction, because “deluded” is a rather harsh judgment I have applied to certain groups: fundamentalists, the Flat Earth Society, etc. I do believe often times the minority is right and the majority is wrong. Sometimes the very ones in positions of authority and power are wrong, and those lacking it know what is right and true. Chance certainly allows it. I consider myself privileged to live in a democracy that allows people to speak their mind even if they are a “minority of one.”

The distinction depends upon your knowledge and beliefs. These are expressed through your words and actions, but people commonly lie and act in opposition to their beliefs, and we cannot peer into your mind to determine whether you are doing so. Therefore, only you yourself can decide whether you are truly faithful or deluded.

It goes without saying that faith is fundamentally about the uncertain and non-existent. Let’s first dispense with the certain or existent. Disbelief in what certainly exists is definitely delusion. Disbelief in something that exists, but you are uncertain of its existence, is simply ignorance. And belief in what certainly exists is only rational.

Consequently, the drawing of conclusions based on selective recollection of the past, intentionally neglecting whatever invalidates your conclusion, is delusion. Revision of history is the promulgation of delusion. This consideration puts fundamentalism squarely in the realm of delusion, because fundamentalists simply reject or rationalize everything outside scripture. This is not to say that we cannot describe patterns observed in past events, or place past events into well-defined categories. We stray into delusion only if we stubbornly preserve our view by neglecting or withholding events that invalidate our patterns or bust our categories.

Inventing Your Predictions

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. -- Arthur C. Clarke

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. -- Alan Kay, former Apple Fellow

Now let’s think about the uncertain and the non-existent. Uncertain means the object of your faith may or may not be realized in the future. Therefore, faith is fundamentally a kind of prediction of the future, a belief that some outcome will be realized. (It could even be the belief that the world will come around to your way of thinking!) To believe that an unlikely outcome can be realized is exactly the faith I am talking about. To act toward its realization is the best expression of that faith. The more unlikely the object of your faith is, the stronger your faith has to be in order for it to be realized.

Many people are religious without being fundamentalist. They value scripture not as the complete and literal truth, but as a combination of allegories, philosophical wisdom, and literature in the form of historical fiction, all mixed with actual history, relevant to human life, but not necessarily to understanding the physical universe. Some of them may even hold faith that their scripture will be proven true, not literally, but in surprising metaphors. This is a legitimate faith, and not a delusion.

In conclusion, faith is not to be shunned. It has motivated courageous heroes, world-changing innovators and even persistent scientists. However, when we embrace faith, we must realize that there is a fine line between faith and delusion. In order not to stray into delusion, we must ask ourselves whether our faith is truly a belief in an unlikely outcome, or a rejection of what we know to be true and possible, in favor of what we know to be impossible. This is not always an easy question to answer, but it is one we can only answer for ourselves.

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Updated at: 10 March 2015 9:03 PM