Does the fact that I believe something make it a fact?
For the purpose of this article, let’s define some terms:
Subjective- A characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of the mind
Objective- Having reality independent of the mind. Is there sound in the forest when a tree falls if no one is there to hear?
Relativism- any theory holding that truth or moral or aesthetic value, etc., is not universal or absolute but may differ between individuals or cultures
Absolutism- any theory which holds that truth or moral or aesthetic value is absolute and universal and not relative to individual or social differences
Christian theology has always placed great emphasis on the power of faith. That faith has generally been seen as mechanism by which God’s eternal blessing is released. Of course, faith is supposed to then lead to pious living. Hebrews 11:1 says- Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
With or without the biblical emphasis, most would agree that faith is powerful. What one believes, by extension, becomes the definition of a personal reality. What we believe is perceived (“seen or sensed”) as a fact, often an irrefutable one.
Science at the subatomic level has demonstrated for over a hundred years now that the act of observing or seeing affects the outcome of what is observed. This was and still is an astounding discovery. It warps our minds because it is totally at odds with what we conclude at our own macro-atomic level of living. We blithely assume that what we see or observe is a concrete reality which is fixed and defined by our ability to observe and measure. The new knowledge gained through the study of quantum physics is a direct contradiction of the notion of an objective reality. Reality is a function of observation. Furthermore, the operation at the same sub-atomic level has proven that our measurement of and therefore knowledge of the associated reality is limited. We can never know and describe a sub atomic event completely. It is a scientific impossibility. The upshot of this realization is that consciousness, the ability to observe, impacts the observed event in an unavoidable way and forever demolishes the assumption of a physical reality which is not subject to mind manipulation.
Many people struggle with this idea that reality is not objective but rather subject to the influence of the observer. This discovery of the subjectivity of the physical world at the smallest levels has implications for our religious beliefs. One of the most cherished tenets of Orthodox Christianity is the concept of spiritual absolutism, the idea that spiritual/religious reality, the reality defining God, is fixed and must be seen the same way by every man. When the physical reality created by this same God is demonstrated to be very subjective, then one’s assumption of objective spiritual reality comes into seriously question.
Bible faith is a command, a choice, a decision. That being the case, the believer must desire to make that choice, to decide to believe. A commanded belief is not based on compelling evidence, because such belief would not require a commandment to do so. A belief which I choose to embrace must involve a personal gain or advantage. A chosen belief system which puts me in league with the powerful in society and elevates my status and marginalizes the rest of humanity is the ultimate personal advantage.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is the confidence of things believed or desired, the proof of the unseen/unperceived/undiscovered/misunderstood/not carefully weighed or examined. Faith is the mechanism by which what we choose to believe, for whatever reason, becomes established fact in our own minds. Our faith or beliefs, by extension, become our reality, a reality which is totally subjective because we choose what to believe or else allow others to choose for us. Faith can and does often exist despite evidence to the contrary. As Kevin Beck has noted, traditional church faith demands a stronger allegiance for each new piece of evidence to the contrary. The more questions threaten a sacred belief the less likely the believer is to even hear them.
So what do I make of the Bible emphasis on faith? I strongly consider the fact that God in Christ was showing mankind how vulnerable we are to self delusion. Every man lives by faith in some belief system, which is of their own choosing. Initially we all inherit beliefs from our forerunners. Only later do some re-evaluate and embrace a personal faith. Everyone honestly thinks that what they see and believe is real, when in fact that reality is totally a mind construct. The ultimate illusions, therefore, is the idea that our reality is really real, and therefore applies to everyone else. The only one who sees for real is God. For one man to assume the role of instructing another, requiring him to accept his beliefs as objective reality, is totally presumptuous and totally unreal.
Faith is the product of one’s decision about what to hope for, what you would like to see. The object or substance of faith is unseen and unseeable, so faith objects are totally subjective. What to hope for or believe in is a personal decision. Where there is hard evidence, faith is not required.