HAT is faith power, and how is it used? First let’s clarify what is meant by faith. Whereas hope posits yearning, faith posits affirmation. Just as all of us have hope in varying degrees and forms, we all have faith of some kind, from the evangelist to the skeptic.
A fundamentalist might place his greatest confidence in scripture, a naturalist in established theories of science, a humanist in the overall goodness of humankind, a unitheist in creative being. But each may have other forms of belief as well— the fundamentalist in creative being, the naturalist in goodness, etc.
In talking about faith power it’s not so much about strengthening, growing in, or even walking by faith, as about utilizing the faith we already have to manage everyday challenges, achieve goals, and better our lives. However to do that our faith and its powers have to not only be acknowledged but directed.
Optimist or Pessimist
If we were to imagine a person who was considered faithful, or filled with faith— especially in a cosmic more than a particular religious sense— we’d be likely to think the person was an optimist, someone with a positive world-view. We tend to categorize ourselves as either optimists or pessimists.
Calling oneself a pessimist seems so negative we wonder that there are so many around. Yet viewed strictly in the temporality of earthly existence the pessimists are right. No matter how many good days lie ahead, the end will for all of us will be the same— decline, perhaps a major illness, sudden or lingering death, and then extinction.
Optimists take a different view. The operative time is now. We can be concerned about the future without fearing it. If our health is fine we can be happy now. If it is not we can do what we can to improve it. We can work, play, laugh, and love, and tomorrow we could very well be even richer and happier. Death? Who knows what lies beyond the grave.
Choosing the pessimistic outlook on life over the optimistic one sounds risky. What if putting our faith in the lessor outcome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? If we really expect the least we will prepare for the least, and might unnecessarily miss out on much of life— the ambitious career too risky to try, the romance never ventured out of fear.
It’s been shown that optimists are happier, live longer and healthier, have better careers, incomes, and relationships, are more sociable, and cope better with adversity. Pessimists on the other hand may be more likely to engage in activities that reduce life-expectancy, such as excessive drug use, lack of exercise, and poor dietary habits.
Our bodies themselves are pharmacies, capable of releasing powerful chemicals into our system. When we are happy— laughing, exercising, loving, playing, or engaging in any other positive activity— our brains release beneficial chemicals into our bodies. Optimists tend to be happier and thus more likely to engage in positive, healthy actions.
But unbridled optimism can lead to keen and perhaps insurmountable disappointment when hopes are too unrealistic, or even when faced with the occasional but unavoidable run of bad luck. Carried to its extreme, manic optimism can draw its proponent into self-delusion, the unreal reality of its own making.
A solution— stay as optimistic as possible while recognizing the limitations imposed by our human condition and the world we live in.
While it’s unrealistic to think we’ll wake up one morning and find a million dollars at the foot of our bed, we can expect to find happiness in unexpected places and success we hadn’t planned on— an old friend calls out of the blue, a new career opportunity comes our way. It could be as simple as being surprised by a rainbow, or a beautiful sunset.
Let’s call this positive realism. Not that we can’t dream the biggest dream, but we recognize that what is worth having often takes considerable time and effort. Nor is it always easy to decide to be optimistic and happy— unhappiness can be easier, and sometimes there’s nothing more soothing than self-pity. But the former’s worth it in the long run.
Positive realism is a better foundation for a firm and lasting optimistic world-view, one less likely to be shattered into cynicism and despair by the deluge of setbacks, challenges, and disappointments that can sometimes batter our lives.
We know it’s healthier to be optimistic, to have faith in life or being, but what is our logic for it, our basis in reason— why faith in existence or being rather than mere hope in being, hope for a better life?
Being, however powered, is mighty enough to move us as individuals from nonexistence to birth to awareness to higher consciousness, therefore more likely than not to have power sufficient to continue to improve us. We don’t have to just hope for a better future, we can believe it— the odds support it— and by just believing it further help assure it.
This is not to say we won’t eventually grow old and die, but chances are greater than not that the future will be better than the past, at least as long as we have our health. Infirmity and death challenge power of being, but since what happens to us after we die is empirically unverifiable, we should exercise restraint in despairing the verdict.
Faith breeds optimism, optimism breeds happiness. We have faith in being— life is good, a tremendous gift. This power of being is cause for optimism, more likely than not to continue to favor us. There will be setbacks, but in the long run the power of being is stronger. This assurance that the odds are on our side in turn results in happiness.
Players and Managers
If you’re a player at a casino you know that you can expect to be— and probably will be— lucky some of the time. But you know chances are that over a long enough playing period the casino will always come out ahead. You might think that if you win big you’ll quit and leave while ahead. But even if you succeed in doing this it is likely that you will return.
But let’s switch sides. Instead of a player you’re the manager of the casino. Now it’s even more sure that in the long run you’ll be on the winning rather than the losing side. One night a lucky high-roller might take the house for a few hundred grand. But over time and hundreds of players and games things average out in your favor.
A typical businessman might find himself paralyzed by the loss of a quarter of a million dollars in an hour, but not the casino manager. He could lose large amounts one night, or even a couple unlucky nights in row, but he still sleeps fine. The reason is faith— faith in his casino’s security, and time-tested odds.
The ones of us that choose to gamble in a casino might be players for a few hours, but in the grand scheme of life all of us are managers. In some of the games the odds might favor the house— us— by only a percent or less, but that is usually more than enough, because we’re talking about years and decades rather than minutes or hours.
Not that everyone will end up ahead in this life— there are those who die young, and victims of accidents and holocausts. But if we can manage to stay in the game for the long term, and have faith in our odds (which are definitely in our favor) we’re more than likely to come up winners.
© 2010 Warren Farr for faithpower.org and the Unitheist Fellowship — revised 8/3