Of Faith and Critical Thinking

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  • What bodes for progress and alleviation of mass poverty?

It is difficult to state precisely what is understood by the word faith. Rampant in many cultures, faith is a decent term with strong honours and productive underpinnings. It ranks with confidence at best, and wishful thinking at worst. To spell out a clear appraisal of the word, a couple of ambiguities will have to be examined first, and then cleared.

Purpose-driven faith

First, a person who truly believes in the evidence he possesses to support a given intention has faith in that proposition, and acts on it faithfully – come rain, come shine. On the other hand, a person who instinctively feels their faith to be inert, inconclusive, is shy on acting on that faith, and so keep invoking at it endlessly with platitudes and pious quotes – but to no avail.

In the first case, faith buoys up the sureness to make it possible to act purposefully and tirelessly to make things happen. Here, faith banishes doubts and leverages one’s ability to perform.

In the second case, faith may be construed as a series of gnawing unsettling attempts to believe, resulting in a state of paralysis. In a nutshell, one has to be careful of the kind of faith they trust. Does it make you function for the better or break you up on your knees into paralysis?

Matters of faith

Someone sent me a note recently and it said, “Give $20,000 to a Chinese who speaks no English, and they’d faithfully set up a factory and produce useful things people need.” With no academic theories, no formal education, no prayers of the kind orbiting our religious space, they’d be able to produce the sort of things other people get on their knees and faithfully pray for – for free – on Fridays or Sundays.

Conversely, give $20,000 to some educated persons stuffed with degrees, and they’d write a soothingly faithful report and file it to collect dust. Superfluous theories and abstractions seem to be leading the country astray. We seem to have more faith in lecture halls and worship joints than in hands-on industries that visibly bless people out of poverty and misery.

In the biblical gospel Jesus is quoted to have said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move.’ Nothing will be impossible for you”.

Ironically, the Chinese and the Asian tigers who are not biblical in that sense of religion truly believe and act on that faith and, in the process, raised millions of people out of poverty. Flying over Buddhist oriented Bangkok some years back, it was amazing to see miles and miles of rice farms faithfully cultivated under the canopy of the benevolent skies.

Faithless mindset

Sometime back, a TV host posted an electronic flyer inviting me to watch an interview with a particular official involved with planning and economic development. About halfway through the program – now flustered with talking points and abstractions – I was ready to quit.  Finally, I sent the host a note, “Do these officials truly understand what they talk about?” He replied, “Hmmm!”

The initial enthusiasm that got me to watch the interview had faded away. The official was offering political talking points laced with economic jargons – not the industrious and critical thinking needed for productivity and nation building. With nothing new to learn, I was reminded of the quote, “No country can progress if its politics is more profitable than its industry”.

The problem with a good many governing officials hinged on that annoying habit of theirs to routinely repeat the wholesale catalogue of the nation’s problems. Completely outlawed in their equations are the solutions to the serious in-your-face type problems everybody knows about – and for which the officials get paid sizably.

These days, the word “problems” has been shunned and upgraded with the euphemism, “challenges”; it’s as if that new word conjured solutions. Shying away from critical innovations, many officials choose to marinate comfortably within the confines of wishful thinking.

But then you can’t blame the large swath of personnel anointed to solve problems. Consider the trajectory or culture of their education, and the chances are they were taught with great faith in theories but less faith in the ability to solve clearly visible problems long articulated and known. So the nation continues to be rich in natural resources but quite poor with faithless mindset. Missing in the consciousness is the kind of practical faith needed to settle everyday problems.

Critical thinking

Faith – like an unconscious dynamo – creates electricity. It is a great tool; but, like a generator, proper faith has to be used industriously for great things to happen. Where a begging mindset is faithfully and persistently routed into the unconscious, nothing very constructive happens.

On the other hand, faith – of the higher order –  is a purposeful goal held unwaveringly in the conscious mind, and the unconscious providentially accepts it and supplies the conscious mind with plans, insights, energies and action necessary to achieve superior goals right here on earth – not in some promissory “bourne from which no traveler returns,” as William Shakespeare put it.

In many parts of Africa, faith has been reduced to a begging bowl. We sing for it, praise for it, dance for it, go on the knees, close the eyes and beg for it; and still come up short with poverty and misery, in the midst of plenty. Time to wake up!

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com


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