What Does It Mean To Perform an Act of Faith?

I have begun reading Joseph Murphy’s The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, which seems to be a precursor of sorts to the Law of Attraction literature. I went into this book with very little background knowledge, believing it was in the wheelhouse of positive psychology, not in the more “woo woo” vein of LOA. I am hesitant to venture down the LOA road again, because I would like to try something new. Regardless, I was immediately struck by a quotation that seems to encapsulate the topic of my last post quite well. I would like to share it here. Murphy writes:

The Buddhist, the Christian, the Moslem, and the Jew may all get answers to their prayers, in spite of the enormous differences among their stated beliefs. How can this be? The answer is that it is not because of the particular creed, religion, affiliation, ritual, ceremony, formula, liturgy, incantation, sacrifices, or offerings, but solely because of belief or mental acceptance and receptivity about that for which they pray.

Here, Murphy seems to suggest that the “trick” to praying is in expecting that your prayers will be answered. And, of course, the more one’s prayers are answered, the more confident one may become that she has in fact got it right. So when one experiences the evidence that her faith is the correct one, she begins to have more faith, and the cycle continues.

As a reminder, in my last post I question how it can be that people operating under very different worldviews can do so with equal amounts of devotion and sincerity. It seems as though it would be difficult to have faith that one tradition is correct, and the others false, while knowing that other people also wholeheartedly believe that their particular faith works to provide them with answers to their prayers.

If Murphy is correct, then the common thread between the varying religious and spiritual doctrines is not contained in the beliefs themselves, but in the sincerity of their adherents. In other words, it is the faith that holds the power, regardless of the contents of the religious or spiritual creed.

While I think there might be something to this, I want to point out a major reservation that I have with this idea. It seems kind of condescending to argue that a person’s religion or tradition holds very little value in and of itself. In other words, it might suggest that the contents of one’s religion, and the actual acts of worship, are merely ornamental. They hold no importance outside of the confidence they lend to a person that she is acting in accordance with her faith. It technically means we can skip all the worshipping, rituals and ceremonies, even though these are often some of the elements that make a person’s faith extremely meaningful to her.

Maybe it is true that all of the traditional acts of faith that people perform are just pointless pomp and circumstance. But I am hesitant to believe this, because it seems to disrespect those who care so deeply about the ways in which they choose to worship. After all, our spiritual beliefs are not just facts about us, like our hair colors or our decisions to live in one city rather than another. Instead, our understandings of God or The Universe often help define who we are on a more fundamental level. For this reason particular religious doctrines, and their corresponding acts of faith, seem to hold a deep significance in our lives, beyond their power to make our prayers come true.

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4 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Perform an Act of Faith?

  1. I love how you honor the religious human experience here:)

    You are so right– reducing the power of prayer to a simple mental equation is a rejection of the numinous. Either religious adherents are morons that can’t see the forest for the trees, or religion is a way human beings can discuss the nature of a phenomena other disciplines largely ignore.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Although Murphy sounds a bit dismissive of the phenomenological aspect of religion in order to make his point, his position and yours don’t necessarily exclude each other. In fact, it’s quite beautiful to think that people can get what they want through their relationship to the divine even though the different expressions of faith vary so much.
    The Buddhists consider their “dharma” as a raft that helps them cross the river. In that sense a religious path with all its concepts and paraphernalia is essential to an individual’s spiritual evolution and as such of tremendous value – from the perspective of that individual and until the goal is achieved, not in an absolute sense (which, admittedly, gets forgotten when people identify with their path). But if you wanted to analyse the essence of the diverse paths you would have to find a common denominator which is what Murphy is trying to do in the context of wish fulfilment.

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    1. Thanks so much for your response! I have yet to finish Murphy’s book so I can’t say much about his exact position on this. But, I wonder if the phenomenological element of spirituality is, in itself, something to be accounted for in a metaphysical sense. In other words, why do certain people choose the avenues that they do? Is it somewhat random, entirely a product of one’s culture or socialization, or is there some other more mystical significance to it? You would have to find a common thread to make sense of the idea that all perspectives have merit, but perhaps the notion that sincere faith is all you need is a bit too simplistic?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My position comes from the study of comparative religions on an academic level but in a context where the lecturers adhered to the religion they taught. Spending four years in that environment showed me that there is no way I would be able to say that some are closer to “the truth” than others. The sincerity with which those people would live and teach their faith and the way they would explain scriptures was convincing in itself.
    The choice of a path is affinity based, I think. And there is nothing wrong with that because any path is subjectively verifiable. If followed with consistent focus it will lead to experience.

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