Faith: Consensus Reality
Faith is what we really and truly believe. It performs some remarkable functions that do not depend on its ties to religion. All of us believe that we exist in a physical environment on the face of the earth and that by observation we can come to understand that environment. We take for granted that the objects that surround us have names and that there are words that we can use to identify and describe them. Because we live in a social environment in with others who share those same words and names and objects, we are almost unconscious of the shared mental operations that make the words and names useful. We ignore the fact that only by using the words and names that we share with others can we deal with the massive amounts of information and objects that we encounter, and that is required for human survival.
Words and names are signs or symbols that we use to share knowledge with other people. Words represent objects or ideas. Because words represent objects or ideas, they can be identified as abstractions. Words are not the actual object. They are an abstraction of the object or idea. The process of abstraction seems simple enough as long as we are using the names and words to represent physical objects. Abstractions become a little more complicated when they represent ideas, such as numbers, scientific laws, mathematical equations and the like. Some abstractions seem to exist only because we all share them. For instance, the days of the week like Wednesday which derives its name from the ancient Norse god, Woden, and Thursday, which derives its name from ancient Norse god, Thor. Or the word ten, which represents number ten, which might in turn represent fingers and toes, that are sometimes called “digits.” These important abstractions exist only because we all believe in them.
We can arrange our calendars because we all collectively share and identify the days of the week, particular months and particular years. We all agree upon time. The concepts of time, days, weeks, months, and years are a part of the reality that we create by our shared mental processes. Theseconcepts are very important in organizing the work of our society, on which we all depend. It bothers us if anyone is not “on time.” If it were not a shared reality, it is doubtful that an isolated individual like Robinson Crusoe would ever think about those kinds of things. The reality that we create and share in our common belief system--our faith system-- is best known as consensus reality. Consensus reality has been in existence and growing for a long time. All human progress depends on it.
Of course, we know that consensus reality can be mistaken. The earth is not flat. However, despite its short comings, consensus reality is the only way that we have of creating the useful shared world in which we live and move and have our being. Without such sharing, we could not function as a society, and our individual needs could not be satisfied.
The sharing creates the reality. There is the story of the ancient Indian philosopher who dreamt he was a butterfly and spent the remainder of his life contemplating whether he were a Indian philosopher dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a Indian philosopher! I think it was the French philosopher Blaise’ Pascal who said that if we dreamt in unison and experienced our waking lives in isolation we would think the situation reversed.
Consensus reality that we collectively create is extremely important. We could not survive without it. With it we build our social systems, including religions, morality, law, economics, and even education, science, politics and government. It brings the food to our tables.
Consensus reality has a life of its own. It is here when we are born, and although it might change during the course of our lives, it will be here after we have passed away. Consensus reality is built by faith, not just individual faith, but collective faith. Because of the important role that consensus reality plays, it is very important that we understand the role that faith plays in creating it. Only by recognizing this huge function of faith can we begin to fully comprehend the importance of religion. But please remember that for faith to create reality, it has to be what we really believe.