I like to think of myself as a modern man, without a need for a lot of ritual and ceremony in my life. I’m content to let science explain how the universe works, and base my beliefs on the observable behavior of things. Still I find myself wanting to believe in a system that compensates me when things don’t go as expected. This cosmic insurance is the spiritual hedge fund we call faith; the belief in all things supernatural. But I know that looking above for answers will only keep me from looking within.
All of us have faith in something; the economy, humanity, or redemption in the afterlife. It’s our absolute trust or confidence in these things that keeps us looking to the future and gives us hope for something better to come. But believing something without evidence is simply superstition; a celebration of ignorance we dress in the holy cloak of religion.
While science cannot explain everything, religion lets us off the hook for any serious inquiry. The mantra of faith is, “Things will eventually go my way.” This is an intellectual cop out, because when things don’t go our way, there is the ‘eventually’ to comfort us. We also don’t really define what “my way” is, so it is situational rather than absolute. I’ve held such faith for a long time, but am now at an impasse where instead of seeking answers when things don’t go my way, I am asking different questions.
Faith has a lot to do with being rewarded for something; hard work, piety, good deeds, honesty. Despite our experience that exposes the fallacies of these beliefs, most of us can’t imagine ourselves in a world without some kind of karmic laws. What has changed for me recently isn’t about the existence of such laws, but how I perceive the idea of reward itself.
A reward is something that we earn, so we tend to think of it as proportional to the effort we have expended in its pursuit. No pain, no gain or you don’t get something for nothing are the prevailing beliefs around this. When we are rewarded, things get better for us, so there’s also the notion of progression toward greater and greater compensation for our faith as we stumble toward redemption.
Rewards, whether spiritual or material don’t come from without, yet that’s where we expect to find them; through work, the church, family or community. When we live for the journey, we no longer rely on faith or its compensation. I used to believe that rewards were intrinsic to the experience itself, but now I have given up the notion that there is any such thing as a reward.
Happiness and satisfaction aren’t rewards because they’re not given or received. They don’t come from an experience, they come from the way in which we choose to perceive the experience. A state of mind or a feeling is not a reward, it’s the result of the interpretations we make. When we’re happy, it’s because we perceive what we’re doing as being in harmony with what matters to us; we’re creatively engaged in meaningful activities that are an authentic expression of our values. I like to talk about success in these terms, but unlike conventional definitions, there is no goal to reach, or competency to achieve. Success is to be found in the congruency between being and doing, not having.
Most people believe that rewards are in the having, as compensation for their faith and effort. The truth is that the things we value most – love, joy, freedom – we create ourselves and they can’t be given or taken away. Anything else is a consolation prize.
When you believe in things
That you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition aint the way
— Stevie Wonder