FAITH AND BELIEF VS. DOUBT
The history of humanity emphasizes how faith can mislead people into the most bizarre of experiences
and beliefs and bring about the most severe consequences imaginable in terms of suffering, violence, wars, genocide, torture and debasement of the human spirit. Yet worse are supposed possible consequences of divine retribution, constant rebirth as animals of prey, immersion in eternal hell fires and just about any perversion of goodness the human mind could invent and attribute to the supposed 'Divine Creator'. Putting one's trust in an unworthy person usually leads to
disillusionment, putting one's faith in religious teachings and spiritual
leaders is also a serious gamble where the stakes can be high indeed.
The psychology of believing.
When one has sought hard for a long time and finally arrived at something one can believe in quite strongly, the believer looks more for what is positive towards that belief and can reinforce. At the same time, there is a tendency to reject or ignore whatever may conflict with it, especially after it has become at all firmly rooted. One will be loath to give up a belief which helps inspire and strengthen positive feelings, a more hopeful world view (then formerly held). If one adds to this a belief which gives on a sense of a meaningfulness of purpose in life and the cosmos, then it will be difficult to backtrack, and any challenges to that belief - however well-based they are - will be unlikely to dislodge it.
Many belief systems are of course shared by vast numbers, the mainstream religions into which one is more or less born and indoctrinated before one can use one's own judgement at all. Should the belief system be more peripheral and diverge appreciably from mainstream cultures, it is most often part of a support network, a like-minded community or sect. As with mainstream religion, this often gives an outlet for social service and self-improvement, the increased sense of self-worth further strengthens the belief system.
There is no doubt some given threshold of belief which, when any person takes the step across it, sets off a psychological process of belief-reinforcement. As in the Kirkegaardian 'existential leap of faith' the confusion of not knowing and uncertainty cause people to 'take the plunge' into some doctrine or faith which seems to promise to be rewarding spiritually, emotionally and usually also in various other ways. It is both intriguing and not least distressing to see how people become so entirely trapped in a 'faith' as to be unable to see even when the most glaring discrepancies for what they are. Even then a pivotal personal mental-emotional upset may be needed - perhaps a major emotional shock or personal loss - before one is motivated into freeing oneself from the ganglion grasp that a system of belief and its associated way of life and behaviour.
Only when the most serious doubts emerge, doubts that will not disappear and can only be ignored with difficulty, can such an internalized faith and system of ideas be shaken. Once such doubts emerge, they too can grow in strength and conviction as long as facts emerge to support them. Otherwise, when confronted face on and investigated, unjustified doubts and rumours subside and fragment.
Having decided to leave radical doubts behind, a certain euphoria often follows, ensues, that of having entered a structure of very promising developments and fulfillment and somehow having attained to a security of a spiritual, if not also a worldly, kind.
The process cannot but involve interesting and challenging shifts in ideas and perceptions, where thought is stimulated by novelty and seems to move forward into unknown but exciting territory. One feels free of brakes or cross-checks that may have been part of one's former mentality. The positivity generated by 'having found the answer' and reached certainty makes for a self-fulfilling strengthening process. Eventually the novelty wears off, and both practical and other hindrances are met, contradictions arise and reality exerts its usual resistance against anything that is too uncertain, too otherworldly.
Doubts can be corrosive at time, but it can also mitigate the severity of inflexible doctrines and not least fanatical ideas. Without doubt, everyone would become a doctrinaire fundamentalist of whatever brand, which would be another bane on humanity.
The psychic pay-off of having some belief-structure
Experience repeatedly demonstrates how a majority of people will believe just about anything that suits them... if it fits in somehow with the world of preconceptions and desires they have inherited socially or otherwise and have developed into their personal attitudes.
The emergence of new strong beliefs can side-line and diminish the significance of gained experience and knowledge. When some issue bearing on important human questions is still in the balance and sufficient facts cannot be observed or sound knowledge established, many if not most people prefer the false certainty of a belief to a continued state of uncertainty. The psychic need for the relative peace of mind that belief can engender can often be observed by the astute in oneself and others. The desire to escape ambiguity and incongruity in one's vital experience is a known and forceful psychological tendency, as shown by many controlled and laboratory experiments and as seen in many historical conflicts over questions of faith and belief. Most of us are very poor at questioning our own beliefs, especially those held dear to us. A relentless search for truth is not common for it is most demanding and calls for a patient condition of inconclusiveness and tolerance of the uncertainty caused by reservation of final judgement until certain knowledge is attained. This is not a natural psychic condition and it requires repeated effort to avoid falling into unfounded attitudes or leaping to conclusions.
There are always pros and cons in any matter, increasingly so the larger and more important the subject. To keep in the mind all of them from both sides, yet not to conclude in favour of one side or the other is a feat of conscious tolerance of uncertainty that few people can sustain for long... at least when the issue is at all crucial. Belief takes many different forms which also often shift through life from childhood to old age, all as experience proceeds or other life factors intervene. Whether secular or religious, personal or political, idiosyncratic or collective, some fairly basic beliefs are held by everyone. There are believers in atheism and skepticism, which always have to be backed up by a large assortment of sub-beliefs. Many of these belief structures were originally adopted without thinking over them or even quite realizing that one has inherited them or picked them up in some other connection. Though people are aware of having a set of beliefs - whether more or less a system - they are quite often quite unaware of how it is to be on the ‘opposite side of the fence’ and see everything from a completely different perspective. What rationality there may be in other belief systems is not perceived by strong believers, nor - of course- are cogent and well-tested theories which go against their belief appreciated for what they are (or else one must assume they would change their belief).
Any religious culture has to have a measure of 'relative irreverence' if it is to be at all sane and healthy. Making reservations against full commitment to all 'chapter and verse' is now and again essential in any religious sect that is not a danger to society, such as when knowledge advances so much as to show how certain beliefs are rank superstitions, or are deleterious or even outright unjust. Human civilizations are always prone to mystiques... heroic, messianic, scientific, supernatural and so on. The prevailing mystique at any time or place first tends to colour the mind and, if conditions allow, often eventually becomes all things to the observer. This is seen most clearly of all, perhaps, in the ways religions or spiritual cults take over the personality of those who involve themselves in them heart and soul. Whether such a mystique operates more for better or for worse, it remains a limiting distortion of the mind and often possesses the psyche to the exclusion of all contrary reason and experience nd giving rise to alienation from oneself and mainstream humanity.
What is spoken of in a universal way in religions as 'the truth' must to my mind not fly in the face of worldly facts, for it surely cannot be entirely foreign to them. Getting at the facts is an unavoidable part of our human search for truth and real meaning (not excluding any which have been cleverly concealed). If it is meaningful to speak of an overall, eternal truth (which must itself be very doubtful due to the infinitely variable nature of the cosmos) surely these can't be ENTIRELY foreign to or in contradiction of worldly facts? If the 'higher truth' about which Sai Baba always talks flies in the face of all worldly facts, then it seems pointless even to talk about it, for it is beyond any understanding or meaning. As to what to tell or not about events at the ashram and concerning Sai Baba, I agree with the proverb 'a half-truth is often worse than a lie'.
Transcendental or eternal
truth that cannot stand in any meaningful relation to so-called 'worldly
realities' or what exists here and now, cannot be worth further consideration.
Gurus like Sathya Sai Baba who ask for 'blind belief' (especially as to their claims
about themselves as truth-sayers with omniscience) are, in my opinion, a potential danger to civilized society
and human values, especially when they practice clever deceptions and fraud, thus
abusing people's faith.
The psychology of head-in-the-sand: Emerging doubts are ignored by devotees as long as they can rationalize them. In this they have a vast array of back-up doctrine - both formalized and by word of mouth - to explain away all the untoward events, contradictions, broken promises, fraudulent claims, abuses, murders, disappearances and more that occur in the ashrams (where Sai Baba is the Lord and Master of all). Increasingly unlikely rationalizations are invented to quell the anxiety caused by the idea of having made a massive mistake in one's life. To confront the facts which undermine the former belief system and begin to investigate them as fully as possible before jumping to a conclusion requires an unusual tolerance of mental and emotional uncertainty and a strength of character and insistence on the truth which apparently relatively few persons possess. To be a dissident usually calls for a stable personality with resources (or perhaps a social support system) in order to regenerate one's own well-being and redirect one's life goals. Having gradually lost touch with nearly everyone who was not involved with the Sai movement, one finds that those who remain reduce or cut off contact, for they are too uncomfortable with someone who calls these beliefs into question. When the first domino falls, so to speak, many others follow until the unstable faith is brought down entirely. This process has been underway with increasing force among followers and other foreign seekers since the main exposure of Sathya Sai Baba in 2000.
Beliefs, once adopted often after much searching and seeking, tend to grow of themselves. The believing mind seeks all that can reinforce the belief and tends to reject or ignore whatever may conflict with it. Often it is because the belief helps inspire and strengthen good qualities in oneself and positive action towards the world, along with a meaningfulness of purpose in life and the cosmos. When the flames of such a positive intention are fed by constant supportive 'spin' and stories of many others','subjective experiences' which no one can control and the fewest can investigate to any reasonable extent, they continue to consume people. Our own experience - being all that we really know - can often be distorted if we have allowed our minds to be programmed by a doctrine. It is overshadowed by the false expectations created by remaining in an environment of a sect or a cult.
When serious doubts emerge, doubts that will not disappear and can only be ignored with difficulty, they too can grow as the facts go on bolstering them, whether one likes it or not. But if, when confronted face on and investigated, one's doubts prove unjustified as mere unsubstantial rumours with no one to testify to them, they would dissipate and fall away. This does not happen with the allegations about Sathya Sai Baba , rather quite to the contrary.
Information on the Public Petition for Official Investigations of Sathya Sai Baba and His Worldwide Organization
See also Devotee attacks on the Sai petition and petitioners
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