In some ways, being a true believing Christian might hinder fulfilling Christ’s message to the world. Believers in anything, Christian or otherwise, rely on their tenets of belief to substantiate the very belief they hold. Approached this way, one has little incentive to challenge one’s own understanding. Rather, the understanding becomes the pillar of proof. Therein lays the pitfall of belief and faith.
One’s faith becomes the proof of one’s faith. Buddha cautioned against this circular blindness by advising folks to avoid taking anything he said on faith. He wanted his followers to trust but verify. Trust is accepting that there is a kernel of truth in everything. Verify is accepting that there are mountains of bias and myth in everything. The only way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to verify through one’s own experience as one’s life plays out to its end.
The first line of chapter 71 literally says, Realizing I don’t know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. This view will surely fall on deaf ears of any believer when it comes to their core beliefs. Conversely, noticing the ‘disease’ in another’s belief is not only easy; it is irresistible. After all, seeing how false ‘their’ belief is makes ‘our’ belief feel even truer. If faith in belief were the answer, the world would be trouble free by now. Faith in our beliefs never enlightens us, and most of the time it only serves to hoodwink us.
Faith in the wild favors fitness
Animals are biologically set up to accept matters on faith. All animals, including humans, have faith in what their senses tell them about the world they experience. Mosquitoes have faith in their acute sense of CO2 which guides them to their next meal. Similarly, we have faith that our senses don’t lie. Instinct tells us that if something tastes good it must be good for us, and that what we see with our own eyes is real. That is how we become so easily hoodwinked by magicians, politicians and the producers of junk food — to name just three. Sure, we may have learned that a magician uses slight of hand, a politician panders, and junk food is not good for us, but instinct tends to pull us in anyway.
In the wild, such faith in perception normally favors fitness, i.e., an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment. Of course, various predators have evolved ways to use this to catch prey. The anglerfish (photo) and the fisherman both come to mind here. Alas, for us, rational thinking easily warps the generally healthy instinct of faith and we end up simply hoodwinking ourselves. As chapter 65 notes, Of old those who excelled in the pursuit of the way did not use it to enlighten the people but to hoodwink them. Instinct and faith certainly fit the description “Of old”.