What is faith?
Faith is kind of trying to make yourself believe something is true/real, even if you have no concrete evidence. In religion, your worth is judged by the strength of your faith. Or it might be that people think of faith as a kind of generic positivity (deriving from what is good i.e. God) which will lead them on the right path through life. A person of faith must also try to be a good person, pray and heed teachings of the holy book. It is the implication that people with no faith cannot be good because they do not do these things.
Another motivation for faith could be the threat of hell. Personally, I always took the view that I can only know what I know, and not what I don’t know. And what I do know is that if there is a God, and my lack of faith condemns me to eternal damnation, then God and religion clearly has nothing to do with morality. Because saying something is true without reason or evidence is not a bad act. But the biggest issue I see with religion is that it doesn’t make us good at all, in fact, it can even hold us back.
What does it feel like to be good?
Being truly good and living life the best we can brings immediate and directly-experienced benefits. So no, we do not need a holy book or faith in order to be good. Every act has an inherent quality experienced by the actor. We could call this inherent karma. A ‘good’ act is rewarding and nourishing. A ‘bad’ act is empty and only fuels the ego’s appetite for more bad acts. People who do wrong may never realise how they harm themselves. And though people who do good may suffer at the hands of those that do bad, some pity should be spared for the perpetrators and for anyone who does not know how to give, only to take.
There is a moral compass locked within us. It is part of our nature as social beings. In fact, we would have a far deeper understanding of right and wrong if, rather than look outwards for guidance, we simply attuned to and heeded our emotions. Right and wrong are there to be sensed and experienced. We just need to notice how it feels to be generous, humble or sincere. Once we acknowledge how much better it feels to be ‘good’ and not ‘bad’, we can be empowered to relinquish thoughts and behaviours which, in a subtle way, only bring suffering.
Accepting ourselves, even when we’re bad
It’s perfectly fine to try to be good but it’s hard to see how it works if you’re doing it for someone/something else. This creates an external standard to be met. The individual cannot put themselves and their needs first, they are supposed to put their needs second to God. ‘Bad’ thoughts or behaviour, or even ‘struggles’ with faith, must be eradicated.
But we can’t just try to be good. It’s a bit like me just trying not to eat chocolate. It won’t work. I need to begin by making sense of my behaviour without berating or judging. In fact, the way to stop eating chocolate is to remove the pressure of trying altogether by accepting myself, letting go of shame and any sense of failure. I am then in a position to listen; noticing how my behaviour makes me feel; empowering me to take full control of my life. I might then do the right/best thing because it feels good to me.
Negativity, whether it relates to the self, or to others, cannot simply be wished away. It requires a kindly and gentle response; the space to be critical and irrational; to acknowledge the failings or limitations of others; to acknowledge injustice. Negative feelings may, at first, explode in anger but they can begin a crucial dialogue with the self.
There must be acceptance before improvement; an organic pathway where we can see and feel the logic of it for its own sake. It has to be ‘okay’ to be bad because the purest form of ‘good’ comes from within.