When Bunny was recently suffering from a bout of sciatica, several friends suggested that she might try homeopathy. “Even if it doesn’t work, you’ve got nothing to lose; even if it doesn’t help you, it can’t harm you,” they said. So Bunny decided to give homeopathy a shot.
Other friends of ours were horrified at this. “You claim to be a rationalist. How can you believe in mumbo-jumbo like homeopathy, for which there is no scientific basis whatever? The few cases in which it’s supposed to have worked are obviously instances of the placebo effect: you believe strongly enough that something is going to cure you, you cure yourself. How can you believe in homeopathy, how can you have faith in it?”
And the answer to that is that you don’t have to have faith in something – be it homeopathy or anything else – in order to try it out, to practice it, while keeping your fingers crossed that it will work. In fact, faith itself – faith in a religion or in a non-denominational Divine Principle which is synonymous with the cosmos – is like homeopathy in that sense: you don’t have to have faith in faith in order to try it out, to practice it, keeping your fingers crossed that it works.
For some, faith – the ability to believe in something that is beyond everyday consciousness and understanding – comes naturally. It’s an innate gift, or talent, like being able to sing well, or have a flair for mathematics and be able to work out complicated sums in your head. But for many if not most, faith is not something given, but something that has to be acquired, a process made doubly difficult because you don’t have faith in the faith you are seeking.
So why seek this elusive faith that you don’t believe in, that you don’t have faith in, in the first place? You only seek faith when in desperation you are driven to faith by the opposite of faith, which is despair. Despair is like a bad attack of spiritual sciatica, an unbearably painful condition brought on by an overwhelming sense that not just your particular life, or human life in general, but the working of the universe itself is totally devoid of meaning. Despair can be caused by any number of factors: the devastating loss of a loved one, the post-traumatic stress of a life-threatening experience.
When the pain of despair can no longer be borne, we seek relief. Some might seek it in psychological counseling, or in medication, or in narcotics like alcohol. Some seek it in the homeopathy of faith.
Homeopathy is based on the (pseudo-scientific?) principle of toxin-anti-toxin, that a very diluted dose of the poison that is causing your ailment will cure your ailment. If the pain of despair makes you seek it, the flower of the faith you hope to cultivate will blossom out of the seeds of your despair, and will be all the more enduring for that.
For most, faith is not a gift, it is an act. An act of will, an act of choice to overcome despair. Act as if you have faith – try meditation techniques, participate in bhajans, or other spiritual or religious rituals and disciplines – and hope that faith will follow. Pascal called spiritual faith a gamble, a wager, in which if you lost you lost nothing, because you had nothing to begin with, but if you won, you won infinite riches. So try the gamble. Because – as with homeopathy – what have you got to lose? Nothing but the anguish of despair!