Faith of a Child   September 14, 2011

Most major religions tell us that we need to have faith. “Childlike faith” is a phrase that is often used as an illustration of faith that is unwavering. We are supposed to believe without seeing or without questioning. New converts are told that they have to just believe and they can move a mountain. Sometimes they are criticized for having little faith.

But how can we do that? We were all created with a mind that inherently questions and analyzes. Believing without any rational or evidence… isn’t that how people end up in a jungle commune drinking poison or strapping explosives around their waste and blowing themselves up? And if god intended us to believe what we are told without any evidence or rational at all, it seems like a cruel joke to provide us with a brain that is designed to question, evaluate and analyze.

What follows is my opinion on this topic. Ask me tomorrow and I may have a different opinion. I don’t claim to have any special insight. I don’t claim to be a spiritual teacher. I don’t even claim to be a particularly good person. I’m just a guy who thinks about things and is willing to offer an opinion. If you consider my ideas to be heresy I apologize, maybe I am wrong. This is just what I think… today.

What is childlike faith? Where does a child’s faith come from? Is it something that happens naturally between a child and a parent or is it a learned behavior? It is impossible to question an infant so we can only surmise.

When a newborn is hungry, if they have a mother who is not neglectful, she will provide food. And whenever the world is scary or uncomfortable mommy will come and provide comfort and safety. She will do this every time. It would not take the newborn long to realize that mommy is the great provider, that any time there is a need mommy will fix it. In the eyes of a small child mommy provides everything they need. She knows how to fix every problem. She provides everything they want. When you think about it this way it is not surprising that a child will have unwavering trust, or faith, in mommy and by extension daddy. The trust grows so much stronger because a child cannot provide these things for themself. They are helpless without their parents. Their parents sustain them.

As the child gets older and their understanding of the world becomes more complete, they realize that their parents do not know everything and cannot fix everything. The faith becomes a little less absolute. But even if the parents become neglectful or abusive there is still a terrific bond because for so many years, and even now to some extent, they are still the ones who provide.

I believe that this is learned behavior instead of some natural bond. One piece of evidence is that in cases of adoption a child forms this bond with the parents who raised them, not the parents who bore them.

So when someone says we ought to have childlike faith, I think we need to keep in mind that a child’s faith is unwavering, but it is also based on a track record. A child believes that their parents will take care of them because for their entire life up until now their parents have always taken care of them. It is not just a matter of believing what the parents say because they are the child’s parents; it is a matter of believing in the parents because the parents have established a history.

I don’t know if my faith would be considered great or small or somewhere in between. I do know that whatever faith I have is based on what I have seen and experienced over the course of my life. I have seen and experienced things that can be described only as really strange coincidence or else miraculous. I suspect that people who have greater faith than me have a longer and more profound track record with these types of experiences. People who have less faith than me probably have less of a track record. I don’t think that anyone starts out with faith that can move a mountain. But if you are open to the idea that there is a god who provides, no matter who your god is, and when you see god repeatedly take care of things that you could not take care of on your own, then you begin to expect that god will take care again. I think that is what faith is. The more this happens the stronger faith grows.

It is important to note that faith does not come when we deliver ourselves. It comes from being delivered from circumstances where we do not have the means to deliver ourselves, like a child who cannot take care of their own needs. But these things happen to most of us in life. What this means is that faith is not something that we have to muster on our own. It is a gift provided to us freely that grows over the years as we observe the things that happen around us and as we are delivered from the circumstances that we find ourselves in. The only thing that we contribute to it is an openness to the idea that we are being delivered.