We are shaped not just by our ideological faith but also by our functional faith
Nonbelievers sometimes demonize believers, highlighting religious violence.
What such demonization overlooks is that the label believers is unhelpfully huge. It encompasses people who brainwash children to become suicide bombers as well as people who forgive their oppressors. Similar is the label nonbelievers: it can include non-violent nature-lovers as well as tyrants who heartlessly kill millions, having no fear of accountability to any higher power.
Evidently, people’s behavior isn’t determined solely by their belief about God. The Bhagavad-gita offers a more holistic account of behavior in terms of the three modes of material nature. The Gita (17.02) states that our faith falls in the three modes. Those with faith in the mode of goodness seek to resolve issues by discussion; those with faith in the mode of passion by domination; and those with faith in the mode of ignorance by destruction. Thus, the modes determine their functional faith, that is, their belief about how things function in the world and how they need to function. We can distinguish this from their belief about ultimate reality, which can be called ideological faith. In people’ behavioral choices, their functional faith frequently marginalizes or even misappropriates their ideological faith.
Believers in the mode of ignorance destroy their opponents – and rationalize it using their religion. Their destructive ignorance targets anyone who they see as a threat, even people of their own religion who differ from them on minor doctrinal or ritual issues.
Whereas believers often trumpet their ideological faith, the Gita (14.26) urges us to become bhakti-yogis and focus on transforming our functional faith by establishing a disciplined devotional connection with all-pure transcendence. When we thus rise from the lower modes to goodness and transcendence, we become agents of positive change, experiencing spiritual satisfaction internally and promoting social harmonization externally.
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