There are countless mental frameworks to describe the variety of life. I think they are all false. Even theists change their idea of what faith is from time to time (or should). The point is not to find “the truth”, but to motivate ourselves. Whatever framework encourages a person to learn is the right framework at that moment. Thoughts and ideas are simply too transient and perishable. If we hold to any of them for too long, it retards progress.
So what is a life of faith? Have you ever fallen madly in love? Do you remember what the world was like before it happened, and how it was after?
If a man, for example, had lived before you and experienced this, he might say, “There is someone now living, who will steal your heart and transform the moments of your days into bliss.” He would say this because he had experienced it: the kind of transporting, ecstatic joy that is only to be found in the arms of a beloved.
To live without God — and I mean the reality, not the word — is to live without having known the Beloved: He to whom worldly love is as a shadow cast on the ground. If someone tells you that such a Beloved exists, then to seek Him you must have faith, because the way can be long, painful, and require much sacrifice. Without faith, one might give up on search as futile, or believe ultimately that no such love exists.
When I talk about this Being, I mean something that is beyond thoughts or ideas. It has no name, no description. It is not even a “being” in the sense of the word. It can only be known through experience, and even then it cannot be known. We experience it each day in the things of life, but it’s like sunlight reflected from a dull rock — or rather, reflected into dull eyes. The true sun is much brighter.
So why have religion? What we seek is profound and subtle. Look at the confusion that remains, no matter the countless books which have been written, and the many faiths on Earth. The answer is too simple. And yet, to be enmired in that complication is part of the journey, part of recognizing the futility of thought, and relegating it to its proper role.
Morality is an aid in the search; so are devotion, reverence, fasting, etc. These things can help to clear the mind, focus the heart, purify the soul. The teachings of religion are meant to be a guide, but not a goal. The goal is ineffable. Religion is the science of the Beloved, and calls mankind by words he can comprehend.
Without the Beloved, religion would just be another framework. Life can be explained in countless ways. The atheist’s way is just as compelling as the theist’s way. I’ve found that based solely on intellectual reasoning, I can be convinced of almost anything.
But the Beloved… He is the element missing from the equation. People are debating religion, when religion has no intrinsic value. They are looking past the Purpose, the Goal. You can talk about love until your face turns blue, but it means nothing. The only real thing to a lover is the one he loves. People read books on how to find love, because they want to be ready, and increase their chances. This is a laudable effort. But alone, it’s like feeding air to a hungry person. The point of a lover’s life is the one he loves. Nothing else is real.
Until one tastes of that cup, religion is an easy thing to discard. What does it offer, but restriction? After that taste, one knows intimately what the point of faith is, and the purpose of life is abundantly clear. It’s like the lover attaining to the presence of his heart’s desire, and who suddenly learns the purpose of his anatomy.
Just as the lover cannot find his love if he stays at home and never ventures out, we cannot find our Beloved if we stay wrapped up in our many veils, dwelling in the castles of theory and habit. Religion is principally the art of unlearning: of tearing down these veils, and prompting us to venture out and seek Him. Once found, there is no more asking, “Why? What for?” The why and what for would be like asking a child why he plays.
The true seeker hunteth naught but the object of his quest, and the lover hath no desire save union with his beloved. Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit, which is the City of God. Labor is needed, if we are to seek Him; ardor is needed, if we are to drink of the honey of reunion with Him; and if we taste of this cup, we shall cast away the world. — Baha’u'llah
This knowledge of the Beloved transforms hearts, and thereby society. Religion gives us social laws to direct that ensuing love, and as a result great progress is attained in the time of each religion’s heyday. But then religion goes into decline, because the words lose their sense of the Beloved, and become mere words again. Man reads about love, but cannot find it, so he turns back to the world. This is when God sends another Messenger with a new religion, to rekindle the eternal flame.
Through the transformation of hearts, this world can be changed into a garden, filled with diversity and potential — not only for the few but the majority. How can people truly love one another, until they see the Beloved in each person, reflected in every face? Once life itself is the object of all hopes and wishes, it’s only natural to commit one’s time and energy to its betterment — in the same way a lover does for his love.