Monday, November 28, 2011

On Faith: what it is, and what is not...

In my opinion some of the most engrossing discussions I have with both religious and non-religious people include discussing the following: faith. But before I speak to you my dear reader regarding my thoughts on what faith is, what is not, what it could be and so on, let us look as a dictionary definition of the word faith (according to Miriam-Webster):

Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust

Definition of FAITH
allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions

belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust

something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

It appears to me that most of these descriptions of faith point to 'belief'. But the question must be asked: does belief = faith? I would say that while elements of 'belief' can play a role in 'faith', belief does not equal faith. In fact if you my dear reader are a Christian allow me to ask you: do you think that saying "I believe in Christ" is the same as "Having faith in Christ"? We shall go back to this later.

As a Facebook user, I see arguments about religion (along with politics, sports, sci-fi, etc) all the time. When it comes to religion, faith always comes up in some way or another depending on the context. A regular scenario is the one where a 'Theist' (many times from a Christian point of view) would say to an Atheist the following: 
Theists should not expect atheists to believe in a creator because atheists lack the key faculty to understand. Faith is not a natural faculty. It can only be found in those who have been regenerated. Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. ESV

Then came the replies: 
Faith is gullibility and In that first quote, "regenerated" is open for interpretation. I read that and equate it to "indoctrinated" rather than "rejuvenated". As you said, faith is not natural. Therefore, it must be instilled. On the other hand, free thinking is natural because it provides us with the basic tools to analyze the world around us. Therefore, freethinking is "lacking" in theists rather than a "lack" of faith in atheists. As you measure the world around you, you use free thinking tactics. Therefore on a weekly basis you must be reminded of your faith because if left unchecked it will diminish with lack of evidence. Hence, church.

The movie 'Cool Hand Luke' comes to mind since perhaps what we have here is a "failure to communicate". Taking the examples above while being aware that they are not fully representative of all Christians and all Atheists we get the following: 1) Belief (or not) in a Creator. 2) Lacking (or not) the "natural faculty" to have faith. 3) Faith is found in those who have been regenerated. 4) Knowledge and analysis of the world. 5) Gullibility. 6) Faith is "instilled". 7) "Freethinking" is 'natural' unlike faith. 8) Lack of evidence. etc, etc.

I try to tell my Atheist brothers and sisters is that faith is NOT "lack of evidence", "belief in spite of evidence", "rejecting freethinking", or "evidence diminishes faith", etc.  Also, I tell my Christian brothers and sisters that faith is NOT "belief in God", "lack of hope", or "that one must be a believer", etc. All of this points to something that can be related to faith but is not faith. (Note: I am glad to say that some of my Christian and Atheists brothers and sisters agree with what I am about to say.)

Theoretical substantiation, trust, and knowledge deals with the scenario of how much or how little evidence there is for something. Our daily lives deal with this and in many ways we sometimes operate in auto-pilot: getting up in the morning, having breakfast, going to class or to work etc. Otherwise we would never leave the house thinking: "a flock of seagulls (not the 80's band) could attack me since I live close to the ocean", or "I am not going to start my car since I insulted Joe Pesci and he could put a bomb in my car", or "there was no Roman Empire since for all I know the book is lying about Julius Caesar and he could only be a cartoon for a pizza chain".  The history book (along with the history teacher) acts as an authority that we either trust or not. Even if we are skeptical (nothing wrong with that by itself since it can be healthy at times) at some point we trust certain things. Otherwise we could only believe those things that come to us by direct experience and then we have to deal with the scenarios of what is real, what is not real, etc.  In other words, there is knowledge, there is trust, there is belief AND all of these can play a role in faith; however they are not in themselves faith. But then what is faith?

Before I answer my dear reader, I would like to hear from you. In a respectful way and keeping an open mind toward the opinions of others, what does faith mean to you?

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