Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Point of Faith


In a previous post, I wrote:
The point of having faith is not to escape reality, but to see it clearly, as it is, and still be able to go on, because one has hope for something better and believes in something higher. This sort of faith takes strength of character, and it gives strength in return. It is precisely this sort of faith-- and this sort of strength of character that Bush lacks. Bush's problem, in short, is not that he has faith. It is that he lacks character.

Commenting on this post, Sean wrote:

I'm not sure I understand "the point of having faith is ... to see [reality] clearly". Isn't a good definition of faith "belief in the absence of evidence"? Whatever good points faith may have, I don't see how one can argue that seeing reality clearly is one of them.

Faith is paradoxical in this sense: Although it depends on belief in what cannot be known, it helps us deal with what can be known. Having faith means being able to accept the world and all of its imperfections for what it is, and still be able to go on, because one believes in something else.

Put another way, we must not use faith as a crutch to keep us from confronting unpleasant realities. Instead, we must use faith as a source of strength given the fact that life is not always fair and does not always hand us the best set of circumstances. We must play the cards we are dealt, and to do that, we need faith.

Thus, there are two kinds of faith: faith that lets people go on believing what they want to believe in spite of good evidence to the contrary, and faith that enables people to surmount difficulties in their lives that no one else thought they could surmount. The former sort of faith is a form of blindness; the latter sort of faith requires honesty about one's self and one's situation. The former sort of faith keeps us stuck in our present circumstances; the latter sort of faith allows us to improve our circumstances and the circumstances of those around us.

Which kind of faith does the President have? Which kind does he expect from those who support him? The answers to these questions are central to what people should do in this upcoming election.


there seem to be two issues addressed in prof B's post: how to deal with the reality of personal tragedy and how to deal with day-to-day reality. having had the great fortune never to confront the former, I can't address faith in that context. but I can speak to the latter.

any idea that one can't persevere without having faith in a "something else" that is inconsistent with perceived reality is demonstrably wrong. Camus addressed this philosophically in The Myth of Sisyphus. Anecdotally, many of us, despite our nihilism, live normal and satisfying lives that if anything are made easier by faith in cosmic indifference - it lets you off the hook, after all.

on the other hand, my faith that there is no vengeful god may be shaken by reelection of you-know-who.

Some have faith in faith while others have faith in reason. The former may never face reality while the latter are prepared to do so. For Bush, it's "Trust me, but there's no need to verify." Now is that faith?

Sorry, I just noticed this now. I see what you mean, but can't really agree. At least in the sense that your two notions of "faith" are sufficiently different as to deserve two different words to describe them, and the second definition isn't best described as "faith."

If you have a belief that you can surmount a difficulty that nobody else believes you can, and you then go and surmount it, I would say you are simply accurate. Several different things are being conflated here: one's attitude towards life (measured along an axis from courage/resolve through fatalism/despair), the correctness of one's view of reality (from accuracy through delusion), and the means through which one arrives at that view (from evidence/reason through intuition/revelation). You want to think of the good kind of faith as related to resolve, and the bad kind of faith as a denial of reality. But these aren't even along the same axis, much less different versions of the same thing. I think it's better to say "courage" or "resolve" or even "optimism" if that's what you mean, lest you risk bringing in unnecessary supernatural overtones.

Okay, it's all just chatter about definitions, but I think it's important to emphasize that one can be courageous and resolute without relying on anything conventionally described as "faith."

A theology and religion professor (who was as well as an ordained minister, in a mainstream Protestant denomination) once told me that faith was a reasonable expectation based upon consistent evidence, learned through experience. Thus, one can have faith that gravity will not suddenly fail to operate, nor that day will follow night in continuous succession.

Faith is what keeps the faithful from fear in an eclipse; faith permits the faithful to toss a child into the air,knowing that the child will not float away.

Superstition is the word we use for the explanations of cause and effect that are grounded in less developed science than the explanations that we believe. Myths are the truths of others, no less true to them than our truths are to us.

Your discussion of faith complements my former professor's statements, and offers new insights.

"faith was a reasonable expectation based upon consistent evidence, learned through experience. "I don't get it. Doesn't this definition then exclude religious faith, since religion is largely an unreasonable expection unsupported by evidence and held in spite of the failure of experience?

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I'm sorry for being intrusive in to your blog. But I am Melissa and I am a mother of two that is just trying to get out of an incredible financial debt. See my hubby is away in Iraq trying to protect this great country that we live in, and I am at home with our two kids telling bill collectors please be patiant. When my husband returns from war we will beable to catch up on our payments. We have already had are 2001 Ford repossessed from the bank, and are now down to a 83 buick that is rusted from front to back and the heater don't work, and tire tax is due in November.

I'm not asking for your pitty because we got our ownselfs into this mess but we would love you and thank you in our prayers if you would just keep this link on your blog for others to view.

God Bless You.

Melissa K. W.
To see my family view this page. My Family

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