I've been reading around here and wondering: "What is faith?" I thought I knew what it was intellectually, but the more I try to put it into words the less I think I know. Faith is a positive characteristic that I understand intellectually, but I don't experience directly. I don't understand it so much as I stand under it. So I'm wondering if you all want to talk about this? I'm hoping someone who does experience faith would like to offer a definition, a description, or an explanation.
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When I flip a lightswitch, I have faith that the light will turn on. Once in a while that faith turns out to be unfounded. (Although that happens less with these CFL bulbs.) If I didn't have faith I would not flip the switch.
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I would have to say that faith is a form of surrender. It's a willingness to realize that you can't control everything in life and a belief that some higher power is doing so. Also often surrendering logic or reason in the service to feelings or promptings.
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For Pyre and Nate: I wonder if the two of you would say that faith and trust are the same thing? I can trust that the light will come on when I flip the switch, for example.
For Robert: Nearly everything that happens in the universe is beyond my understanding. That doesn't mean that its not knowable, however. I think one of the best things a scientist can say is, "I don't know yet," admitting where her knowledge is weak and implying that the knowledge is knowable. I wonder if you mean 'beyond my understanding, for now' or 'beyond understanding forever by it's nature'? Is faith its-self an unknowable thing?
[This message has been edited by Crane (edited August 03, 2011).]
Faith and trust do go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. The light switch example would be more a matter of trust to me. Faith is trust expanded to the limits. Very few people have faith in that respect.
Faith is like it's described in the Bible. That you have to have faith like a small child has that absolutely nothing will go wrong that Mom and Dad can't fix no matter what. Everything will be fine. A child in this situation has no worries about something going wrong. They know 100% that they are safe in the protection of their parents.
Faith is having absolutely no doubts about something. You know it's so and it always will be. Faith is knowing you can trust someone not to harm you intentionally... ever.
Let's go back to the light bulb example. You may trust the light will turn on when you flip the light switch, but in the back of your mind you know that bulb won't last forever, that it will burn out eventually. So you'll have that nagging doubt that this time might just be the time it won't come on. Your faith that it will is just not there. But if you had a light bulb that would last forever, you would have full faith that light would come on ever time. And there's where the difference lies.
Faith is knowing beyond all doubt that something will never NEVER harm you. That you can trust in it for the rest of your life. Faith is not needing any reason to doubt in anything. No need to worry or fret or lose sleep over it. That, in my mind, is faith.
When something happens that you do not understand---say, when you flip a switch hooked up to a light bulb, and, in most cases, the light comes on---you're taking the matter on faith.
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So what I'm hearing from you all (with the exception of LD) is that faith is belief without understanding, reason, or evidence. Its some kind of 100% guarantee that everything will be fine. I'm troubled by the parent/child analogy because while a child may think that their parents have the power to make everything ok, the parent probably doesn't see it that way. The parent probably has a firmer grip on reality, in that case.
Would people agree, then, that faith is another word for naivete? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that definition because so many dear friends are deeply faithy and I don't think they're especially naive.
The secularist might make the argument that faith is something we make up to make us feel better about the unknown. Is faith the Spackle that fills the gaps in our knowledge? I hope that's not the answer, because people who can't just say, "I don't know," are one of my peeves. While I agree that some people use faith to fill that role, I think it's a little bit reductionist to say that's all that faith is.
I'm interested in LDWriter's quote. The quote is actually over my head, but I want to spend more time thinking about it, perhaps I'll be able to grok it later. Anyone have any insight into what it means?
Yes, a parent does have a firmer grip on reality, but I can remember when it was just my mom and me when I was very young. I didn't know at the time that our moving from one apartment to another was because Mom might not have had the rent money. I still don't know, but from things said I've come to that conclusion. At the time, I thought everything was fine and life was perfect... faith in Mom that all was well all the time. Naive? Maybe in this respect. But I just knew if Mom was there everything was fine.
I am not naive in my faith in God. God is real. He gave me life and the world I live in. I also have faith in the reality of the Devil and the ongoing struggle between God and Satan. Someone who doesn't believe in such things may call that being naive, but I don't see it as such. It's as real as breathing, as knowing I have an immortal soul. I know where my priorities lie in this respect and am not naive in any sense of the word.
Faith isn't there to "fill in the gaps". Life fills in the gaps. Faith is all. It's life and what comes after. It gets me through every day of my life. I can't imagine living without faith.
And yes, faith is one of the hardest things to define. You can't package it into an one single definition. It's scope is way too broad a subject for that. I know I have faith. Faith in God? Yes! Faith in my closest friends? Until they prove me otherwise, and I've had some of my friends for decades. And that you can take to the bank.
As for LD's Bible quote: There's no deep meaning there. It's about faith in God more than anything else. Think of is like that, and everything falls into place.
It's very interesting to see how this kind of metonymic connection between "trustworthiness", "having confidence in" and "belief" is preserved from the Greek "Πίστις" to the Latin "fides" to the English word "faith". This is due in part no doubt to the influence of theology; but this connection exists in Greek in pre-Christian times "Πίστις" being the proper name of the goddess personification of trustworthiness, and used in the writings of Plato and Aristotle respectively to mean "belief" and "confidence in a proposition".
I think that theology may be inclined to discount other common senses of the word in its understandable focus on doctrine.
There is a poem by the great Heian poet Hitomaro (d. 720 CE) which he wrote on the occasion of his wife's death. In it he writes of the days when he was secretly courting her and the difficulties he had to overcome, and without mentioning it he captures wonderfully what faith feels like:
quote: Yet I always trusted the way would be clear, though endless as the wild vine, at last to meet my dear, like a hopeful sailor trusting on his tall ship.
Crystal said something interesting, especially about her past and that my quote wasn't meant to be deep, but I want to add :
quote: Would people agree, then, that faith is another word for naivete?
Again I would say it depends on what type of faith. Some faith is naivete no doubt about it... at least according to my way of thinking, but not all is. Some of it comes from a very strong personal belief and is based on past experiences. Using Christianity as an example since that is what I know... Even though we can't see everything yet there are reasons for belief in Jesus. In one way that faith is based on words- from the Bible mostly but also from what other people say they have experienced- not what we see, smell or taste, or feel. But as I said on another hand there reasons to belief.
I'm not sure if I got across everything I wanted to. I know what I mean but getting the right words out isn't always easy. Like writing a story.
But you can read the whole chapter of Hebrews Eleven. It deals with faith and how various people dealt with it. If you don't have a Bible there are places on the internet where you can read it.
There's was something I forgot so I came back:
Crystal I hope you don't mind me using what you said,
But I in her case with her mother I wouldn't be surprised if there was a reason for her faith in her mother. Some may think it was just ignorance and/or naivete but as I said I think there was past experience that helped her faith. But at the same time faith can change as we get older and there's a reason, when it comes to faith, Jesus said we have to become like children.
And I add: I repeat, what she said about Hebrew Eleven One not having a deep meaning. Much of the Bible is like that, as an example John 3:16- you may have heard or read sometime- is very to the point and concise, easy to understand; especially when you see it in context, Seventeen is just the same. There can be a deeper meaning in many areas of the Bible but it's related to the surface meaning that is out there for all to see.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. I know there's ice at the Polar cap. I trust the people who have been there and the pictures I've seen but I haven't been there, I haven't see it nor felt the cold in person, haven't even flown over it. I have faith it's there. So you might say that one type of faith is knowing something or someone is there.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited August 05, 2011).]
There is a story about a tightrope walker who crosses a deep chasm carrying a wheelbarrow. As a demonstration, he crosses over and back with a large sack of sand in the barrow. The crowd applauds on his arrival back and asks him to say a couple of words. He goes up to the podium and says "Now, this sack is about the weight of the heaviest of you among the crowd. Who here believes that I can carry a live person across the chasm?" Just about every person put their hand up. He then asked "Ok, then who will volunteer?"
To me, there is a distinction between belief about something/someone, and faith in something/someone. And that difference is evidenced in the action of the person that grasps that faith.
quote:So what I'm hearing from you all (with the exception of LD) is that faith is belief without understanding, reason, or evidence.
It is not the opposite of reason, nor is it mutually exclusive to evidence. It just doesn't necessarily require evidence before an action is taken. In the case of the lightbulb, the evidence was there by the many times previous that it did work. In that example, you could say that faith was established by reason, and acting on the small possibility that this time it would be failure was a position of faith.
It is interesting in the tightrope story that the evidence for both positions (for belief about and belief in) was available to the onlookers. I hit this issue time and again in my career (science) where the exact opposite is preached by most, i.e. that nothing is true unless proven. Ironically, scientific method itself has a step akin to faith (hypothesis) and most of my colleagues do have a faith of sorts (usually around the meaning of science towards their life and viewpoint).
quote:Would people agree, then, that faith is another word for naivete?
I don't think so. Naivete implies a lack of knowledge. Faith can be independent of knowledge. It can be linked to knowledge. More typically for its use, it can come before knowledge, with knowledge being obtained as a result of the actions taken in/by faith. If the actions resulted in a backflip or a major correction, then the faith may have been unfounded. However, perhaps even more often, the actions lead to evidence that the (reason for) faith was correct, and it was the skepticism that was unfounded (or perhaps, confounded )
[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited August 05, 2011).]
I'm still digesting you-all's thoughtful comments. I'm very impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of your answers. I'm especially interested in the link between "faith" and "fidelity," but I need to ruminate some more on that. I'm also digging the poem quoted by MattLeo.
In the meantime, my aunt has the following quote as her status on fb, which I think echos some of what you're telling me.
"I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse." Philip Yancey
The internet tells me that Philip Yancey is a Christian author, but I've not read his books.
In isolation, this quote makes me think of what it was like to learn chemistry when I was in high school. I completely set myself up to flunk that class, because I couldn't get a grip on anything my teacher was saying. It all seemed like inexplicable magic to me. I spent the entire class angry because I was convinced that he was lying to us. Turns out, he was lying to us. Electrons do not exist in round orbitals like little planets going around the sun. There're all kinds of analogies that a chemistry teacher uses to allow students to learn chemistry. The problem that I had with him was actually a pedagogical problem, not a chemistry problem. I was furious that he expected me to learn about bonds without first explaining about quantum chemistry. Anyhow I did get over it, and he made a deal with me: ace the final and I'll pass you. I passed, but that's another story. If I could have suspended my disbelief and had faith that what my teacher was telling me was true, I would have had a much easier time passing chemistry. That is to say, if I could have "trusted in advance," then chemistry might have, "made sense in reverse."
Chemistry is still quite mysterious, and the answers that I wanted as a student still aren't well-understood. What is the nature of an electron? Its mysterious, no? Can we understand bonding without understanding the nature of an electron? Yeah, we can, at least well enough to use chemistry day-to-day. Then again, a geocentric model of the universe is also good enough for day-to-day applications.
Please don't misunderstand, I'm not trying to "logic" anyone out of their faith. I'm not posting this to make converts. Destroying faith is a horribly violent act that I don't ever want to be guilty of. That being understood, the following question is not rhetorical. I'm hoping for an honest answer or a simple 'I don't know.' I'm not trying to be inflammatory.
What I want to know is: Do we need faith? What's wrong with saying 'the universe is mysterious, specifically I don't understand x, y, z. Someday, if we keep questioning, we may understand those things. We don't need faith to tell us that everything will be ok, or that we have the answer, or that Somebody has the answer and so its not worth worrying about. We don't need faith because living with unknowns and risk is fine and identifying them is helpful." ?
I'd like to preface what I'm saying with this. Many people view faith as a passive thing. Just sitting back and believing. I strongly disagree with this notion.
I think faith can be very harmful simply because it's so easy to abuse, especially when a person doesn't exercise his own capacity for reasoned thought. Horrible things have been done in the name of god. People have willingly suffered under evil men lulled into inactivity by promises that it's god's will, or that no matter how bad this life may be, the next will be better.
On a bit of a sidetrack. I'm not saying that there isn't a heaven, but hope in a better life doesn't give a person the right to sit around and let this one be terrible. People who say "well, those who do wicked in this life will have their just reward in the afterlife" and do nothing to change anything are at best cowards, at worst contributing to the misery in the world by tacitly supporting it.
If we hope for a heaven, we should do our best to make earth that way as well so we know what we're hoping for. And if we don't, even if we just sit idle and do nothing, maybe we're not as righteous as we pretend to be.
[This message has been edited by Natej11 (edited August 05, 2011).]
"the universe is mysterious, specifically I don't understand x, y, z. Someday, if we keep questioning, we may understand those things."
My question to this is: How is this not faith? Science is founded on faith. You have faith that there is an answer to x, y, z. You don't know that answer but you believe that there is an answer, you believe enough to dedicate your life in pursuit of those answers. X, y, and z are not in evidence right now, they are a mystery. Faith is looking for further evidence.
"We don't need faith to tell us that everything will be ok, or that we have the answer, or that Somebody has the answer and so its not worth worrying about."
This is a matter of what you have faith in. Faith itself doesn't say anything. Some people have faith in terrible things, things that say things will definitely not be OK. Faith isn't a 'someone else will fix the problem' thing at all. I have faith in a god who says, in essence, "Everything will be ok." that doesn't change my responsibility to help make things ok one whit.
Let's take a math professor who hands you a test and tells you that every problem has an answer. (Even if that answer is unanswerable.) Your faith that the problems have answers doesn't stop you from working them out. In fact it works the opposite way.
"We don't need faith because living with unknowns and risk is fine and identifying them is helpful."
Again, cut the "don't" and you've got a quote worthy of any prophet. "We need faith because living with unknowns and risk is fine and identifying them is helpful." Without faith the only response to the unknown is paralyzing terror.
We do need to differentiate between Trust and Faith. Because I believe in precision of language. Faith may just be a stronger word for trust, but I think it goes deeper than that. Trust is earned. Faith grows. My lightbulb analogy was too simplistic, that is more trust, and uneasy trust at that. I trust my belt to keep my pants up, but it doesn't seem appropriate to call it faith.
Let's take it back to the answer to x, y, z, you have faith that there is an answer. You have an idea about how to discover that answer. You trust that idea enough to try it out, but if it fails. You have only lost trust in that idea, not your faith that there is an answer.
So, perhaps faith is in large concept things, and trust is in small parts of a larger concept.
Faith is in no way naiveté. You can't have faith in something you don't properly understand. (Notice I didn't say completely understand, you don't need the full picture.) It doesn't make any sense to say, "I have faith in something, I just don't know what that something is." I don't believe that a naive understanding is enough to have faith.
Nate: Bad things have been done because of lack of faith as well. People get into believing that nothing matters at all. It's all just a pointless exercise in futility. And then they go into a crowded place and kill as many people as they can. Or they abuse systems and people to get exactly what they want, because they don't think those people or systems have any value. Because nothing has value in a world without faith. (And we have to keep in mind that we are discussing the concept of faith, not faith in any one specific thing or personage.)
Sure faith can be harmful, so can pinecones. Everything can be abused, that doesn't lower it's value.
I agree. Faith in a better life shouldn't make a person sit around and let this one be terrible. It does make it bearable. Having faith that the wicked will be punished in an afterlife should make a faithful person work tooth and nail against wickedness. But at the same time we can't prevent all wickedness in the world. We aren't Axe Cop http://axecop.com/index.php/acask/read/ask_axe_cop_10/ and we don't have the bad guy bomb. But we can sleep at night (again unlike Axe Cop). We know that even without being able to fix everything things will be fixed. We can face grave danger for a worthy cause knowing that this isn't the end. Yes, you can face grave danger for a worthy cause without a faith in an afterlife as well.
First of all, thank you for not be offended. I'm trying to be very careful, because, in my experience, people can get fairly emotional about this topic (which is understandable).
Would you agree that if you believe that anything can be understood and you are willing to pursue understanding, that's a kind of faith? Would you agree that anyone who doesn't fear the unknown is exhibiting faith?
People here seem to agree that we must be specific about what we have faith in. So if the answer to those questions is 'yes' what is this faith in? Can we say it is the faith in the know-ability of all things? That sounds cool, but arrogant. Do you-all have faith that all things are knowable? I don't think I do. I think all things may be knowable so we should never shrug our shoulders and give up. We can't prove that something is not knowable, after all. However, I think is possible that there are unknowable things out there somewhere. So is it still faith if there's this doubt? Can faith contain doubt?
And for the record, saying that I've devoted my life to understanding is flattering, but not true. I wish it was true. Who wants to pay me to develop my understanding? Anyone? Anyone?
Faith isn't just something you have (belief), faith is more the trust that allows and helps you to act on what you believe, even more, faith includes/implies/requires/presupposes action (a verb, as opposed to belief, which is a noun).
Hmm, don't want to get into a preaching mode again but according to Christian teaching, faith is active. We are to act on what we believe, which can be: feeding the poor, helping someone off an addiction, preaching Good News, mowing a lawn for someone who can't etc.. An old singing group d.c.Talk has a song that says love is a verb so is faith.
So this also response to the comment about people doing bad things because of faith. People with faith do a whole lot more to help.
Pyre said, "Because nothing has value in a world without faith."
I can understand why you feel this way. I used to feel this way, too. I used to call myself an atheist, but I don't use that word anymore because people understand it differently than I do, which makes communicating difficult. When I took my first steps into a world without God, it was as if all color, beauty, and happiness had left the world. I didn't see the point of it all anymore. It was really horrible and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But after a while, I got better. I didn't regain my belief, but I felt better. So, as a person without faith, I can assure you that the sun still shines, people still love each other, good is still possible, and the universe is still beautiful. Neither Satanism nor nihilism are the opposite of faith.
As to Kathleen and LD's comments that faith implies a verb. I am reminded of a line I heard somewhere: "faith without works is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine." So if the difference between faith and belief is action, why is faith not grammatically a verb? The fact that its not grammatically a verb is making this very tough for me to get my head around. I'm trying this thought experiment: What if someone displays the actions of faith (I suppose this is something like sharing one's time, energy, love, resources, etc. with other people or for the benefit of others?)... What if someone does the 'works' of faith without the belief? Is that faith?
quote:But after a while, I got better. I didn't regain my belief, but I felt better. So, as a person without faith, I can assure you that the sun still shines, people still love each other, good is still possible, and the universe is still beautiful.
Crane, why do you equate faith to religion? Yes, one definition of faith is belief in God or the doctrines of religion but it is also trust or belief in someone or something else. I'm not religious at all yet I have faith in certain people, that they'll be there when I need them, that they'll never let me down. For me, faith is akin to trust, as I think was mentioned by someone earlier in the post. Yes, it has religious connotations for those who believe in that. But I don't think faith is the exclusive property of religious belief.
BTW, excellent topic and awesome points and discussion.
[This message has been edited by KathiS (edited August 06, 2011).]
Oh wait! I've got it! Faith is an erratically moving target of variable size that keeps phasing out of this dimension every time I get near it. It's both a particle and a wave, and I can know either the velocity or the location, but not both. It's neither alive nor dead until I open the box. It has volume but no mass, except when its traveling at relativistic speed, in which case the opposite is true. Sometimes it exists in two places at once, but when it does the spin is subject to quantum entanglement. It also goes by the name of Higgs boson. Anyway it can't possibly fit into this butterfly net, even if I could get within one parsec of it. If it weren't for midi-chlorians it wouldn't exist at all. It doesn't always drink beer, but when it does it prefers dos equis.
Reminds me of a quote from Star Trek: "Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad. Are you sure your circuits are functioning correctly? Your ears are green."
My dictionary defines "faith" thus:
quote:faith...n. [O. Fr. feid, fei (Fr. foi), < L. fides, faith, < fidere, trust.] Confidence or trust in a person or thing, loyalty; fidelty to a person, promise, or commitment; belief not substantiated by proof; spiritual acceptance of truth or realities not certified by reason; belief in God; belief in the doctrines or teachings of a religion.
To me, faith is a point of one's bearings in the world. We all need something in which we trust completely so we can establish opinions of other things. If this faith contains religious dogmas, it's the same thing.
Faith is like a rock. You hold on to it and survive through storms of life. Or you can hold on to it until it pulls you too deep underwater to swim out.
And if it starts to wobble, hop to a new rock. And if you want to cross the river without getting your feet wet, keep on hopping. I learned this from walking in the mountains. *sage nod* One rock will get you no where. Trust me, I know about rocks.
Excuse me while I take this analogy and hop with it.
quote:Or, you can have faith in you're own abilities to handle that storm, let go of the rock and face what the universe tosses at you.
KathiS, if there is such a thing as an immortal soul, I think we're soul sisters.
My general observations lead me to think that people are more alike than they are different. Perhaps this is a non-issue. Maybe there's not such a gulf between faithy people and doubty people. Perhaps the divide is all in our committedness to our own labels. That is to say, the more I insist that I am not faithy the more different I'm going to seem to people and the more different I will feel. I am thinking about a mountain with a canyon cut into it. If two people are on opposite canyon rims they think there is a gap between them. If they each investigate the ground they stand on, follow it all the way to the floor of the canyon, they'll discover that they are standing on the same rock after all.
And I don't care if you think my analogy is cheesy (which it is).
When I said "nothing has value in a world without faith" what made you think I was talking about faith in God? You may have set down (or whatever phrase you would use to describe the process) your faith in God but you didn't lose faith in everything. You still have faith that the sun shines, and that people still love each other, that good is possible, and that the universe is still beautiful. I can tell from your responses that this hasn't sunk in yet so I have to say it again: Faith isn't belief in God. Many people have faith in God. But many people have faith in humanity. Many people have faith in science. Many people have faith in tomato plants. (These people happen to be tomato farmers.) Of course satanists have faith (although it's not faith in Satan since the central tenenat of that faith is that Satan doesn't exist). Nihilists have faith in annihilation. Faith is a deep and abiding belief. When people lose faith in everything, then nothing is beautiful, there is no good or evil, there is nothing worth getting out of bed for. Everything irritates a person with no faith and soon they decide to destroy everything.
"Would you agree that if you believe that anything can be understood and you are willing to pursue understanding, that's a kind of faith? Would you agree that anyone who doesn't fear the unknown is exhibiting faith?"
So totally. "Willing to pursue" is a particularly useful phrase when talking about faith.
I don't think faith and doubt are mutually exclusive. I think fear is the opposite of faith. And please remember that when I say faith I don't mean faith in God.
The whole "faith without works is dead" could be said a different way, "it's not really faith if you don't do anything about it." Faith is a motivation, if someone is doing the actions of a faith without really believing in it then there must be some other motivation. Perhaps it is a love for people who expect these actions, or a fear of those people. Or perhaps they have something to gain from doing those actions.
quote:What I want to know is: Do we need faith? What's wrong with saying 'the universe is mysterious, specifically I don't understand x, y, z. Someday, if we keep questioning, we may understand those things. We don't need faith to tell us that everything will be ok, or that we have the answer, or that Somebody has the answer and so its not worth worrying about. We don't need faith because living with unknowns and risk is fine and identifying them is helpful." ?
Just stumbled upon this thread and find it interesting. Like politics, religion is quick to form battle lines.
@Crane -- what you speak of is an agnostic point of view -- not a doubt that God exists, but that His existence is unknowable. Faith is the bridge between what is known and what is believed to be true, but cannot be proven with evidence.
To answer the question, why do we need faith (I am taking the narrow definition of religious faith, which is often tacitly implied when the word is used)? There are many answers to your question depending on your worldview. Christianity, for example, has a simple answer: faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross are required for eternal life:
quote:For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
- Ephesians 2:8-9 (emphasis mine)
I don't mean this at all to be antagonistic, just as an explanation of the Christian worldview. You will find similar viewpoints in other religions/belief systems as well.
I just read something that argued that, with the introduction of Christianity to the world, people were handed a faith, a religion, and scripture that they were obligated to think about. What conclusions they reached might be questionable...but the ability to reason, thus developed, set the stage for the rise of Western Civilization.