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Faith

Faith


Faith as the heart of religious adherence is chiefly a Christian concept and a matter of Christian self description that has been used in the West to describe not only Christianity but other religions as well. In many other religions there are strong analogies to the Christian concept of faith, but they are still by and large analogies. Thus, this entry will deal with the Christian concept of faith and only analogously with other religions.


Definition

Faith would appear to be one of the chief problems in the relations between science and religion. Not only do Christians believe certain things that appear to conflict with scientific accounts of the world, and that are in principle inaccessible to scientific method, it is a theological virtue and necessity to believe them. To believe certain things about God (credere Deo ) is to believe them because one believes God (credere Deum ) (i.e., because one believes what God says and reveals because God is God); and one is willing to do that because one believes or trusts in God (credere in Deo ). This is according to the definition of Augustine of Hippo (354430), reiterated by Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274). According to them, it is this sort of faith, never mere belief, that defines a Christian. As Augustine observed, the devil believes the same things as the saint but cannot, of course, be considered to have faith because the devil does not trust in God. The reformers Martin Luther (14831546) and John Calvin (15091564) did not use this same formula; both, however, insisted that Christian faith always involved an inner element of trust and assurance. Never was it mere belief of facts or propositions.

Explanation or virtue?

This way of stating the problem, by stressing the inner aspect of faith, has not always been emphasized in debates over faith since the Enlightenment. Beginning with John Locke (16321704), who certainly had the ground prepared for him by others, and continuing through David Hume (17111776), philosophical and even theological concern with the concept of faith has largely been, with a few exceptions such as Søren Kierkegaard (18131855) and John Henry Newman (18011890), over what is believed. Such a perspective assumes that religious beliefs are formed in much the same way as scientific beliefs or that religious beliefs answer to the same sort of inquiries as scientific beliefs. In this case, religion is assumed from the outset to be an explanation for, say, how the world came to be; as such it competes directly with scientific accounts. It can then be assessed on the same methodological bases as scientific accounts. Locke, for example, thought Christian beliefs were credible because, he argued, one could (1) demonstrate that God exists and (2) have reason to believe what God had revealed whenever the propositions proposed for belief were attended by miracles, which served as evidence of their divine origin. Once one had such good reasons for belief, one could give one's will to propositions about God. Hume did not dispute this approach; he simply argued that one cannot demonstrate the existence of God and that miracles, though possible in principle, were never actually believable because they were, by definition, violations of what is normal. Thus, he argued, one should always be skeptical about miracles and reports about miracles.

Although Christians, on the Augustinian understanding, certainly confessed numerous objective beliefs about God, it was the inner virtue of trust that was paramount; trust was always prior to belief, and always linked to it. For Locke and Hume and the philosophical tradition after them, however, the relation between outer confession and inner trust is reversed: One ought not to give one's assent to God until the evidence dictates it. Even then, faith should be proportioned to the degree of certitude possessed by the evidence. Whether faith that is formed by certain or even highly probable chains of reason is actually faith is, of course, disputable, for there is no special personal virtue in committing oneself this way. Neither is there anything to be discovered by faith since the assent depends entirely on external evidence, accessible in principle to anyone who does not have faith.

On this account, then, faith and science would be comparable. Both are seen as explanations, and both depend on comparable sorts of evidence, giving answers to the same sort of inquiries. For example, religion and God might be considered explanations upon inquiry by early human ancestors into "how we got here." If primitive people were concerned by human and cosmic contingency and felt the need to explain it, so too are modern people, but they have much higher standards, such as the ones that Locke and Hume proposed. Or so the argument goes.

However, neither Jews nor early Christians actually seemed much given to this sort of speculation about cosmic origins. Rather, they conceived of their relations with God in much more personal categories. Since their relations with God were personlike, they required personal sorts of concepts for discussing matters about God, and such concepts require certain personal virtues, such as openness, loyalty, truthfulness, and love. These factors are central in the Augustinian definition of faith, where what is believed is important, but what is more important is the inner, personal nature of faith. In Christianity this inner aspect of faith was never meant to be static; faith was considered to develop and transform the believer through the exercise of the personal virtues. According to the biblical witness, this is a transformation whereby a person in faith is "in Christ" and Christ is in the believer. Faith is thus theologically never a set of beliefs simpliciter about God and Jesus Christ; it is the very means by which God dwells in the lives of the faithful. It is important to recognize that much of what is believed about God, as in the analogous case of believing things about other human beings, can only be discerned by those whose developing life in faith equips them with the proper sensibilities. These sensibilities rarely include the epistemic distance and methodological indifference that scientific inquiry requires. These sensibilities require the thinker to put his or her own thoughts into question.

A holistic approach to faith

To approach faith in this way can cause one to reconceive many (but not all) of the problems commonly thought to exist between science and religion. If the heart of faith is a personal openness and an ongoing moral and spiritual transformation of the thinker, then there is a certain shift in the weight given to faith's "what is believed" when one considers the relations between science and religion. To be sure, the objective beliefs of faith are never irrelevant to faith; nevertheless, if the thinker who holds them is in the process of transformation, surely what is believed is continually subject to ongoing interpretation. Any literalism that suggests that a human thinker enjoys a God's-eye view is not tenable. Furthermore, insofar as faith stretches itself to see the world as God created it and seeks to reproduce itself through the rational teaching of others, it is not innately unscientific, unmethodical, dogmatic, or credulous. It can invite method, freedom of opinion, and critical judgement. Barring therefore any definitive reductionism by science, discussion between faith and what science proposes may always be open ended.

In addition, many of the personal habits and dispositions required for faith may contribute to the personal habits and dispositions needed by scientists who want to do cooperative research with intellectual integrity. Insofar as faith requires deep self-reflection on the moral stance of the thinker and on the purposes of human knowledge gained by research, and insofar as it causes the scientific questioner to put him or herself into question, it may even cause one to look at how science contributes or does not contribute to overall human flourishing, including aesthetic, moral, and spiritual flourishing, since science is a function of beings for whom these things are vital.

If, however, approaching faith in this Augustinian way lessens the need for direct confrontation with science over one's specific beliefs about the world, it also raises what may be a deeper problem, namely, the difference in the way faith and scientific method think and imagine. Newman suggested that if faith's appeal to the human mind should ever be overcome, it will not be because faith has been out-reasoned, but because the human mind has lost the ability to imagine itself approaching the world by any method other than the scientific, and because it must always provide explanations of the sort provided by science, for which a distanced and impersonal approach is required. This would result, in the poet T. S. Eliot's phrase, in a "dissociation of sensibility" whereby faith's native imaginative means and sensibilities for dealing with the world and human life are replaced with other incommensurate sensibilities, thus effectively overcoming faith.

See also Atheism; Christianity; Spirituality


Bibliography

allen, diogenes. christian faith in a postmodern world: the full wealth of conviction. louisville, ky.: westminster/john knox press, 1989

aquinas, thomas. on faith: summa theologiae, 22, qq. 116, trans. and ed. mark jordan. notre dame, ind.: university of notre dame press, 1990

aubert, roger. le problème de l'acte de foi, 3rd edition. louvain, belgium: publications universitaires de louvain, 1950.

augustine. homilies on the gospel of john. in vol. 7: the nicene and post-nicene fathers (first series; 18861889), ed. philip schaff. reprint, grand rapids, mich.: eerdmans, 1974.

buckley, michael j. at the origins of modern atheism. new haven, conn.: yale university press, 1987

dulles, avery. the assurance of things hoped for: a theology of christian faith. new york: oxford university press, 1994.

kierkegaard, søren. philosophical fragments; johannes climacus (1844), trans. and eds. howard v. hong and edna h. hong. princeton, n.j.: princeton university press, 1985.

kierkegaard, søren. concluding unscientific postscript to philosophical fragments (1846), trans. and eds. howard v. hong and edna. h. hong. princeton. n.j.: princeton university press, 1992.

louth, andrew. discerning the mystery: an essay on the nature of theology. oxford: oxford university press, 1983.

newman, john henry. an essay in aid of a grammar of assent (1870). westminster, md.: christian classics, 1973.

smith, wilfred cantwell. belief and history. charlottesville: university press of virginia, 1977

springsted, eric o. the act of faith: christian faith and the moral self. grand rapids. mich.: eerdmans, 2002

wolterstorff, nicholas. john locke and the ethics of belief. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press. 1996.

eric o. springsted

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Faith

Faith. The disposition of believers toward commitment and toward acceptance of religious claims. It has a distinct importance in Christianity because of Paul's insistence on justification by faith alone (Romans 4. 5, 9. 30; Galatians 3. 2), and his inclusion of faith in the three paramount virtues (along with hope and love, 1 Corinthians 13. 13). In this sense, faith can only be received from God as a gift of grace, and becomes the means through which belief is formed (fides qua creditur, ‘faith by which it is believed’). But faith also becomes ‘the Faith’, the gradual accumulation through time of that which is believed by Christians, faith as assensus, assent (fides quae creditur, ‘faith which is believed’).

For faith in Buddhism, see ŚRADDHĀ; in Islam, see ĪMĀN.

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faith

faith / fā[unvoicedth]/ • n. 1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one's faith in politicians. 2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion. ∎  a system of religious belief: the Christian faith. ∎  a strongly held belief or theory: the faith that life will expand until it fills the universe.

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faith

faith faith will move mountains with the help of faith something naturally impossible can be achieved; originally with biblical allusion to Matthew 17:28, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain; Remove to yonder place; and it shall remove.’ The saying is recorded from the late 19th century.

see also confession of faith.

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Faith

151. Faith

See also 285. MYSTICISM ; 349. RELIGION ; 392. THEOLOGY .

fideism
a reliance, in a search for religious truth, on faith alone. fideist , n. fideistic . adj.
pistic
referring to or having a pure and genuine faith.
pistology
the branch of theology that studies the characteristics of faith.

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faith

faith trust; belief; faithfulness; loyalty. XII. ME. fe(i)þ — AN. fed, OF. feid, feit (pronounced feiþ) :- L. fidēs, fide- f. *fid- var. of *fīd- in fīdus trust-worthy, fīdere trust, rel. to Gr. peíthein persuade, pístis faith, f. IE. *bhidh- *bheidh- *bhoidh-,
Hence faithful XIII.

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Faith

Faith

of merchants: company of merchantsBk. of St. Albans, 1486.

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faith

faith: see creed.

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faith

faithfaith, Galbraith, inter-faith, wraith

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