Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The question of what "faith" is just came up between James Schultz & me, & we agree on at least a couple things about it:
1) It doesn't mean the same thing as "belief",
2) Many people think it does.
I'm not sure how to start this off... Maybe an analogy: Many people think "imagination"= 'the act of thinking up things that don't make any sense, don't relate to the "real" world, etc.' And some people (Ursula LeGuin being a prime example) mean something more along the lines of: ~'seeing how actual things must behave, working from limited data, intuition, extrapolation from experience & better-known cases.'
What brought this up, for example, was James Schultz saying that humankind was meant to be guided by 'faith', not by what we sense.
Words get their meaning from the way people use them. So, in some circles "faith" may very well mean "belief" and in other circles mean something else. I think that the kind of question people should be asking is "which meaning of belief is most helpful?" Granted that "faith" is a very important and valuable thing, what is this good and necessary thing?
I find "faith" = "orthodox belief" to be a particularly unhelpful meaning. It has historical roots in the Calvinist side of the Protestant Reformation. I won't go into that history here, but I think that Quakers represent the opposite side of the Protestant Reformation. Orthodox belief is not a good and necessary thing. It is not what Jesus taught. Jesus was no friend of orthodoxy. He thought orthodoxy was a barrier between people and God.
Enough of what I don't thnk. Jesus says he has a spiritual food that other people do not see or understand. His "food" is to listen to and obey the immediate guidance of God. Faith (in my language) is the courage to listen and obey. It is the strength to ignore the world when the world's wisdom says that such faithfulness is foolishness.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Hmm, I agree very much-- and yet words also "get their meaning" from the way people are most likely to interpret them.
So "faith" could be a useful word among people who interpret it your way, but might mislead if I used it that way in a conversation with somebody else. (Then again, in that situation I might need to 'negotiate' a few usage changes to communicate at all! We simply might not have a word for it. Or need to direct our attention, as you've done, to 'what Jesus meant by it.')
"Orthodox belief" is as you say, not all that interesting. But how about "accurate belief"? Which seems to point to " 'faith' = 'trust' that God will lead us to correct knowledge as needed-- as well as leading us to whatever else we need.
That is, we value knowledge as a route to understanding-- but we also tend to rely on 'knowledge' as a source of security, which is where it starts looking like a Power in rivalry with God... Just as we rely on what we derive from other modes of orientation, like physical senses. Which necessarily is, most of the time, justified, but not always.
Sometimes God is in the whirlwind... We want to know, when that points to the true significance of a moment, and when it doesn't. So this "Guidance" depends entirely on a simple form of trust, 'faith' that God will direct our attention where it belongs, so that even what looks and feels like "Another mistake! Oh no!" will turn out in accord with ultimately-benevolent divine intention.
(Okay, I'm still confused... and hope I can wrestle with this more later.)
The people whose use determines meaning consists of both speakers and listeners. The use isn't purely individualistic. Basically you have the idea. When different groups use words in different ways it is imperative that you explain clearly which meaning you intend.
What I add to that (being a pragmatist in philosophy) is that the "right" meaning is merely the most useful one. Meaning A will allow you to think about and state one set of possibilities. Meaning B will allow you to think different thoughts. The thoughts we can think are a function of the concepts we use.
I find that the range of thoughts that faith= orthodox belief gives me isn't the thoughts I need to think to live humanly and authentically. I get that from the other meaning of faith.
This other meaning of faith includes a minimal belief content too. If I didn't minimally believe tht there was a God then I couldn't have courage to listen and obey. I don't however need "knowledge" to listen and obey. I might want knowledge and I might even get it sometimes. But I can obey the Voice of God without it and sometimes I've got to.
Keep wrestling. Only those who wrestle with God are faithful to him.
For me faith is a word I use to describe what I have put my trust in, knowing that some degree of uncertainty surrounds it. It is not the same as knowledge, though I would argue its "truth" might well be demonstrated to a degree. Kierkegaard put it best that it is like a leap off a platform at the end of a path we explore with our senses and our reason - and, I would say, our imaginations. Everyone has faith in a whole bunch of things, even those who would describe themselves as non-theistic. Non-theists might deny that they have faith in a creator god or a divine "person" who seeks some presence in our lives, but if they are among Friends, they most often have "put their faith" - their sense of complete trust - in the values Friends proclaim or in the purposes Friends trust in.
I think one could use the word belief to describe pretty much the same thing as faith, but for me it refers to the specifics of how I would articulate what I have faith in. This would lead to my telling you that I have placed my faith in Christ and in the teachings of the apostles and early church started by them. Like Thomas - even way more than Thomas - I will never be able to say I saw Jesus or experienced him or any of his followers in the flesh, in history. I cannot prove any of it happened, but because of the powerful love and purposefulnessI have experienced through this faith, I will live my life out trusting in it. And I will try to keep the beliefs that underpin this faith alive for others since I have found it so important in my life.
Some fine replies here, and some brooding time...
I'm reminded of a wonderful book on anger... from which the author concluded that it was not one unitary "thing", but rather "an emotion plus a judgment."
So faith is starting to look like ~"confidence/trust based on belief." What's problematic about this, I think, is that word "belief". As illustrated by Bertrand Russell's dinner companion, and her response to his question about death: "No doubt I shall inherit eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn't bring up such unpleasant subjects."
Paraphrasing Anthony Prete at P[acific]YM, discussing the Hebrew of the Psalms: ~"They don't seem to have a word for the Greek idea of 'truth', as a logical question of the factuality of a proposition. The word we translate as 'true' here means something more like 'dependable', 'trustworthy'."
"Belief" is like that.
It isn't that factuality is irrelevant-- as jp's response makes clear. When he'd stopped believing in God's factual existence, that left no room for "faith" or any pretense of faith. But once one finds oneself denying ones' 'belief' in the factual existence of someone, saying it directly to that someone... He obviously had a conflict between beliefs on more than one level, in which one of those levels was wide open, whole-heartedly witnessing something his logical mind had dismissed.
Belief in someone or something necessarily involves having concluded that they exist... but that conclusion can be more or less tentative, more or less subject to new evidence pro- or- con, and above all: it doesn't necessarily coincide with whatever you believe that you believe.
"Belief" in this sense is actually pretty close to what we mean by "faith": You "believe" that your new glass-bottomed balcony is properly built and strong enough to bear your weight-- But do you step out and dance on it?
The other night I was up after bedtime, indigesting an overlarge dinner. It occurred to me that I'd fallen into a state of futility, feeling unAssigned to any effort in the face of a world of need... tired and retired and near ready to go sit in Death's Waiting Room. As if I were already there, in stone fact. As if there were nothing the world or I needed from one another anymore. Scary.
Whatever you might call that state of mind-- That's the opposite of "faith". Starting from there... I could see that it flew contrary to all my knowledge of God's love, wisdom, and power. So long as I was in such a state, if I'd happened to have some Good Works project or other going... It would only have been a mask and a distraction, no matter how much I was complaining about lacking one.
Living frozen in headlights... That has been a sick reaction, however appropriate to fending off the overwhelming realization that I have no adequate response to the slow motion train wreck we live in... Where life should include the ability to see what one needs to do, and simply do it-- It's been a very long time since that's been possible, except on the smallest scale.
The more "normal" condition-- I speculate-- is what "The Knowledge of Good and Evil" was all about. What William Springfellow was saying about a certain kind of devotion to work being no escape from Death's dominion, but rather a tacit homage to it. Futility in old age gives one a whole new perspective on our condition.
I'd like to be able to say what faith is-- now that I think I've got a better notion of what it's about. It's like confidence and trust, as I've said elsewhere-- not in this or in that-- but that whatever I need will be provided, that I can trust whatever God sends me.
I don't read Greek but I've read enough Greek philosophy to say that the idea that the Greeks had no concept of truth is just plain wrong. I suspect it comes from some postmodernist who doesn't like the idea of truth trying to read his or her own views back on the Greeks. But the Greeks were too sensible to be postmodern in that bad sense of the word.
I would agree that there is a minimal belief component in faith. As you say, it is necessary to believe that who or what you are putting your trust in exists in order to have any trust. But the belief component is very small. You don't have to swallow the whole Apostle's Creed or any other church's set of dogmas. God exists and cares is enough.
I've had times of feeling "frozen in the headlights" as you put it. And what gets me out of it is a willingness to get over the fact that what God wants me to do looks small scale. It's as if I think God needs to find something important for me to do. Quaker tradition is one of humility. "make me little; make me low" is something I remember one of the dear elders of our Yearly Meeting quoting to me. The joy comes back when you accept that whatever God asks you to do is the right thing. We need to put aside thoughts that it is somehow too small to be worth doing.
Richard, I think you read that paragraph about "truth" too quickly! Forrest was quoting Anthony Prete who was speaking of HEBREW, not GREEK.
And your final paragraph reminded me of a quote I've heard attributed to Ghandi, a quote that keeps me hopeful when the "headlights" of an oncoming catastrophe catch me in their merciless glare: "Whatever you do is bound to be insignificant; and it is very important that you do it." I hadn't connected that thought to humility, and I think it is a good connection.