Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The F Word

This post is sort of by request, but I had been sitting on it. No longer.

This morning a friend posted this on Facebook, it was exactly what I needed:

This is one way of looking at it. All too often this is exactly what faith amounts to. 

Even if you dissect the classic Biblical definition, it suggests something a bit delusional:

Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I got into several long and deep go-rounds with Christians on this one, when I asserted that it was no more than wishful thinking. I didn't back down because it really can be that.

This is that sort of faith in action:

I know that the Christians reading this will say that obviously these people are compromised in some way, and that normal Christians would never do this. The fact remains that "faith" can sometimes manifest this way.

For the record I don't actually think faith, as a general concept is a bad thing. My kids have faith in me, and I have faith in them.

I also have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, and I have a reasonable amount of faith in my banks, Canadian society, and in the "system" in general. I have faith in civilization. I have a strong faith in humanity.

Before you object that this is something different, I'm not done.

It's a loaded word, the F word. It can cause far more harm than the other F word.

Faith, as I pointed out recently, can lead to suicide bombers.

This is not a straightforward concept then, it has a light and a dark side, and it does not always mean what you think it means. Probably more importantly, we never really know what a person means when he says it.

I think it can simply mean optimism. Faith that the Universe is unfolding as it should.

"Everything will be alright in the end, if it's not alright, then it's not yet the end". 

And I do think it's important. It gives us hope, and something to cling on to when things aren't going well.

So, what's going on here, when a common word has more than one meaning? I think the problem lies in translation. I'm never afraid to go the Greek.


It means belief. So why don't we use the word belief to translate it? We use it for lots of other things, both religious and otherwise. Are faith and belief synonyms?

I waffled about belief a bit recently with regard to science, and how it relates to acceptance. I want you to bear with me here as I test these words out.

I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.
I have faith the sun will rise tomorrow
I accept that the sun will rise tomorrow.

Do you think these mean the same thing?

Let's have another look at pistis.

pístis (from peithô, "persuade, be persuaded") – properly,persuasion (be persuaded, come to trust)

Persuaded, huh? Come to trust. Hmm. Still no concept of evidence being required, just rhetoric, really.

Let's go back a bit further.

In Greek mythologyPistis (Πίστις) was the personification of good faith, trust and reliability. She is mentioned together with such other personifications as Elpis (Hope), Sophrosyne (Prudence), and the Charites, who were all associated with honesty and harmony among people.
Her Roman equivalent was Fides, a personified concept significant in Roman culture.

Fides, fidelity. It's all about trust, isn't it?

I suppose, in the end, it all depends on what you are being asked to trust in.

I'm not sure that's all that clear. But it is expected of us, in all sorts of ways. Some people trust in God but not the government, some the other way around, some both, and some neither.

In some ways I'm actually sympathetic to those who say "I don't trust science, scientists have been wrong before." I think they are misunderstanding what science is, when they say that, but because they misunderstand it, this attitude actually makes sense.

If you read my earlier blog today, you can see what happens when people trust an authority figure, and I suggest they'd do better to trust their own judgement instead, but I suppose the question has to be asked, what or who should you trust?

I don't think there is a quick answer to that. I think we have to think on our feet all the time, and I think the idea of trusting something or somebody (a pilot, the legal system, a doctor, a bridge...) is more a matter of expediency than anything. There isn't always the time or opportunity to TEST the quality or reliability or everything we use, we have to rely on it and hope for the best.

I think people have can have faith in faith. The power of positive thinking. I think they can, if it suits them, project that onto "God" in whatever form that takes for them, and I think it will work just as well.

If that surprises you, knowing how I am quick to reject formal religion, then perhaps you have jumped to conclusions. If your religious beliefs lead you to deciding that the Bible is true word for word, I think you've missed the whole point, as a matter of fact. I think having faith in a book is the most absurd form of faith possible. However, if your faith consists of a great optimism that causes you to strive for better things for yourself and everyone around you, then I applaud it, no matter what you base it on.

Since you asked :)

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