What is Faith?

During a recent (perhaps ongoing) discussion of faith (among other things), we found that the four people in the discussion are using four different definitions of faith. Naturally, this led me to ask: “What is faith?” So, I used my faith in Google and in the Internet to get some ideas.

First off, Google told me that this question is not trivial. There are several whole books written just to answer the question “What is faith?” and some of the pages that came up danced around the question without ever really defining faith. Others’ definitions required so much jargon that it seems “faith” must be a technical term that belongs only in professional journals for people with advanced degrees in Theology. (Cohomology also can’t be explained to laymen in a jargon-free sentence or two — despite having a precise definition — but I don’t blithely toss it around as though everybody knows what it means.) But a few took a stab at writing a clear and concise definition.

From About.com Christianity: “Faith is belief with strong conviction; firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof; complete trust; opposite of doubt.” This appears related to this definition: “Mind is rational while faith is irrational. Mind is logical; faith illogical. Mind is doubtful while faith is doubt-free. In our modern culture, we have become more dedicated to doubt than to unbridled possibility. We are more committed to the calculations of the rational mind, than to the holistic wisdom of spirit.”

(I’ve argued that people of faith shouldn’t use that definition, but clearly some use it — just watch the first few minutes of this video.)

In a related definition: “Real faith, in any promise made by God, is actually the evidence. It is the belief that is the evidence.”

Others appear to equate faith with inductive reasoning, as you’ll discover if you read all the way to the end of this one. This one seems to as well: “Pistis here is a matter of trust in a God who has demonstrated His ability to be a worthy patron, and the examples are those of clients who, knowing this ability, trust in God’s record as a patronal provider.”

According to these two faith is any belief that is strongly held and inspires action — regardless of how you came upon that belief.

Then we have this one which says “we do not acquire new knowledge through faith. Instead, faith is a response to what is revealed.” (i.e. faith is a belief in things you learned via revelation/spiritual witness).

It’s possible that some of the above can be combined — which makes it that much more confusing because it’s not clear which [combination?] of the above definitions a given person is using when s/he uses the word “faith”.

What definition of faith do you use? One (or more) of the above? Think about it for a minute.

Now, to help pin down what everybody here means by “faith”, I’ve prepared a list of statements. The “I” in each case is the subject who may-or-may-not be using “faith”. For each statement, please mark it as (F) faith, (NF) not faith, (D) it depends (on what? be specific in your answer!), (PF) partially faith, (NO) no opinion. Note that many of the statements below may be claims you think are false. Don’t just immediately mark all of the false claims “F” unless your definition of “faith” is “believing things that are false.” People can believe things that are false for many reasons.

1. I assume that some sort of external reality exists, and that my mind — synthesizing information from my senses — gives me some limited-yet-relatively-consistent window on that external reality.
2. I believe that some supernatural entity hears and understands my prayers because I have seen the results of answered prayer.
3. I believe that some supernatural entity hears and understands my prayers because I can feel it in my heart and soul.
4. I’m sure that my biological parents had sex at least once.
5. Ignoring air resistance, the speed of an object falling freely near the Earth’s surface increases by about 9.81 metres per second every second.
6. The scientific statements in the Koran are things that were known in Muhammad’s time, and that he could have had access to.
7. The Koran could not have been written without divine/supernatural assistance.
8. The Book of Mormon could not have been written without divine/supernatural assistance.
9. I think that the evidence for God’s existence leans (at least slightly) in the direction of “God exists.”
10. I think that the evidence for God’s existence leans (at least slightly) in the direction of “God does not exist.”
11. I believe God (or gods) exist(s).
12. I believe God (or gods) do(es) not exist.
13. I believe that I exist, that other humans exist, and that I can communicate with other humans through language.
14. I understand that the current scientific consensus on climate change is that human actions are changing our planet’s climate.
15. I believe the scientific consensus on climate change (that human actions are changing our planet’s climate) is accurate.
16. When I need to know some simple facts or information, I turn to Google and/or Wikipedia first because Google and Wikipedia can lead me to useful information on a variety of subjects.
17. I need to fight for what’s right and make this world a better place.
18. God loves gay people just the way they are (gay).
19. My family loves me.
20. Unfettered free-market capitalism is the most efficient way of providing goods and services.

Please write your own answers before reading anyone else’s. :)

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chanson

C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

105 thoughts on “What is Faith?

  1. Here’s one of the many, many problems with what Seth R is saying about knowing a partner loves you, and knowing the BOM Is “true” or “scripture” or whatever: It’s not just the “knowing” of something, but all the assumptions people then use that “knowing” to validate.

    If you “know” the BOM is “true,” then you’re supposed to “know” that the LDS church is “true” and its leaders are prophets and the view it presents of god and morality etc is accurate.

    But having a visceral scene of its relevance to your life is really only a visceral sense of is relevance to your life. It’s not “proof” that anything else in Mormonism is what Mormons claim it is.

    If you “know” your partner loves you, well, you know your partner loves you. You don’t know that because s/he loves you, s/he will never cheat on you, or lie to you, or fall out of love with you. You don’t know that you’ll live happily ever after.

    People in love can be every bit as dishonest, manipulative, selfish, and scared as anyone else. People do awful things to the people they love.

    And just because your partner loves YOU, doesn’t mean that s/he is going to be deeply important to anyone else. In fact, it’s supposed to mean that s/he WON’T be equally important to anyone else.

    So I’m perfectly willing to believe anyone who sees, “I have a testimony of the importance of the BOM in my life, and I’m willing to be an active member of this or that strand of Mormonism because of it,”

    But I’m not willing to believe them when they say, “I have a testimony of the absolute truthfulness of the BOM, and you need to feel just as I do about it and all these other elements of Mormonism if you want to go to the celestial kingdom.”

    Just as I’m not willing to believe someone who says, “Because I know my spouse loves me, I know I’m going to live happily ever after.”

  2. “If you “know” the BOM is “true,” then you’re supposed to “know” that the LDS church is “true” and its leaders are prophets and the view it presents of god and morality etc is accurate.”

    I’ve never assumed that Holly.

    In fact, back when I was hanging out on the bloggernacle, I would frequently point this out – that merely believing the Book of Mormon is true does not automatically get you to “Joseph Smith was a prophet.” And believing in Joseph does not automatically get you to believing Brigham Young was legit. And so forth.

    I know some Mormons try to sell this as a package deal – but I’ve never been one of them. At least not since I got back from my mission and started thinking it through completely.

  3. Hey, Chanson, whatever else your thread has done, the discussion you’ve begun has given me a lot to think about. Thanks! Your intro, your questions, and the discussion have been very helpful.

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