Lately I’ve been trying to understand faith.
Faith is not important in my religion. We don’t have much use for it and, as far as I know, it wasn’t even a concept in Celtic polytheism until Christanity showed up and started converting Celts.
Even so it seems to be a Really Big Deal to a lot of people. I tend to assume my fellow humans are not collectively stupid, so there should be something there. I figured there must be something beautiful and/or useful about faith that I just wasn’t getting.
We Can’t Tell You
I’ve always understood faith as relating to belief. If you asked me to define faith I guess, in my ignorance, I would say it’s believing in something without evidence. However every time I invoke this definition people get upset. People who had faith told me it has nothing to do with that. It’s something totally different.
Unfortunately, when I ask people to explain what it is, they have a hard time doing so.
Sometimes people even tell me it can’t be defined. I don’t believe that for a second. The most complex abstract concepts in the world can usually be defined in a few sentences. Even if they can’t, a list of examples will do the trick. Even if faith has to do with the ineffable, it doesn’t mean faith itself is ineffable.
So it’s been very frustrating to me. If you have a straightforward definition of faith I’d love to hear it. I’ll even accept a roundabout one.
Anyway, I decided to just suck it up and read the Wikipedia entry on faith. Among about 10,000 other theories, it has this to say:
Some religious epistemologists hold that belief in God is more analogous to belief in a person than belief in a scientific hypothesis. Human relations demand trust and commitment. If belief in God is more like belief in other persons, then the trust that is appropriate to persons will be appropriate to God.
That’s… incredible. If you aren’t floored, take a second to re-read it. Humor me. If you still aren’t floored, okay, you have more ranks in faith-talk than I do. But still.
Trust is the basis for any healthy relationship. In this theory, “faith” doesn’t mean you believe the gods exist, it means that when relating to the gods, you trust in them.
Personally, I don’t believe the gods exist. I’m not convinced they don’t, either. I see no external evidence for the gods so I maintain a neutral opinion on whether they are objectively real.
But, because their guidance has been helpful to me—whether it is divine communion or my own psyche—I continue to make offerings, pray, and talk to them.
I always thought “faith” would mean I have to believe they exist. Which I think is silly because there’s no evidence for it. But this version of faith says I don’t have to believe at all—as long as I treat “them” with respect and trust when I interact with them.
Which is exactly what I do.
I suspect this version of faith would be unacceptable my humanistic pagan friend. He’s convinced the gods don’t exist and worshipping them is just a useful psychological exercise. I don’t see any better evidence for that than the idea that they exist. I treat my relationship with them as real, and separate from my epistemological doubts.
So, I guess I might have a backwards-ass version of faith, if you use “faith” in a way that no one ever uses it. Pretty neat I guess.
I don’t have any profound questions to ask you at the end of this post, but I sure would love to hear your thoughts on faith. Also, tweeting this post makes me happy. Please tweet this post.