In Christian thought, faith often has three distinct meanings:
- Belief that something is true (see James 2).
- Complete loyalty and trust in/to a person, idea, or group (see Galatians and the gospels).
- ‘the faith’ means the body of Christian beliefs and practices handed down by tradition.
“The faith” in meaning three, is a tradition and body of teaching. It doesn’t properly connect people to God because it is, by nature, a field of study and not a person or relationship between persons. But, “the faith” contains that ideas of the Christian gospel.
Faith in the second sense, is usually considered to be what connects the Christian to God, apart from any meritorious work or virtue on the part of the Christian. But such faith certainly leads to good works and meritorious works.
But, belief that something is true (the first definition above), has often been considered a virtue. I’ve always pondered how this could be so. Everybody changes their mind based on evidence and then sticks with the facts. But as I learned statistics, economics, and observed ideas change based on cultural fads, I realized that faith could mean accepting what the logic shows you despite what you think should be true. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in Mere Christianity. He called faith, “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. (Mere Christianity, 123)”
He illustrates this in a way that should be familiar to nerds everywhere. I’ll summarize and embellish. Imagine that there exists a person who starts acting like they have a crush on you. All your friends say, “This person is a cad…beware.” Hilariously, you already knew this to be so! But all your hormones cause you to help this person study, edit their papers, and listen to their problems. Then, when you pour out your feelings for this person to him/her, it turns out that you are treated just like your prior knowledge predicted. The virtue of faith, as belief that something is true, would have required that you stick to your initial perception until evidence (not moods) led you away from them.
Interestingly, in a great deal of atheist literature, I’ve found that the rhetoric often sounds like this:
We atheists believe the cold hard realities of the godless, meaningless world, despite our temptations to seek comfort in gods, afterlife, and fairies. You religious folk simply have faith, but we have the strength to believe the truth. (made up summary of ideas from several books I read in like 2009 when atheism started becoming cool again)
But this is no different from the Christian notion of faith as a virtue. If a Christian finds evidence that Christianity is completely false, then he should sit down and consider whether or not the evidence is valid and rethink his life. But, if the Christian really wants to look at internet pornography or commit murder and suddenly has an epiphany that Christianity is false based on vague impressions, then the virtue of faith would serve him well.
Similarly, if the atheist starts reconsidering atheism because of sudden superstition, then he should power forward with his commitment to a meaningless universe. But if the atheist suddenly has a vision that lucidly predicts a future with reference to a religion being true, then it occurs, then the atheist should consider this evidence carefully.
Anyway, there is obviously much more to say about faith, but I had these thoughts on my way to work this morning.