Faith vs. Faithism

Some important things in life cannot be proven, or, what amounts to the same thing, cannot be proven right now.  Recognizing that we need to push on into the unknown and commit ourselves without proof, is faith.  At the right time and in the right context, faith is great — it provides the path out of a conceptual or emotional or existential tangle, for a person, or a group.  The importance of faith is just a corollary of the importance of new stages of growth; sometimes we don’t need to get more information, we actually need new concepts or ways of being in the world.

However it is wrong to say “faith is important therefore it is correct to follow my guru” or “faith is important therefore the Bible is correct in all things” or “faith is important therefore the voice I just heard in my head was God telling me what to do and I should listen to it.”   It is wrong because these are all examples of proofs, and therefore not examples of faith.

The second we try to think too hard about the importance of faith in our lives and use it to justify ourselves — we need faith therefore I will have faith in this book, or person, or feeling — we are evading the principle insight of faith, which is the need to move on without any way of justifying ourselves.  I would call this move “faithism.”

Here is a comparison.    Sometimes we are judged wrongly and we need to explain why a mistake was made.  Sometimes we are judged correctly — we actually did something bad — and in those cases we can make a humble plea for forgiveness.  Humble pleas for forgiveness are sometimes the only way forward.  If a humble plea for forgiveness comes with a proof that what I did was actually not so bad, it is not a plea for forgiveness at all: it is an argument that I was judged wrongly.  However, it is also wrong to say “Sometimes humble pleas for forgiveness are necessary.  Sometimes I need to be forgiven for no reason at all.  This is one of those times.  Therefore you must forgive me.”

Because that wouldn’t be a plea for forgiveness at all.  Would it?



5 thoughts on “Faith vs. Faithism

  1. N.S. Palmer says:

    All good points. Though you note that faith is sometimes necessary — “the need to move on without justification” — I wonder if even you underestimate the centrality of faith in our lives.

    Under normal circumstances, we all believe that we will be alive tomorrow and that our goals are possible. Without those foundational beliefs, we could not get on with our lives. Whether or not such beliefs are true, they are necessary.

    William James points out that some things can only become true if we first believe in them, and various other philosophers have more metaphysical riffs on the same theme. Faith does not guarantee success, but lack of faith can guarantee failure.

    Forgiveness is interesting because it’s more complicated than most people think. It manifests itself in feeling, action, and memory. It’s said that when God forgives us, He deliberately forgets the offenses we committed, and there’s a great deal of wisdom in that. If we nominally forgive people but continue to brood about their offenses, then it’s hard to make our feelings and actions conform to forgiveness.

    Anyway, that’s what my guru said, so it must be true. 🙂

  2. Religious faith is something taken on faith alone.. And if a religion has no answers for you other than telling you to have faith, you are basing your belief in a grand planner, on nothing. God and all the written material about him is just that. A book, stories, traditions. If it makes you comfortable, and you accept it on faith, then that is for you. Millions of people do exactly that everyday and are proud and always justify their faith based beliefs.
    Having Faith in the scientific or natural world, faith that the Earth will continue to function, that your genes will live forever, that there is a natural balance in this world, that you are quite comfortable in this place, and that you don’t have to justify your reasons for this comfort…. might that be Faithism?

  3. I don’t think faith has much to do with a belief that the Bible is the word of God or that your genes will last forever, since both are demonstrably false. If you managed to believe either thing it would be a case of self-deception or ignorance, not faith.

  4. I agree, and I believe neither. Perhaps for different reasons.. Translations are generally off in any written manuscript. – – Genes are altered, removed, or mutated daily. Never delude yourself into any comfort zone using faith as an excuse.

  5. If a humble plea for forgiveness comes with a proof that what I did was actually not so bad, it is not a plea for forgiveness at all: it is an argument that I was judged wrongly.

    No, for it is a plea to forgive that one does not come from the exact same model of right and wrong as the other person.

    Of course for those who demand fealty to their own model of right and wrong, this is no humble plea. ‘Humility’ here is code for ‘you will leave your model to be rewritten (by me) because of the bad thing you did (by my model, which I will rewrite you to follow, otherwise you are not humble)

    Probably because we learn moralising from our parents, who one might argue have some room to write their childrens morals onto them. But it’s super dumb when an adult, having learnt this paternalistic method of moralising by observance of their parents, tries to apply it to not just an adult but an adult who is not their child. Thus results a sad ‘I’m the father here!’ war of words.

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