Apologies to readers for the following deluge of alternate definitions of the same term before we get into the meat of this exploration of what we variously understand by “faith”.
Hebrews 11:1 – The New Testament
“Estin de pistis elpizomenon hupostasis, pragmatōn elegchos ou bleposmenōn.”
(Original Greek transliterated to Latin alphabet)
Now faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen. (KJV – King James Version)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (New American Standard Bible)
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (New International Version)
What then is faith? It is what gives assurance to our hopes; it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see. (Kingdom New Testament)
Trusting is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see.
(The Complete Jewish Bible)
Avoir la foi, c’est être sûr de ce que l’on espère, c’est être convaincu de la réalité de ce que l’on ne voit pas. (La Bible en français courant)
Tener fe es tener la plena seguridad de recibir lo que se espera; es estar convencidos de la realidad de cosas que no venemos. (Spanish – El Nuevo Testamento, Versión Popular)
Faith, n. Reliance, trust, in; belief founded on authority… belief in religious doctrines, esp. such as affects character & conduct, spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof…
(The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964)
Here in the West in the 21st Century of the Common Era it is fashionable and comfortable to set people with religious faith (most especially Christians) aside as deluded and probably unreasonable and fanatical. As “evidence” and “substance” of this statement, let the Western reader consider the way religious subjects are either avoided altogether in the public forum, or appear there only as news reports of yet more demonstrations of the negative effects of religious fanaticism.
This seems most prevalent in the way Christianity and its most dedicated adherents are frequently portrayed in comparison to those of other religious persuasions.
For example, a popular new show from one of the major Internet entertainment producers is exclusively concerned with rather outrageous sects of Christianity. While not aimed overtly at discrediting all churches or Christian belief, it provides virtually no information about “normal” Christian faith or its core story and normal practice. What will the titillated viewer conclude by implication? It takes no great insight to see the insinuation about all serious Christians filtering into the subconscious worldview of followers of such stuff, however accurate it may be about what it reports.
A generation or two ago, it might have been correct to say that there was still enough residual knowledge and understanding of what is still the West’s most adhered to religious segment (Christianity) that educational, documentary, and entertainment producers did not owe their consumers any broader contextual framework when publishing their material, as long as they avoided defamation. Even then, the entertainment industry could take refuge behind artistic licence as to why their “art” might not reflect objective facts. However, the new show referred to above presents itself as documentary, highlighting abnormal and extreme forms of religious behaviour practiced by groups identifying themselves as Christian.
Whether what is presented is true or not is not the issue. It is about the choice of what to expose. Christianity is an easy target. One has great difficulty thinking the same sort of “objective report” would be ventured on deviant segments of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Judaism, although perhaps there in light of the latent and sometimes still blatant anti-Semitism of large segments of the population. Tolerance and political correctness have their preferred vectors too. The dormant abortion debate is conspicuously absent in Canadian (and most Western) society in this respect, even in private conversation at this juncture.
One of the most pernicious myths propagated in our current educational and popular culture equates Christianity in particular with being the source of virtually every form of injustice and inequality which civil rights advocates and civil liberties innovators drum and drub into the public forum and drag into tribunals to seek inclusion under the Constitution. In Canadian education curricula and materials produced to support them, the Church and churches and Christian leaders and states-persons who participated actively and effectively in many of the early phases of our history, and even in modern movements for equality and fairness, are rapidly shunted to the side lest we look and see too closely the critical roles and influence they had in so much of what has become Canada as we know it. If we have to spend time speaking about them and their impact, the motivation and vision of such people is secularized and sanitized to fit the post-modern narrative.
But Christians and other religiously inspired activists and workers are not the only ones operating on the basis of faith, “conviction of things not seen”, and “assurance of things hoped for”. In truth, everyone who sets out to achieve something in life operates from the very same set of starting points. It is only, and quintessentially, human. It is innate to homo sapiens sapiens to believe there is something greater than just “I, me, me, my” as John Lennon lyrically put it in 1968.
Theists, atheists, agnostics, polytheists, Deists, monists, pantheists – it matters not. We are bred to believe, not just to exist. We are made and formed to trust that there is meaning behind the blind-seeming, ineluctable powers and forces enveloping us in the time-space continuum, or the quantum-chance continuum if you prefer.
The early secular existentialists despairingly conceded that, if there is no inherent meaning behind existence, the individual has to choose one in order not to just die in despair. Sadly, their distortion of Kierkegaard’s original Christian existentialism in which the seeker must choose to trust God did not alleviate the creeping despair that was already deeply infecting the soul of the West. The assault of the Enlightenment on history and culture, seeking its liberation from all taint of religious infection, strongly abetted by Darwinism, ran amok into the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism in all its dark permutations. It still holds us in its thrall. It has still not freed its servants from the bedrock of human nature to seek and find a reason to believe in something/someone greater.
The bravest and most honest thinker and philosopher of the Enlightenment’s trajectory was and remains Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche has been considered a mad genius by some, but his own crystal clear and brutally honest analysis of the ultimate meaning of the Enlightenment’s century-long assault on God, Christianity, and all the working of that faith in the West’s fabric was that humans must still have a greater reason and purpose than mere existence.
“God is dead and we have killed him,” he proclaimed. But we still need a central purpose and meaning greater than and beyond ourselves. We have chosen evolution as the core story, but evolution in and of itself cannot fill the void at the core of our being. We must have the strength of will to admit this and choose to make our own meaning, because the ultimate end of the evolution-story is extinction. Humans are made to rise above these limitations – at least for a time until the final laws of physics and chemistry close everything down. Someone, a select breed of superior individuals, must lead humanity into the next phase of evolution and step into the void left by God. It takes the “Will to Power” to do this, and the Man of Destiny will show the way.
And so we arrive at the Superman and the Super-race, and eugenics, and Hitlerism and Fascism and the great Socialist Utopia and the horrors of the World Wars and the Personality Cults of the Man of Steel (Stalin), of Mao, of Pol Pot, of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea, of our own current quest for the perfect child and the quiet elimination of inferior breeding results via abortion and euthanasia and the practices first put into mass effect in Nazi Germany.
We now find ourselves watching and even condoning these crimes against humanity reasserting themselves in our own quieter, more scientific and apparently compassionate-based re-adoption of Nietzschean notions. “A little bit here, a little bit there,” quiet amendments to law and constitution in small steps, and once more we find the acceptance of those ideas of “life not worthy of life” and “life not worth the living” – not just individuals choosing this for themselves, but panels of professional compassion-arbiters making the recommendations and even the decisions for the lesser sorts and their less enlightened families and loved ones.
All this is no less faith-based and ideological and even religious than the now-eclipsed Christian consensus it has pushed aside. The new slaughter of the innocents is of a magnitude King Herod or even Genghis Khan could never have fathomed. Hitler and Stalin would appreciate the slick subtlety of it all.
Jesus once said, “Man (humanity) cannot live on bread [physical sustenance] alone, but [we also need] by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.” And when we are, when we have chosen to be, deaf to God and even deny the Creator’s very being, we speak our own deified, and too-frequently demonic, wisdom to take the Deity’s place. This comes at the cost of all the good and worthy things we once learned and, however imperfectly, put at the core of who and what we were in the West.
TO BE CONTINUED