Is Faith a Synonym for Belief?
Over any decade it happens all too easily: I scribble something, a day later I add. A week later I revise. A year later I patch something in. Ideas once clear, jumble. Images that cohered symphonically, dissonate chaotically. But less so if you understand what happens in a family over years to a once complete set of china. How did the jelly jar get in among the fine crystal tumblers? Contrarily, ruthless editing can give a falsely coherent picture to a decade of strife. Without rhetoric, we don’t communicate well; with it come other liabilities. For me here rhetoric is secondary to collecting thoughts uncensored. Realize, I visit far more often as collector than as redactor.
I wish to distinguish between faith and belief. I also wish to assert that no single entity, only the entire population (over all of time) has authority in matters of usage and definition. Still: get the point: for all their territory in common, I am here distinguishing “faith” on the side of “no evidence” and “belief” as less loaded. If ever there was a file that needed total rewriting, this is it. I will. But not at this moment.
Any idea that reason can be independent of belief is cockamamie. The trouble with the word “faith” as a synonym for “belief” is that it’s loaded on the side of belief contrary to reason, belief in the face of reason.
beliefs held in contradiction to the evidence.
Once again I don’t have time to do this properly, but a piece on faith is so overdue here that I have to scratch at least a few notes.
No thinking system is possible without faith. Yet when faith becomes “capitalized,” a particular system of faiths often acts as though it’s the only one: if you believe in Jehovah you have faith; if you believe in yourself, your reason, your data, Freud or Plato, Mars or Mechanism, you don’t.
Gregory Bateson said that a chair is an idea in which we put our trust. That’s faith. You don’t sit down without faith that the chair will support you: a faith not always borne out.
St. Paul’s words on faith may have been the first literary passage I ever memorized in my once young life:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.Hebrews 11, 1
A few decades would pass before I heard and laughed with Dr. Johnson’s grim phrase: the “triumph of hope over experience.” Paul was a master of oxymoron, of logically inappropriate pairings. Paul was a great writer. Like so many great writers, Paul was a terrible thinker. Great writing has served pathology far more readily than sanity. Hope has no substance. Things not seen are evidence all right: evidence for a psychologist.
That latter line is a joke. Certainly things not seen can have evidence for them. We have ample reason to believe in atoms though no one’s seen one. There’s evidence for strings in string theory. But we have no atoms or strings directly as evidence. The evidence is in the systems of atomic theory and string theory.
Faith based on nothing but hope and things not seen is faith we’d be better off without. But we’ll never be without faith. The reasonable person would have faith: provisional faith in his axioms, in tested chains of reasoning, in carefully assembled and tested evidence.
(Often cannot analyze).
Health would foster choice with regard to faith. Health would also encourage the weeding out of worthless faiths. Waiting in the cab of his truck I glanced at the introduction of the landlord’s Baptist Bible. It repeated the long exposed nonsense that Moses wrote the Old Testament. Faith in known disinformation may gain one security in a society deliberately out of touch with reality, but that society itself can offer only temporary security, illusions of advantage. At some point, the truth must make a difference, and the bubble burst.
Since we can’t do without faith, since no one has ever lived for ten seconds without a whole complex of faiths, why do we hear faith recommended so vociferously? Does anyone go around telling us to breathe? or that water is important? Why do some faiths so emphasize the need for faith? I generalize that only false faiths actively promote faith: and by faith they mean their false faith.
I’ll also say that communication seems to take place most easily within a given faith system. Americans believe that they respect and practice freedom of speech. (Many people also have faith in their families despite dad beating them or mom belittling them.) Presbyterians can talk easily about their faith with other Presbyterians, but not with Jews, Catholics, or Buddhists. Graduates of a particular university may have faith in their education, but no faith in the educational excellence of some other institution. My license to drive is no good in most countries. Doctors in India drive cabs in New York, their expertise in medicine disallowed.
We’d do better if there were some standard of faith. We’d do best if that standard were relentlessly scrutinized.
Or maybe we’ll do the best we can by letting Darwinian nature sort it all out in the long run. Believe what you will. Then hope that a real intelligence can read the fossil record. (That’s a faith that I have by the strictest St. Paul standards: no evidence whatsoever: hope only.)
Faith with a Capital Saint Paul!
When the truth is incompatible with social man’s faith, it’s the truth which will suffer. Until reality asserts itself: and it’s social man which will fail. (True unless the society can access some excess of stored energy: rape a new continent, rape the fossil fuels, rape a new generation of peasants …) The truth may take seconds, minutes, millennia, eons … to assert itself.
There’s always one important question in evolution (where one has a stake in the outcome):
Will learning take place in time?
Any faith system can “refute” any amount of evidence simply by being aggressively “skeptical” about it. Galileo saw satellites around Jupiter. Not possible said both Church and University: with their eyes closed!
Having faith in your chair makes sense: provided you avail yourself with a good one and keep it repaired, don’t spill marbles on the floor near it, and so forth. Having faith in your wife makes sense, again with the same provisos: get a good one, maintain the relationship … Reproduction would suffer if a man had to worry about his meals being poisoned, his eyes gouged, his genitals assaulted in close encounters … if the woman thought she was in constant danger of a black eye, her baby cannibalized, etc. But mating is more than reproduction. We need allies. We need someone we can have faith in regardless of the actual reliability of available candidates. Society is formed of teams. Teamwork is critical. People who climb rock faces bond with those who hold their ropes, who test their petons, to a degree many never experience.
The problem with living in civilization (AKA: kleptocracy) is that we don’t get to choose our institution-scale teams and repairing the ones we’re provided with is all but impossible. (Oh goody, the electorate didn’t have to give Nixon a third term or even suffer the completion of his second. But the electorate didn’t get to vote him out, to bring charges, to prosecute. The electorate got to give him a pension and build libraries for him.)
That I say is why Faith with a capital F is such a big deal in the brainwashing (“education”) our institutions coerce us into. Reverse-engineering the lessons of church and state and their sacred and secular (now also sacred) reproductive organs — media, schools … — one can reduce the basic lesson to something like the following.
Don’t sweat the near total discrepancy between theory and practice, map and territory …
Don’t trust your eyes, your mind, your experience.
No: have faith.
Your teacher seems inept in her subject? What do you know? she’s the expert. Somewhere there’s a piece of paper saying so.
Your priest seems to be a none too bright horny drunk? You can’t get into heaven without him. So open your pockets all the wider to him.
And so forth. The examples throughout Knatz.com grows continuously, but you should be able to build the series from your own experience.
With your chair, you can tell if you’re comfortable, if your bones remain unbroken, once you sit down. With the priest, how can you tell if grandma is in heaven? How can you be sure Jesus or Mary are there? How can you be sure there’s a there there? Faith. Faith only.
Well. I have faith. I have faith that my Mac actually saves what I’ve written when I issue the sequence of commands to save a file. I have faith that the Mac will still be there after I’ve turned my back or gone to the store. (I have that faith especially if I lock the door. But even there … it would be easier to break into my “home” than it is to open some cans or bottles.)
Where I have no faith is where faith is commanded most. No, forget about heaven. Lots of people doubt that openly without being burned at the stake. I have no atheism when it comes to god. God, yes; god, no. Where I go out of my way to declare my atheism is with regard to current sacred cows: the United States, “the people,” the military, the economy, big business … I have no faith, indeed, no confidence in current human society, in civilized intelligence, in civilized intentions. I have no faith in kleptocracy-supervised scholarship, news, learning.
What I do have faith in is science as practiced rarely by rare individuals, working above and beyond themselves. I have no faith in “Science” as “practiced” by institutions. I have no faith that any large-scale institution can even know what science is. (An institution like the Santa Fe Institute can start out knowing; but can they keep it up?)
It should therefore come as no surprise to the reader that I have no faith that any large-scale institution can know what god, faith, reason, or philosophy mean.
|“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency
2001 07 27
An image just occurs to me: societies are circles of faith. Over-large societies have difficulty agreeing on basic articles of that faith. A lot of cheating and bullying took place before the Nicene Creed (or the US Constitution) could be drafted. Once established, communications are lubricated for articles of the faith. Non-articles, most especially anti-articles, will find resistance.
I must establish the concept of communicational resistance at Macroinformation.
2001 08 03
ASAP I’ll add a module on this wrinkle alone. I add as a note toward that module: Einstein and Eddington believed in the external universe (Pleroma) [See my Macroinformation blog.] as offering untainted evidence. If they measured light from a star, then, within the accuracy of their ability to measure, that measurement of light was evidence. Galileo believed that seeing satellites around Jupiter through a telescope was evidence that they were there. So do I. I don’t assume that the stars are puppets manipulated by some magician for the purpose of his illusion, that some demon can change “reality” ever other nanosecond. Galileo’s evidence simply didn’t register on the cardinal (or did, but the cardinal was dishonest). Arguments about contradictions in the Bible simply don’t register on fundamentalists: they don’t or can’t see what the argument is. It would be a waste of time to argue about the host as simile with a Roman Catholic: for the Catholic the host is metaphor: not like but is. (Bateson) (My over-simplification about Galileo’s cardinal, here and elsewhere, will be revised when I can better absorb the interesting feedback received from Gilbert Mros. [originally linked to the Mail section of Knatz.com])
Question: If Abelard’s antagonists simply didn’t register his nominalist “heresies,” then why did they bother to persecute him? Well, either they were dishonest or, while his arguments don’t register, his being outside their circle of faith did.
These days I explain my experience of seldom being understood, from Sunday School, through graduate school, to adult life in a world of non-comprehending politicians and publishers, to myself in these terms: I am simply outside all of the usual circles of faith. If there are other members of my circle, I have been unable to discover them. Or: I read Illich, I read Bateson; they don’t read me.
2001 08 16
I am pleased to borrow from Robert Anton Wilson his nice contrast between faith-based and evidence-based systems of belief. The first uses of this new era however have gone into other files.
2003 10 20
My fast and loose use of the word faith in my module on Inflation [Knatz.com, censored] prompted bkMarcus to note the following:
I know this isn’t at all your point, as you try to extend the metaphor of inflation into the world of religion, but I got slowed down by this phrasing in a way that most people wouldn’t: “the Jew got to spend his faith before the Christian, the Christian before the Muslim, the Catholic before the Protestant, the Protestant before the Quaker, the Quaker before the Mormon … and any of them before the Communist …”
His “faith”. The Jew’s “faith”.
I accept the claim that Communism — Marxism, at least — is a faith. Judaism is not. I don’t know about Islam.
Something told to me in Israel, something that has really stuck with me and has me looking very differently at western religious assumptions, is that Judaism is not a “faith”. We anglo-americans use the term ‘faith’ as if it were the same thing as religion. It’s not even the same thing as belief! One’s religious beliefs are not automatically a faith. Faith is, presumably, an inner state of knowledge or belief or disposition, unaffected by evidence. Not even all of Christianity is a faith — just the 99% that comes down to us from Saint Paul. The Gnostic Christians certainly aren’t dealing with faith.
So the modern English language comes out of a Catholic/Protestant tradition. Not just Christian, but church Christian. Pauline Christian. Paul is the one who put it all on faith. But most of us use this Pauline language to describe decidedly non-Pauline religions.
I’m actually making a subtler point than was made to me in Israel. I can’t remember who I had this discussion with, but he was using the term ‘faith’ as if it were equivalent to ‘belief’ (which you can see I am arguing it is not). Most people would accept the idea that faith is a kind of belief, and so would I. I’m just emphasizing that it is a very special kind of belief.
Anyway. The less subtle (and maybe more important) point made to me was that the Jews have 611 commandments, not just 10 or 2. (I’m making up the number, but it was in the hundreds, and it might have actually been 611.) Most of those commandments are easy: though shalt not sacrifice your first born to Baal. Stuff that might have taken more effort 4 thousand years ago, but barely troubles the modern Jew. But, said my friend, who I’m now thinking was my roommate, Jeff, who lives in Orlando and teaches Hebrew School and works at Disney World. Jeff told me that not one of those 611 commandments included a requirement to believe anything. But what about the No Gods Before Me commandment? But I saw the argument before I was done asking the question. That doesn’t say that we must believe in Jehovah — nor even that we can’t believe in any gods other than Jehovah. We just can’t put them above Jehovah.
Jeff’s point was that American Jews, probably western Jews in general, had a very Christian spin on their own religion. They acted as if it it were a faith, but that this was cultural assimilation, and not part of Judaism itself.
I tried this argument out on a Belgian Jewess, who said “But why would you obey a god you don’t believe in?” Good question, but it seems to me a very western, Christian, even post-Enlightenment sort of question. But the point isn’t that Judaism encourages atheism — just that it doesn’t disallow it. The whole faith emphasis was Greek, neo-Platonist, not Hebrew.
I’ve noticed this difference in emphasis among Protestants, too. There are those who think Christianity is about having faith, and those who think that it about obeying commandments, following rules, etc. For the latter group, who are following a much older tradition, the term “faith” doesn’t even describe their Christianity.
I’m suddenly thinking of an Orson Scott Card essay about religious fiction, and how only Science Fiction, of all modern genres, fits the bill. Not even explicitly Christian novels count for Card as religious fiction. He says that everything that seems to be religious fiction is actually about conversion or about crisis of faith — about either accepting God’s word, or accepting God’s existence. Card says that this highly publicized, highly visible part of religion is actually the tip of the iceberg. He claims that most religious struggle takes place after faith. OK, I believe and I accept and I have faith — now what I do? You can see this is Card’s science fiction plenty. He accepts the commandment that says Thou Shalt Not Murder (and he knows that it is murder, an ethical category, and not kill, which we have to do to survive). Does “murder” refer only to killing human persons? Etc. The question of what is murder and what isn’t can keep an ethically focused believer tied up his whole life. Card suggests that the post-faith religious struggle is the hard part. I would suggest that what Card might call post-faith is actually pre-Pauline …
Note: I know that that friend was indeed Jeff because bk told me the story fresh back from their kibbutz. And additional reflection on Jeff’s point informs me that I must return and revise this whole module, emphasizing that the terms employed above, belief, trust, faith …, overlap but are not coextensive.
2006 04 15
I have faith, I love faith, I respect faith. What I hate is glib faith. It’s glib faith that backs those who correct your experience with their contradicted theory.
2008 04 24
Post-jail: I now see a reason for faith more clearly than ever. Faith is a tool used by faith-claiming groups to dismiss experience. The Church fought gnosticism — direct experience of the god head tooth and nail. People who have faith in the God they’ve never met, who’s never spoken to them, don’t have to listen to people God has spoken to, or who claim that God has spoken to them.
Note that the story of Jesus, concocted myth or not, shows the church backing the priests and their faith in their written testimonies and denying advice from a Jesus, claimed to be a Christ, a Messiah, a direct representative of God, nay, God himself in human form. Faith places hearsay above eye-witness. No wonder people rely on it.
Faith is an ideal epistemology for the stupid, the dishonest, the lazy … additionally because to date in this culture, people don’t question your claim of faith. Say you have faith, no one will test you. Say you have faith: expect to be believed!!! That’s not at all what happens to a Galileo claiming that he can show you moons around Jupiter!
ASAP I will break this file up, moving much of it to my Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology section. But the concepts, the phenomena, faith, believe … are indelibly Thinking Tools: we cannot think at all, well or ill, without some structure of belief, of faith, some set of axioms …
In the “Occident” we imagine our lives as closed by death. If we believe in resurrection, we’ll tend to imagine it as static: we’ll be the same. The Oriental imagination has given more place to mortality as open-ended. Reincarnation is a “resurrection” in which we get to try over again. In the West we learn until we die; in the East death may also be a learning.
What I have to say
(that’s never been understood)
will never be understood in the West
or it wouldn’t be the West.
In the Japanese movie of Musashi Meets Kojiro the two antagonists duel for the climax. Musashi is of course based on the great Ni Ten and the great Toshiro Mifuni plays the famous killer. Kojiro wanted desperately to be famous as the killer who killed the great killer and Kojiro was played by an actor who looked every bit as much like an angel as Hollywood ever came up with in a Terrence Stamp, etc. Kojiro was so beautiful he looked like a girl. Half the Hollywood beauties should be so pretty. But Musashi opens up Kojiro’s pretty belly. Kojiro smiles beatifically as he crumples in death. What’s going on?
Well, there are no words of course: it’s a movie, and not a talkie movie. My interpretation I believe is on the money. Like Musashi’s, Kojiro’s bushido was devoted to learning … the truth, greater discipline, greater skill … the secrets of the Tao …
Ni Ten means “two heavens.” Musashi was famous for fighting with both swords: both the katana and the wakizashi. (Look at the paintings of the real Ni Ten: you don’t want to go up against a guy to could execute lines with that degree of accuracy or casualness. His beauty is terrifying if you realize that he used his brush like his sword.
Musashi shows up for the duel with a wooden practice sword. He walks up to Kojiro, the setting sun at his back, leaving his katana in the boat. Kojiro, whose katana is already half again longer than Musashi’s doesn’t complain that the Bulls have shown up without MJ: all the better if Musashi thinks he can toy with him. They do a nice Technicolor martial arts ballet. Kojiro pulls some impossible ninja jump … and comes down without any entrails. Both combatants have fought with their wakizashi scabbarded in its usual place: their belt. Musashi draws the forgotten steel weapon as Kojiro cavorts versus the false wooden one.
Niten, Shrike on a Willow
Ah … wisdom dawns. That’s beautiful bushido. He distracted me from the true danger: the Ni Ten wakizashi!
Kojiro dies and learns!
Furthermore, Kojiro dies in ecstasy: the lesson was worth the death.
Since writing this note I’ve added a module on Learning: a mere start on a huge, all-important subject.
2006 02 16
I just saw Yimou Zhang’s Hero. Calligraphy is equated with swordsmanship (both with the heart, then both with words!)
I’m sure I’m not the only one to have begun my serious study of martial arts in the thrall of Akira Kurosawa. WW II focused us on the Japanese, the West has been trying to ignore China, consciously since Napoleon: leave sleeping dragons lie. Ah, but now the Chinese are excelling in skating, coming along in tennis … and exporting movies! If the Chinese ever got out of their own way (much too much government), we’d have Chinese up the kazambie. They’ve been at the war game a lot longer than most. (And think of Zen: how come we think “Zen” instead of “Chan”? Buddhism came from India, but it came to Japan from China!
Anyway, you want to see calligraphy wedded to swordsmanship, take another look at that Shrike on a Willow! (And note that it’s Chan-Zen to the root!
2011 11 26 I’ve just come upon some distinctions in the concept “faith” within Christian Theology, just within study of the New Testament! which I hadn’t been aware of in any of my previous authorial visits to this post which became an ark on the subject. And, over the decades, my comments on faith, on a series of meanings, has infected all my domains and blogs. Now I’m trying to recreate K. @ pKnatz blog, and also consolidate, and update … I need a new start: with a menu!
pk on Faith:
in a minute, first I launch the new gather-all.