Recently, I hiked up Little Si with some friends. As we were meandering through the North Bend woods down the mountain, I got into a discussion on the nature of faith with one of those friends. Sometimes these heady (or so I want to think so) topics like to emerge as I’m winding my way along some natural trail.
Faith seems to be a commonality of the human condition. The diversity arises when people discuss what exactly they put their faith in. A humanist may reject any supernatural reality in favor of placing his faith in the continual advancement of humanity. Various religions will obviously put faith in a deity or various gods and very-tellingly, in their ability to do good works to appease these divine personalities. A philosophical materialist, who may deny they have any faith at all, will say that somehow non-living matter produced life that evolved into people. At this point, science, to my knowledge, has not shown us how this could occur especially in light of Louis Pasteur’s law of biogenesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_biogenesis). The Christian (which I am) puts his/her faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What is faith exactly? Is the exercise primarily intellectual or based on emotion? Is faith made up of a holistic approach of both? I’ve seen some definitions of faith that include “allegiance to duty or a person” or “fidelity to one’s promises” or “sincerity of one’s intentions”. Related to bigger beliefs, I’ve seen this defining sentence: “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith)
The concluding definition is one that I hear often assigned to faith and especially religious faith. The categorization goes that people who have religious faith believe in something for which there is no proof. Presumably, “proof” is defined as experiences that can only be determined by the five senses. Interestingly enough, a lot of major religions would claim they have elements of “proof”. The Muslim would say that they have proof that Islam is true because of Muhammed receiving direct revelation (communication/hearing) from Allah. Mormons would contend that proof of their faith lies in Joseph Smith meeting the Angel Moroni who helped him translate Egyptian hieroglyphics into the Book of Mormon. Christians would say that Jesus was a God-man who claim to bear witness to the True God’s kingdom and validated His claim by rising from the grave. Most historians (even agnostics such as Bart Ehrman) will say Jesus of Nazareth was absolutely a historical figure and, obviously, had founded a rather massive world religion.
Proof, like beauty perhaps, may be in the eye of the beholder. “Proof” (however people define compelling proof) is relegated to the sphere of the intellectual aspect of faith. When a critic asks someone who believes in a larger reality outside of themselves, they may reply with philosophical or historical arguments of one kind of another.
Of course, this leaves the sphere of emotion or experience. People want to believe whatever they believe. They have a comforting feeling or a satisfied feeling believing as they do.
On that trail in North Bend, we were wondering about these different elements that drive people to faith…more intellectual or more emotional? When I converted to Christianity, I was actually alone in my bedroom as a teenager reading a tract that had Bible verses and an explanation of Christian salvation. As a teenager, I didn’t have the wealth of life experience and (hopefully) knowledge that I have now but I had heard that Jesus was a historical figure, that Christmas was the celebration of his birth, and I had heard that He loved the world and died for sins.
The last part of that declaration, I think, was more emotional and that was the most meaningful part. I don’t remember crying or anything like that but I really wanted to believe there was a God who loved the world, who had a righteous standard (love God and love other people), and who literally died for me (in my place) when I fell way short of that standard. Perhaps an emotion based beginning although one can make sophisticated theological statements based upon God loving the world or Jesus dying for sins. The more intellectual examination of my faith came in the years to come and still continues today as I have a long way to go.
What drives you to faith in whatever you believe?