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What is faith?

03/17/09 | by [mail] | Categories: faith/skepticism

I'd like to do some writing, thinking and discussing about the subject of faith. I have some ideas about it, but I'd like to hear from you, so here are some questions to get things started:

1. What is faith? How do you define the word?

2. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? In all situations or just some?

3. Does your answer to #2 hold true for people with faiths other than your own?

4. How do you decide what to have faith in?



Faith is to believe in something when everything else around is saying there is no possible way.
Yes it can be and no and I’ll tell you why. When I was growing up. I was like 10. My oldest brother who had a baby got really sick and wasn’t going to take him to the Dr. because he believed in faith healing. My Dad had to beg him to take him or honestly I think the baby would have died.
3. I think it’s good to have faith unless it crosses the line and hurts somebody. I’m Christian so yes I hoping for them to have faith in Jesus but I’m not one to force anything on anybody unless they want to know. I even want to know more about my own faith and that takes me surprising places.

4. Honestly I don’t know. Probally some of what I said in question 3.

Debbie Whorton [Visitor]03/18/09 @ 03:45

1. Faith is living in a reality that has not yet come and by proof that isn’t testable.
2. Faith is subjective and therefore morally relative.
3. Yes. Since it’s relative, it depends on what you have faith in. For example, if my faith in Mr. Potato head causes me to blow up a potato farm, that’s immoral (kind of… I hate potatoes).
4. Christian answer? The Holy Spirit. But besides that, Christians, Muslims, Ba’hai, Atheists–we all just decide one day to follow our god and spend the rest of our lives finding evidence that makes us feel good about that decision.

BTW, I’m one of Henry’s friends.

Scott [Visitor]http://www.xanga.com/graceisunfair03/18/09 @ 06:47

1. pretty much what others have said - believing in something that can’t be proven to be true.

2. if it’s misplaced it CAN be bad. for example, someone who has faith their husband won’t cheat on them again after several affairs. they’re setting themselves up for hurt. beyond that type of thing, it’s going to be a matter of opinion if their faith is a good or bad thing. someone with a religious belief might receive comfort and happiness from their belief and see that as a good thing (even if their belief isn’t correct), but someone else might say that belief is bad because they are going to hell for not having the right belief. it’s subjective.

3. yes

4. your experiences. this includes things you’ve read, observations, conversations and interactions you’ve had, etc. these are all the things that cause me to have faith in anything. not that it’s always going to be right, but it’s really all we have to go by.

maryellen [Visitor]03/18/09 @ 18:45

1) Faith is knowledge of something not directly deduced by the 5 senses or personally understood through clear logical reasoning. That is, I have faith in almost everything I’ve learned about science, and, actually, about almost everything I claim to know. I’ve never personally performed any experiments leading me to believe that Penicillin is made from the by-products of bread mold. I don’t have any reason to believe that a transistor works by something other than a charm placed on the materials in an enchanted cave in China. My knowledge is based on what others, those whom I trust, tell me is true, and it doesn’t conflict with those things I know from experience.

Maybe an even better example is my belief that justice, love, and beauty are words which describe phenomena which are not entirely the result of natural selection. These are concepts I understand as undeniably real, but which I cannot satisfactorily explain through Darwinian evolution.

2) I don’t know that Faith, in and of itself, is either bad or good, but just part of the reality of human experience.

3) Yes.

4) I, like just about everyone else, have faith in those things which “seem” right to me. That is, it “seems” right to me that the circuitry iPod isn’t somehow a cryptic arrangement of patterns that captures the spirits of music and forces them to sing in the voices of my favorite musicians when I pressed the lower chord of the sacred circle. But I have no more direct, experiential or empirical proof of this than I do of the more natural explanation I actually believe.

I think I differ from some I know, in that I believe that faith must be constantly reevaluated in terms of new evidence. If I must plead “faith” against direct evidence to the contrary, I am willing to carefully reevaluate my beliefs. But, in contrast to strict empiricism (a kind of out-moded philosophy anyway), I don’t require everything I believe to be potentially disprovable either.

Doug [Visitor]03/21/09 @ 17:27
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/03/23/09 @ 08:42

But how can you be sure which type of faith you have if you ultimately are accepting both without looking thoroughly at the evidence?

Anyway, even if we say there are two types of faith, both types ultimately lead down to the unexplained (and perhaps even unexplainable) as we descend into attempting to explain natural forces (gravity, electromagnetism, strong/weak) and quantum mechanics.
This is a touch “God of the gaps,” except I’m willing to keep looking for natural explanations to fill the gaps.

I think too often we confidently claim to know things we’ve been taught (religious or otherwise) without investigating and understanding for ourselves.

Doug [Visitor]03/23/09 @ 17:08

What Doug says also gets at the similar role that authority plays in both theological and scientific disciplines.

peter [Visitor]03/24/09 @ 22:58
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/03/25/09 @ 07:46
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/03/25/09 @ 07:55
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/03/25/09 @ 07:56

I think a “real” example is in my first comment:

Maybe an even better example is my belief that justice, love, and beauty are words which describe phenomena which are not entirely the result of natural selection. These are concepts I understand as undeniably real, but which I cannot satisfactorily explain through Darwinian evolution.

But I’d also quibble with your implication that faith must be something one is torn over…or uncertain of. I understand that is a common experience of faith, but is that right? I’m not torn over my faith in the natural explanation for my iPod. I can’t accept a definition of faith that is self-willed belief in something you don’t actually believe.

Doug [Visitor]03/25/09 @ 18:03

To me, faith is an attitude in which the individual lets go of knowing.

Heath [Visitor]03/26/09 @ 14:57

Faith is belief in something that one cannot fully understand. Whether religion or an iPod, there comes a point when faith MUST come into play as the definitive answer disappears.

It can be good (to the benefit of others) or bad (to the detriment) depending on a variety of circumstances.

Good question. Ultimately, if one has a specific mono-theistic faith as Christianity, Judaism or Islam, they cannot see other faiths as a good thing as they will lead others ‘astray’. While they may share common surface truths (good), as one dives deeper, a deviation will be made that leaves all others ‘bad’. However, if one is either atheistic or mono-theistic then sure, there are lots of good faiths. To each their own.

My faith comes from the influences of my life: where I was born (USA), my parents (white, middle class, conservative Christian), my education (public school, private college), my own examinations (why do we exist, is there purpose, is there a god, if so which one), discussion/debate (with people from all walks of life), worldview (how I observe mans interaction vs circumstances of life), external influences (media, interactions, circumstances, pain, suffering, joy, love), etc. All of these play a part (large or small) in my bent towards a specific faith (or lack of…which is still faith).

Kraz33 [Visitor]03/31/09 @ 08:56

1) Faith is a word not solely confined to the religious or supernatural world and therefore, any definition of faith which occurs within nothing but a religious or supernatural context is, at least in my mind, incorrect. To me, faith is the acceptance of what one believes to be true because the evidence seems to that particular person, to point in that direction.

2) Faith is neither good or bad. The Atheist has as much faith in what he believes to be true as the Christian does. To the Atheist, the evidence seems to point towards no God and therefore, he accepts as true that there is no God. And vice versa for the Christian.

3) Yes based upon how I have defined faith.

4)I agree with Tim Keller that people decide to have faith in something based upon the interaction of three factors: 1) intellectual reasons; 2) social group reasons; and 3)individual contextual reasons. Nobody has faith in anything, Christianity or Atheism based upon only one of these factors. All three come into play to produce what a person has faith in.

I do think it is a shame that “faith” has come to be relegated to nothing but the religious/supernatural world. The word “faith” shouldn’t be viewed as a perjorative. It is rather the natural result of accepting what one believes to be true and acting upon it.

Zenas The Lawyer [Visitor]http://graspingthegospel.blogspot.com04/04/09 @ 08:22
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/04/04/09 @ 09:17

1) And I disagree with this: “I don’t think the atheism position involves any faith at all,” if we are taking my definition of faith. If we are taking yours, then yes, atheism would not involve faith.

2)I take faith and belief to be very nearly synonymous - at least in the biblical conception.

3)If definitions of faith mention a lack of proof, then what I have is not faith.

4) I take the position from a theological standpoint that faith is not a virtue in and of itself, but “faith in God” to be the virtue. Speaking of “faith” as a virtue seems to me to be shorthand for this concept throughout the biblical corpus. I don’t think that “faith” would have been considered a virtue from a biblical standpoint when Jehovah speaks of “faith” or “trust” in other gods.

Zenas The Lawyer [Visitor]http://graspingthegospel.blogspot.com04/04/09 @ 17:33

Let me explain more of what I mean by #2. I now see the confusion.

I believe that faith and belief are very nearly synonymous, but that “faith” probably has a bit of a deeper dimension to it. One who believes that there is a God and that Jesus lived and died could believe in those things as true, but lack faith. So, when I say that “faith is accepting what one believes to be true,” I take that to mean that a “deeper” belief in a fact that I believe to be true, or a psychological acceptance of what I know to be true would be faith.

But, you are correct to point out the difficulty with that statement. Perhaps that could be flushed out some more in your writing on the subject.

Zenas The Lawyer [Visitor]http://graspingthegospel.blogspot.com04/04/09 @ 17:40

I can think of a lot of places where faith is described as if it were a virtue in the New Testament, but how I answer the question depends on what story or passage you are thinking of. Would you give the scriptural references you are thinking of?

Doug [Visitor]04/04/09 @ 18:08

1. Faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see.

2. It is a good thing. With out faith in our senses, we would never be able to operate in the real world. (After all, our senses can be deceived so how can we really know anything for certain?)

3. It depends, does their faith work? If I believe that molecular bonds will hold today, and therefore don’t try to run through any walls, then I believe that my faith is better than the poor guy who believes that the bonds won’t hold up and try’s running headfirst through a brick wall.

4. Does it match with reality? I have to go with my experience, and with what is most reasonable. For example (and here many will disagree) I think it is more reasonable to believe that God created everything than to believe that different random chemicals mixed together became a living organism.

B.J. [Visitor]04/09/09 @ 00:18

Oops, I guess by my answer to number 3, my answer to number 2 should also include that faith can be a bad thing, if faith is placed in a false belief.

B.J. [Visitor]04/09/09 @ 00:22


Do you believe that faithfulness(ie fidelity) to your wife is a virtue?

“Most definitions of the word faith mention a lack of proof. That’s why it’s usually in a religious context. If you’re going to revise the definition so that it includes acceptance of proven facts, then this discussion will be a lot less interesting to me.”

According to dictionary.com only one definition of faith mentions a lack of proof. 3 definitions reference religion. I’m sure that you, in some(or all) ways, believe that religion is synonymous with a lack of proof. I doubt however that there is a definition anywhere that actually says this, therefore most definitions of faith do not in any way reference a lack of proof.

“To me, atheism means a lack of faith in any gods, not a faith in the lack of gods."—Seems like just a play on words, but according to definition number 2 below, anytime you believe something that is not based on fact, it is faith. Therefore, atheists and Christian/Muslims/etc all have faith. Christians and Muslims have faith in something, while atheists have faith in nothing.

1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6. the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7. the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one’s promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.

1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
2. conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
3. chastity; virginity: to lose one’s virtue.
4. a particular moral excellence. Compare cardinal virtues, natural virtue, theological virtue.
5. a good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one’s weaknesses.
6. effective force; power or potency: a charm with the virtue of removing warts.
7. virtues, an order of angels. Compare angel (def. 1).
8. manly excellence; valor.

ks [Visitor]  http://www.dictionary.com04/14/09 @ 22:55

Been too busy to really think about anything important recently, but, without doing a blow by blow study of “pistos” (I believe that’s the Greek word for faith) in the New Testament, I sort of think when it’s described as a virtue it usually has more to do with faithFULNESS than blind faith. The problem is the Hebrews passage about “being certain of what you do not see” is a little more like what I think Danny’s definition is…but I would like to take some more time to a) look at that passage in the various Greek manuscript witnesses and b) see if the author uses it in a different way than the authors of the other books in the NT. If anyone else has time to do this I think it would help our conversation.

Doug [Visitor]04/15/09 @ 06:36
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/04/15/09 @ 06:45

What is faith: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

We all have a measure of faith in everything we do, when you sit in a chair, you sit in it expecting for it to hold you.

When you climb a ladder you expect for that ladder to hold, if you through that the ladder could not hold you would not climb it. (That faith)

Beleive in what you don’t see, all Christians beleive in God, but we have never seen Him.

John [Visitor]09/09/10 @ 05:49

What is faith: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

We all have a measure of faith in everything we do; when you sit in a chair, you sit in it expecting for it to hold you.

When you climb a ladder you expect for that ladder to hold you. If you though that the ladder could not hold you, you would not climb it. (Thats faith)

Believe in what you don’t see, all Christians believe in God, but we have never seen Him. (correction)

John [Visitor]09/09/10 @ 06:02
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/09/09/10 @ 06:07

Dan: you have more faith than you realize; when you wrote your comment you had enough faith to believe that it would be post.

John [Visitor]09/09/10 @ 06:16
[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/09/09/10 @ 06:25

the bible has a slightly different take…
it states that faith is actually the evidence itself.

Heb 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.


La Cuidad [Visitor]09/13/10 @ 09:30

Faith is tapping into the unseen to solve matters seen with the physical body. It is the Evidence of things hope for.

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