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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Faith: Is It Belief, Trust, Hope, or Just Convenient?

"Reason is our soul's left hand, faith her right." 
-John Donne

Faith and reason -- some of us believe faith rests solely in the sphere of religious or theological claims while all meaningful statements and ideas are accessible through thorough rational, empirical examination. In other words, these people see the two -- faith and reason -- existing in completely different domains.

In general, faith means that one considers a particular claim (e.g., "God exists") to be actual knowledge, absolutely certain knowledge. In faith, this claim to certainty is held in the absence of adequate evidence, or in direct contradiction to the evidence.

It is commonly held that reason means the application of logical principles to the available evidence.While the principles of reason/logic are certain, the conclusions one obtains from them are only as certain as the underlying assumptions, which is why science is rarely, if ever, absolutely certain (though in many cases, its theories are certain to a very high degree of probability).

Do all of us possess faith? Some would fervently argue that they do not possess faith, at least in the common connotation of the term They would deny faith because of their disbelief in religion. No established terminology exists for different models of faith. Yet, it helps us to have some means of expression to illustrate different concepts of the word. Perhaps we should examine faith in finer detail.

John Bishop  ("Faith." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2010 Edition. Edward N. Zalta, ed.) writes of different models of faith to illustrate the differences in its application.
  • The Purely Affective Model: faith as a feeling of existential (grounded in experience) confidence
Some philosophers hold that faith is to be identified simply with a state of feeling confident and trusting. This, then, is a default attitude of life that supposedly provides us with a valuable foundation for flourishing. Since this affective model is a faith without an object of belief, it has no cognitive component.

Someone following this model simply declares he has nothing to which he applies faith but that he is merely trusting in  general nature 

  • The Special Knowledge Model: faith as knowledge of specific truths, revealed by God
This model identifies faith as knowledge of specific truths, revealed by God. Reformer John Calvin.  defines faith as "a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit." (John Calvin. Institutes III, ii, 7, 551, quoted by Plantinga. 2000)

Faith is thus understood as a kind of knowledge attended by a certainty that excludes doubt. But faith will not be exclusively cognitive, if, as in Calvin's definition, faith-knowledge is not only "revealed to our minds" but also "sealed upon our hearts."

Many acknowledge another component of the special knowledge model. They believe an active response is required for reception of the divine gift. Such a component is implied by the real possibility that faith may be resisted: indeed, it may be held that in our sinful state we will inevitably offer a resistance to faith that may be overcome only by God's grace.

Those who exhibit the faith of this model believe in the operation of the Holy Spirit in making the great truths of the Gospel directly known to them. They also believe they must accept the gifts in their minds and hearts without doubt.
  • The Belief  Model: faith as belief that God exists
The belief model is comprised of theological content held with sufficient firmness and conviction --that God exists, is benevolent towards us, has a plan of salvation, etc. The person of religious faith is the person who has the theoretical conviction that there is a God. In any case, if success attends the extended natural theological project, the reasonableness of faith on this model will straightforwardly be vindicated.

In taking faith to consist in belief that theological propositions are true, this model invites the assumption that theological convictions belong in the same category of factual claims as scientific theoretical hypotheses with which they accordingly compete.

This is the same model found in John Locke: "Faith … is the assent to any proposition … upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication."

Since God's grace is required for that assent, when grace is effective the whole "package deal" of propositional revealed truth is accepted. This yields the notion of "the Faith," as the body of theological truths to be accepted by "the faithful," and it becomes a sign of resistance to divine grace to "pick and choose" only some truths.

Those who accept this belief model acknowledge the existence of God and the necessity of accepting all theological truths and convictions as coming from Him.
  • The Trust Model: faith as belief in (trust in) God
Not all models of faith are primarily propositional. Theistic faith may seem better expressed as believing in God, rather than as believing that God exists. This model holds that faith as accepting propositional truths as divinely revealed rests on believing in God—and it is this ‘believing in’ which is, fundamentally, the nature of faith.

What more is there to believing in God beyond believing that God exists? To believe in God is to make a practical commitment -- the kind involved in trusting God, or, trusting in God. (The root meaning of the Greek pistis, "faith," is "trust.") This, then, is a model of faith as trust—but of trust not simply in the sense of an affective state of confidence, but in the sense of an action.

Some call this the "Lutheran" model, and defines it as "the person of faith does not merely believe that there is a God (and believe certain propositions about him)—he trusts Him and commits himself to Him." Trust involves a venture, so too—it is widely agreed—does faith. So, if faith is trust, the venture of faith might be presumed to be the type of venture implicated in trust.

A venture is an action that places the agent and outcomes of concern to the agent significantly beyond the agent's own control. Trust implies venture.

The person who adheres to this faith believes in God as the nature of faith and makes a trusting commitment to adhere to His plan.
  • The Doxastic Venture Model: faith as practical commitment beyond the evidence to one's belief that God exists
This view holds that venturing in trust does not carry risk if God really is the trustee. The venture involved in trusting in God is doxastic: In other words, the one who trusts ventures in believing that God exists and may be relied on for salvation. A model of theistic faith as trust thus appears to have, at its foundation, faith as doxastic venture: trusting in God seems to presuppose trusting that God exists. This model makes only this commitment of faith. But, then, of course, the question whether, and under what conditions, one may be entitled to such a venture becomes pressing. Last minute salvation?

This type of interpersonal trust does not require actually believing that the trustee is worthy of trust, only that one decisively acts on the assumption of its truth when one comes to act. People of theistic faith, however, typically do believe that God exists and may be trusted for salvation, and, if -- as we are here assuming -- acting on this belief ventures beyond evidential support, then it is a venture that persists and is not confined to a single commitment.

The person who places faith in the dogastic venture model makes only the commitment of trusting in God to deliver his salvation, not necessarily believing that God exists or that he has lived a life worthy of trust. 
  • The Sub-Doxastic Venture Model: faith as practical commitment without belief
This model entails acting on the assumption that God exists without actual belief. The sub-doxastic venture model professes that faith is not an attempt to will something into existence but rather treating hoped for and unseen things as if they were real and then acting accordingly.

It involves practical commitment venturing beyond evidential support, yet it does not require (or, even, permit) that the person who ventures actually believes the faith-proposition assumed to be true. It involves venturing into the unknown and taking the risk of disappointment and defeat

This view requires resolve to use claims of faith as a basis for one's thoughts, attitudes and behaviours. There is no firm assurance of their truth. It involves acceptance rather than belief. Decisive commitment in the absence of assurance may, nevertheless, be possible, motivated by the evaluative belief that unless faith propositions are true that which is most worthwhile is not to be had.  God's grace plays a more limited role than usually supposed.

Those who subscribe to sub-dogastic views assume God exists without actually committing to that belief. They prefer to venture into the unknown and accept claims of faith without a firm assurance of their truth.

  • The Hope Model: faith as hoping—or acting in the hope that—the God who saves exists.
Subscribers to this model identify faith with hoping that the claims of faith are true. Hope as such is an attitude rather than an active commitment: a model of faith as hope may thus, more strictly, take faith to be acting in, or from, hope. Such believers keep their life open or fluid with respect to a faith-proposition.

It comes close to a sub-doxastic venture model of faith, differing only in so far as acting from hope that God exists differs from taking this claim to be true (albeit without belief) in one's practical reasoning -- and this difference may be undetectable at the level of behavioural outcomes. A model of faith as acting in hope also shares with the sub-doxastic venture model in leaving out the affective certitude that is widely thought to characterise faith.

A hope model believer acts in hope that God exists without making any commitment, and yet he sees this hope as positively connected to his own well-being.

Did you find yourself fitting into one of the models above? To me, a life devoid of faith is meaningless. Faith allows us to comprehend and trust in things unseen. It increases our abilities to believe, to appreciate the mysteries of life, and to rest assured our spirits will never die. Faith is a healer of souls and a rock upon which to build. It is entirely beyond my comprehension how anyone could exist without faith.
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