FAITH AND RELIGION

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FAITH AND RELIGION

Religion and faith are very different things. Religion is doing something religiously, over and over again.  Faith is believing. For example believing in God all you need faith because you can’t really see him. But you know he is there.    Faith is belief with strong conviction; firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof; complete trust in or devotion to. Faith is the opposite of doubt.

Faith is possibly the single-most important element of the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 states, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”   The Bible gives this description of faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Scripture explains that the source of faith is God: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Faith is subjective, confidence or trust in a person, thing, deity, or in the doctrines or teachings of a religion, or view (e.g. having strong political faith) without empirical evidence.  The word faith is often used as a conceptual synonym for hope, trust, belief or knowledge.

In the Baha’i Faith, faith is ultimately the acceptance of the divine authority of the Manifestations of God.  In the religion’s view, faith and knowledge are both required for spiritual growth. Faith involves more than outward obedience to this authority, but also must be based on a deep personal understanding of religious teachings.    By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds.

In Buddhism, faith is an important constituent element of the teachings of Gautama Buddha.  The teachings of Buddha were originally recorded in the language Pali and the word saddha is generally translated as “faith”. In the teachings, saddha is often described as:  a conviction that something is; a determination to accomplish one’s goals; a sense of joy deriving from the other two.   While faith in Buddhism does not imply “blind faith”, Buddhist practice nevertheless requires a degree of trust, primarily in the spiritual attainment of Buddha.   Faith in Buddhism centers on the understanding that the Buddha is an Awakened being, on his superior role as teacher, in the truth of his Dharma (spiritual teachings), and in his Sangha (community of spiritually developed followers). Faith in Buddhism can be summarized as faith in the Three Jewels:  the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It is intended to lead to the goal of enlightenment, or bodhi and Nirvana.  Volitionally, faith implies a resolute and courageous act of will. It combines the steadfast resolution that one will do something with the self-confidence that one can do it.

As a counter to any form of “blind faith”, the Buddha’s teachings included those included in the Kalama Sutra, exhorting his disciples to investigate any teaching and to live by what is learnt and accepted, rather than believing in something simply because it is taught

Faith in Christianity is based on the work and teachings of Jesus Christ.  Christianity declares not to be distinguished by faith, but by the object of its faith. Rather than being passive, faith leads to an active life aligned with the ideals and the example of the life of Jesus. It sees the mystery of God and his grace and seeks to know and become obedient to God. To a Christian, faith is not static but causes one to learn more of God and grow, and has its origin in God.   In Christianity, faith causes change as it seeks a greater understanding of God. Faith is not fideism or simple obedience to a set of rules or statements. Before Christians have faith, they must understand in whom and in what they have faith. Without understanding, there cannot be true faith, and that understanding is built on the foundation of the community of believers, the scriptures and traditions and on the personal experiences of the believer. In English translations of the New Testament, the word faith generally corresponds to the Greek noun pistis or the Greek verb pisteuo, meaning “to trust, to have confidence, faithfulness, to be reliable, to assure”. The Bible says that faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

In Islam, faith is complete submission to the will of God, which includes belief, profession and the body’s performance of deeds, consistent with the commission as vicegerent on Earth, all according to God’s will.

The Imam has two aspects:  (a) Recognizing and affirming that there is one Creator of the universe and only to this Creator is worship due. According to Islamic thought, this comes naturally because faith is an instinct of the human soul. This instinct is then trained via parents or guardians into specific religious or spiritual paths. Likewise, the instinct may not be guided at all.  (b)  Willingness and commitment to submitting that God exists, and to His prescriptions for living in accordance with vicegerency.  The Qur’an is understood as the dictation of God’s prescriptions through the Prophet Muhammad and is believed to have updated and completed the previous revelations that God sent through earlier prophets.

In the Qur’an, it is stated that (2:62): “Surely, those who believe, those who are  Muslims, Jewish, the Christians, and the Sabins; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.”

Faith itself is not a religious concept in Judaism.  The only one time faith in God is mentioned in the 24 books of the Jewish Bible (Torah), it is found in verse 10 of the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 43. In this verse, the commandment to know God is followed by the commandments to believe and to understand, thus denoting descending importance.     However, Judaism does recognize the positive value of faith, trust in God, and the negative status of the heretic, but faith is not as stressed or as central as it is in other religions, especially compared with Christianity and Islam.  It could be a necessary means for being a practicing religious Jew, but the emphasis is placed on true knowledge, true prophecy and practice rather than on faith itself. Very rarely does it relate to any teaching that must be believed. Judaism does not require one to explicitly identify God (a key tenet of Christian faith, which is called Avodah Zarah, in Judaism, a minor form of idol worship, a big sin and strictly forbidden to Jews). Rather, in Judaism, one is to honour a (personal) idea of God, supported by the many principles quoted in the Talmud to define Judaism, mostly by what it is not. Thus there is no established formulation of Jewish principles of faith which are mandatory for all (observant) Jews.

In the Jewish scriptures trust in God – Emunah – refers to how God acts toward his people and how they are to respond to him; it is rooted in the everlasting covenant established in the Torah.   “Know, therefore, that the Lord, your God He is God, the faithful God, Who keeps the covenant and loving kindness with those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations. “

The specific tenets that compose required belief and their application to the times have been disputed throughout Jewish history. Today many, but not all, Orthodox Jews have accepted Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Belief.

A traditional example of Emunah as seen in the Jewish annals is found in the person of Abraham.   On a number of occasions, Abraham both accepts statements from God that seem impossible and offers obedient actions in response to direction from God to do things that seem implausible.

“The Talmud describes how a thief also believes in G‑d: On the brink of his forced entry, as he is about to risk his life—and the life of his victim—he cries out with all sincerity, ‘G‑d help me!’ The thief has faith that there is a G‑d who hears his cries, yet it escapes him that this G‑d may be able to provide for him without requiring that he abrogate G‑d’s will by stealing from others. For emunah to affect him in this way he needs study and contemplation.”

Sikhism, the fifth-largest organized religion in the world, was founded in 15th-century Punjab on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and ten successive Sikh gurus, the last one being the sacred text Guru Granth Sahib alongside the Guru Panth.  The core philosophy of the Sikh religion is described in the beginning hymn of the Guru Granth Sahib.        There is one supreme eternal reality; the truth; imminent in all things; creator of all things; immanent in creation. Without fear and without hatred; not subject to time; beyond birth and death; self-revealing. Known by the Guru’s grace.

 There is a wide spectrum of opinion with respect to the epistemological validity of faith. On one extreme is logical positivism, which denies the validity of any beliefs held by faith; on the other extreme is fideism, which holds that true belief can only arise from faith, because reason and physical evidence cannot lead to truth. Some foundationalists hold that all of our beliefs rest ultimately on beliefs accepted by faith.  Some believe that the varieties of religious experiences should be sought by psychologists, because they represent the closest thing to a microscope of the mind—that is, they show us in drastically enlarged form the normal processes of things.  For a useful interpretation of human reality, to share faith experience he said that we must each make certain “over-beliefs” in things which, while they cannot be proven on the basis of experience, help us to live fuller and better lives.

Fideism is not a synonym for religious belief, but describes a particular philosophical proposition in regard to the relationship between faith’s appropriate jurisdictions at arriving at truths, contrasted against reason. It states that faith is needed to determine some philosophical and religious truths, and it questions the ability of reason to arrive at all truth. The word and concept had its origin in the mid- to late-19th century by way of Catholic thought, in a movement called Traditionalism. The Roman Catholic Magisterium has, however, repeatedly condemned fideism.

Religious epistemologists have formulated and defended reasons for the rationality of accepting belief in God without the support of an argument. Some religious epistemologists hold that belief in God is more analogous to belief in a person than belief in a scientific hypothesis. Human relations demand trust and commitment. If belief in God is more like belief in other persons, then the trust that is appropriate to persons will be appropriate to God.   Foundationalism is a view about the structure of justification or knowledge.  Foundationalism holds that all knowledge and justified belief are ultimately based upon what are called properly basic beliefs.  This position is intended to resolve the infinite regress problem in epistemology.   According to foundationalism, a belief is epistemic ally justified only if it is justified by properly basic beliefs. One of the significant developments in foundationalism is the rise of reformed epistemology.

Reformed epistemology is a view about the epistemology of religious belief, which holds that belief in God can be properly basic.  It has been held that an individual may rationally believe in God even though the individual does not possess sufficient evidence to convince an agnostic. One difference between reformed epistemology and fideism is that the former requires defense, against known objections, whereas the latter might dismiss such objections as irrelevant.  It could be a form of externalism that holds that the justification conferring factors for a belief may include external factors.   Some philosophers have defended theism by granting evidentialism but supporting theism through deductive arguments whose premises are considered justifiable. Some of these arguments are probabilistic, either in the sense of having weight but being inconclusive, or in the sense of having a mathematical probability assigned to them.

 “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence.… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”

There is a common perception that religion is defined not so much by particular doctrines (like the existence of a god) or in particular functions (like providing a structure for morals) but instead by attitude. One of the most famous ways this has been expressed in theologian Paul Tillich’s idea that religion and even theism is the focus of our “ultimate concern.”

There seems to be certain validity to this position because so much about religion appears to revolve around a person’s attitude towards life, the universe, and what is most important to them. Does this allow us to conclude, then, that some great faith or concern qualifies not simply as an object of worship and veneration, but also of divinity and religion?

There is, of course, the obvious problem with the vagueness inherent in such a definition of religion.  It seems to include so much under the umbrella of religion that little is left over – and if everything qualifies as a religion, then the term itself stops being very useful anymore. We already have other words we can use to describe the objects of our devotion and “ultimate concern,” so why co-opt religion into this duty? Moreover, those of us with various forms of faith or ultimate concerns aren’t likely to appreciate such conversion by redefinition.    Another problem lies in the fact that this broad definition appears designed to make religion seem appealing and pleasant. That in itself is not necessarily bad, but it fails to acknowledge the fact that not everyone has faith in good things and not everyone’s “ultimate concern” is in that which is moral, kind, and just.    A good example can be found in some of the political systems which have caused so much death and destruction over the past hundred years. The best instance of that would probably be various forms of fascism, and Nazism in particular. All of them represented objects of great passion which people devoted themselves to, mind and body.

That’s one of the fundamental problems with faith: there is no good way to restrict its object to the things which you approve of. Once “faith,” whether focused upon an “ultimate concern” or not, is held up as a valid or even valued means for acquiring “knowledge” and a basis for living one’s life, it just isn’t possible to assert that the Christian faith is good, but the Muslim or Nazi faith is wrong.

Moreover, a person who accepts faith as the basis for their beliefs effectively gives up the means for critiquing the beliefs of others. A belief based upon faith is not a belief based upon reason, logic, and evidence. If a person is not going to use reason, logic, and evidence as standards by which they judge their own beliefs, then it would be hypocritical to try and use them as standards for judging or critiquing the beliefs of others.   Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much to use. If a person can’t criticize the belief of another because it isn’t consistent with logic or the available evidence, or because it is simply unreasonable, what else is there? How can a Christian who relies on faith criticize a Nazi who also relies on faith – by insisting that the Nazi faith is wrong simply because the Christian faith says so?   How wrong is this?

Granted, many people do good things because they have a strong faith in what is good and right, and this in turn provides a powerful set of motivations for them. At the same time, there are people who have a strong faith in what others would call evil – and that, too, provides a powerful motivation. In the end, it may actually be better in the long run if people have little faith in the good so long as they don’t have great faith in the evil.

Kathy Kiefer

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