Reasonable Doubts Blog

What is Faith?

Posted in Welcome by Cheryl Berman on the May 16th, 2010

A while back I read a book about faith that I think is the perfect way to open this blog.  The book, “Stages of Faith” was written by James W. Fowler who works in the field of developmental psychology.  Fowler’s book analyzes the concept of faith from a few perspectives. In the second chapter of his book he distinguishes faith from belief.  He quotes his teacher, and later his colleague at Harvard, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who explains belief as “the holding of certain ideas.”  Faith, however, “is deeper, richer, more personal.  It is engendered by a religious tradition, in some cases and to some degree by its doctrines; but it is a quality of the person not of the system.  It is an orientation of the personality… a capacity to live at more than a mundane level; to see, to act in terms of, a transcendent dimension.” (pg. 11)

Fowler goes on to discuss Smith’s analyses of the word faith through various religions and languages and concludes that faith is more of a statement of trust and allegiance than a belief in a certain proposition.  I think this analysis is crucial in understanding the concept of faith.  I will be giving a speech at Emunah Women in a few weeks on the topic of faith crisis in Judaism and one of the thinkers I will be discussing is the Esh Kodesh, the Rebbe of Piaseczno  who perished in Holocaust.  The Rebbe said quite a few shockingly penetrating things but one thing that really caught my eye was his definition of complete faith.  He told his Chassidim that in order to have pure faith they must relinquish their hopes or dread of the future and focus exclusively on the present moment.  They need to let go of the proposition “I believe that…” and concentrate on the moment when God is with them in their suffering.  The Rebbe focuses on faith as an existential awareness of God rather than faith as a belief in a certain proposition.

The danger of viewing faith as a belief in certain proposition is something I experienced first hand when those propositions were tested.  If your faith is contingent on certain propositions your faith needs to be worked on.  I am setting up this blog as someone who has been through a faith crisis who wants to help other through theirs.  I welcome all comments, suggestions, and discussions.

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