the revolutionary humility of faith

What if faith itself is a challenge to the arrogance of our modern world?

We live in a world that esteems certainty, of knowledge beyond doubt. But the arrogance of Enlightenment reason has been shown to be, in so many ways, naive.

None of this makes knowledge bad; quite the opposite, knowledge is beautiful. But like beauty, knowledge is not easy to pin down.

Faith is, in part, an acknowledgement of our inability to really know many things with certainty.

Now when I say faith I don’t mean mere belief, much less blind belief. After all, belief is only part of faith, like flour in a pancake.

Faith is more than belief. It is faithfulness – loyalty, obedience, action. It is a hope borne of a redirected allegiance, of a new way of living.

True faith acknowledges that I don’t know everything. She has an inbuilt humility. She does not ignore knowledge, in fact the two are friends, and faith always lends its ear to knowledge to learn something new about herself. But faith also realises that knowledge is imperfect, and that he should not be one’s only friend.

Faith is a startling critique of human arrogance, of our naive sense of independence. We are never independent, but always interdependent. Faith asserts the need for community, both with the divine and each other. She makes a way for a reconnected world where we are no longer lonely ships in the night.

True faith is revolutionary. But she is also humble. She critiques knowledge, but she also listens to him. She knows that they work best together. Knowledge often doesn’t see the need for faith, but what he doesn’t realise is that she is always part of his life, even when he doesn’t realise.

MCA

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Posted on May 25, 2012, in Theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This is great Matt, love it!

  2. Wow, if only I could write my uni essays this quickly! Apologies if the tone is overly confrontational. I tried my best to avoid it!

    “What if faith itself is a challenge to the arrogance of our modern world?”
    I would not disagree that there is definitely widespread arrogance within the modern world. But is faith the answer? Employing faith to counter arrogance seems like a major misstep! But lets see…

    “We live in a world that esteems certainty, of knowledge beyond doubt.”
    I’m not quite sure exactly what you are poking at with this statement? The human psyche? The scientific method? It’s quite ambiguous.

    “But the arrogance of Enlightenment reason has been shown to be, in so many ways, naive.”
    Whoa! I would argue that if any movement deserves an air of arrogance it’s the enlightenment! But what are these examples of naivety brought about by enlightenment reason?

    “None of this makes knowledge bad; quite the opposite, knowledge is beautiful. But like beauty, knowledge is not easy to pin down.”
    Well, in the sense that everything is open to further inquiry I suppose you could say knowledge is “not easy to pin down”. But we have reliable methods to gain knowledge and thus can be relatively certain the theory of gravity isn’t going to be brought to its knees come the morning.

    “Faith is, in part, an acknowledgement of our inability to really know many things with certainty.”
    You don’t need to have faith to realize we can’t know many things with certainty. It’s one of the most important (and humble) principles of science, psychology and philosophy. We know our own experience can’t be trusted thus we put ourselves through relentless experiment and research to come to what we call knowledge. Thus faith as an acknowledgement of not being certain about things is redundant, because knowledge doesn’t make the opposite claim to start with. But again as I outlined in the previous paragraph, this doesn’t lead us to suppose that knowledge well rooted in observation and testing are necessarily going to fall over. It is simply an honest position that lends itself open to further inquiry.

    “Now when I say faith I don’t mean mere belief, much less blind belief. After all, belief is only part of faith, like flour in a pancake. Faith is more than belief. It is faithfulness – loyalty, obedience, action. It is a hope borne of a redirected allegiance, of a new way of living.”

    Again, none of this requires faith. Loyalty, obedience, action are all qualities any human being can possess. However, basing your loyalty, obedience and action in areas of dubious authenticity immediately sets off alarm bells in my head. It’s like going back into the mindset of pre-enlightenment Europe!

    True faith acknowledges that I don’t know everything.
    Faith may acknowledge you don’t know everything (so does science by the way), but in a religious context it demands you believe things you cannot possibly know. To me this is a distorted way of looking at the world.

    “She has an inbuilt humility. She does not ignore knowledge, in fact the two are friends, and faith always lends its ear to knowledge to learn something new about herself. But faith also realises that knowledge is imperfect, and that he should not be one’s only friend.”
    I would argue that faith has had its metaphorical eardrum severely ruptured by an onslaught of enlightenment driven knowledge. But an important point to remember that Sam Harris brings up in the aptly titled End of Faith is “The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside”. For example, faith does not evolve itself to a point where it abandons half its scripture to steady its own conscience. It was beaten out by enlightenment reason and the pursuit of knowledge.

    “Faith is a startling critique of human arrogance, of our naive sense of independence. We are never independent, but always interdependent. Faith asserts the need for community, both with the divine and each other. She makes a way for a reconnected world where we are no longer lonely ships in the night.”
    To me as an outsider, this seems like empty theological hand waving and a clear case of historical amnesia! “Faith is a startling critique of human arrogance” – What could be more conducive to human arrogance than starting with a premise that the earth was put here with us in mind? You see examples of it every day from climate skeptics to evolution deniers and is it really a coincidence these people are often (if not an overwhelming majority) people of faith? I suspect you would argue these people are not correctly applying their ‘faith’ but in your case for ‘faith’ it does seem like you are putting the ideas forward as if they were universally accepted guidelines. There are plenty of faithful people who do not lend their ear to knowledge, but stick their fingers in and sing “la la la la la”. To go back to an earlier point you made; “Now when I say faith I don’t mean mere belief, much less blind belief. “ This may ring true for you and I imagine many liberal and moderate questions. But can you simply remove it from the equation and ignore those in which faith does entail blind belief?

    This is why I argue faith is as a whole dangerous. For every person genuinely trying to follow the teaching of Jesus, there is someone employing faith to teach pseudo-science to children or impair the rights of their fellow citizens. There is also something to note about these two scenarios. Can you read the gospels and live in a “Christ like” manner without faith? Undoubtedly yes. Can you tenably stand in a classroom and tell a five year old they are going to hell unless they accept ancient scripture as divinely inspired without faith. No.

    True faith is revolutionary. But she is also humble. She critiques knowledge, but she also listens to him.
    Faith can by all means critique away. Knowledge would fall down without our ability to constantly critique it, but what is at the heart of faith-derived truth? What rigorous exercises did we force upon our selves to achieve it? Knowledge has many disciplines employing numerous methods to attain truths that are testable, repeatable and able to make predictions. What does faith have? Theology? We’ve had a while to read and interpret the bible now. It didn’t get us very far pre-enlightenment. Why am I now supposed to accept faith as this humble, revolutionary idea now after centuries of progress that threw it aside?

    I simply think that what you posit here as faith is simply playing fast and loose with definitions and resurrecting theology into areas where it has had nothing of relevance to say for centuries.

    The end!

  3. * “many liberal and moderate christians” not liberal and moderate questions. lol!

  4. Hi Matt,
    I really appreciate your musings (as well as the responses they’ve inspired). This post particularly struck a chord with me, as someone who is a scientist and a struggling follower of Christ, acutely conscious of the frequent tension between these two camps. I think a lot of the tension, particularly around the value of faith, derives from the diversity of ways in which “faith” can be defined (and indeed the definitions that can be chosen to support one’s argument at any given time). I agree wholeheartedly with your assertion that faith is more than just belief – intellectual assent to a list of propositions of varying incredibility – but that it also embodies commitment and direction and is empty unless lived out.
    Your point that faith has inbuilt humility is something I wish was more true. Relative to the arrogance of modernity (I think your appreciation of NT Wright might be evident in this post 🙂 ) it does embody an acknowledgement that we humans are the products of a mysterious universe, not its masters, and that there is a chance that some outrageous notions might possibly be real. Unfortunately, of course, many manifestations of faith can also be tremendously arrogant.
    Ultimately, the more humility we show to one another, and the more often we seek to find common ground rather than divisions, the better we’ll be. Those are my thoughts, in any case.

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