“Faith”: four uses


My diagram above illustrates four of the common uses of the word “faith“.  Trust and Hope tend to be emotional uses of the word while Loyalty and My View (“my religion”) tend to be uses which reflect identity. The potential overlapping of these uses should be obvious.  The multi-conflicting uses of “faith” often leads to unnecessary confusions when people of conflicting agendas use the word in debate.

The two emotional uses of faith, trust and hope, both have a wide spectrum of feelings/meanings attached to them. The type of trust that people are imagining when they use the word “faith” varies from trust in counter-evidence (this is clearly the type of religious faith that irks atheists) to trust based on high-evidence (this is empirical faith).  Atheists often forget that everyone (themselves included) have trust for things or people for which the have low evidence to base that trust.  Theists, on the other hand can either brag about their blind faith (trust in light of no-evidence or even counter-evidence) or, like many liberal Christians, claim that all their trust-faith is based on sufficient evidence.

The hope use of “faith” likewise has a spectrum of feelings.  One can be hopeful in a worried, fretting and scared way — that is anxious-hope that is fragile.  Or, a person can be optimist by either temperament or training and have an optimistic-hope, expecting the best with an emotional resilience.

I have also wrestled with these nuance of  “Faithin this earlier post where I also try to help people avoid arguing over the word “faith“, but instead to see the emotions and identity issues that are connected to various uses of “Faith”.  “Faith”, like all words, has many uses which cause all sorts of confusion between users — especially if those users are prescriptivists who are committed to convincing others that only their use is the correct use.  Prescriptivists buy into the illusion that words have definitions.  Dialogue is easier when people understand that words carry many meanings/uses and for effective communication those words often need to be re-negotiated.  Language evolves, fluxes and varies highly between users.  There is only “correct” language when those in power enforce it, otherwise, language is naturally fluid.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to ““Faith”: four uses

  1. Major Nav

    Brilliant, well done.

  2. I’m finding it helpful in interacting with The Faithful – religious or otherwise – to frame faith as an epistemology, as Peter Boghossian describes, and defining it as “pretending to know things you don’t know.” The point is to look at the process of how one came to a conclusion, not the conclusion itself. What’s important, I believe, is maintaining a willingness to be corrected based on sufficient evidence. People – atheists included – often seem so damn certain about things and are unwilling to be shown to be wrong.

  3. Nice graphic! I remember when I first got up the guts to talk to Christian friends about the many issues with evangelical / fundamental forms of Christianity, and we would disucss and debate, and as soon as they realized that I had a point, they would just say something like “at some point you just have to have faith…” That really turned me off of the word faith because it was just a cop-out I felt from having to think for themselves🙂 On the other hand to pick on atheists equally as fundy’s, as you so well pointed out, everyone has faith in something when it comes right down to it, espeically the brand of atheist who is convinced that there can be no “God.” I try very hard to live in a space of just existing and not needing to formulate “beliefs,” but I know that even I choose to believe there is something spiritual or sacred out there, even thought I can’t in anyway explain it to anyone else.

  4. @MichaelB,
    Pointing to the process is a great method. And one that can be therapeutic for some believers — in astrology, magic prayer and more. False certainty is a common disease — I agree — certainly not limited to the religious by any means.

    @Christian Evolution
    Yeah, running back to “faith” after caught pretending to be empirical is a very common ploy — see my post called “Fart Logic”.
    Again, we have to be careful which nuance of “faith” we use wehn discussing it.
    We all live with trust and hope.

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