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  • : The blog of Frank Beswick. It deals with my interests in religious, philosophical spiritual matters and horticulture/self-reliance
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November 24 2011 5 24 /11 /November /2011 09:13







Faith is a word oft-used but little and frequently misdefined. Some are content with the jocular schoolboy definition that faith is believing what you would not believe unless you were told to do so. This, however, is not a definition in any theological or philosophical system, so let us discount it. We can also discount the old term "blind faith." The term blind faith arose in the nineteenth century when the fideists, a minority Catholic group, reacted against the claims of German rationalism that reason could reveal all truths. To preserve the truth that reason cannot reveal all truths, a discovery made by Kant, they took up the concept that faith was hostile to reason. This was a serious mistake and was not part of the Catholic theological tradition. Faith was seen, in their view, as opposed to the light of reason. Fideism was a minority view long since dead in Christian thought, but militant atheists have seen fit to preseve its memory for polemical purposes.


Another understanding of faith came from Kierkegaard, who is wrongly classed with the fideists. He also opposed the Germanic, Hegelian cult of rationalism, rightly pointing with Kant out that pure reason has its limits. He spoke of faith as a leap in the dark. It is this term that has seen him classed with the Fideists, but he is misunderstood. The leap in the dark was a rejection of what Hegelian rationalism called the light of reason, but the leap was in response to the Word of God calling from beyond the reach of human philosophical systems through the Scriptures. It is not an arbitrary act. Kierkegaard was working on a very Lutheran definition of faith as trust. Luther had thought that faith contained a strong element of trust. In this he differed from Catholicism, which saw faith as essentially compatible with reason. In fact, the hostility between faith and reason is a very Protestant matter, and it was never part of mainstream Catholicism.


The Catholic position has mainly been that faith and reason are compatible. It is a view strongly supported by the present pope. Aquinas believed that faith was a certainty that certain propositions are correct. This certainty was granted by God. This seems a weak definition, but it must be seen in the contect of Aqunias belief that faith and reason are ultimately compatible. "As light does not oppose  light, so truth does not oppose truth." he says in Contra Gentiles.Catholicism has always seen theology and philosophy as compatible, both pointing the same way by different methods.


Faith is far better seen as enlightenment. It is useful to see faith as the product of religious experience, the sense of presence that many feel in their more thoughtful moments. They are aware that there is "a presence that disturbs me with the joy, of elevated thoughts, of sense sublime, " [Wordswortth, Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey.]  This is what Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, calls the presence/power [a point that you can follow in his book I and Thou. ] This presence/power,   in Buber's view, addresses all humankind with gentle force. Certain charismatic individuals are the locus of this presence power, Jesus, for instance. Holy places might make us susceptible to its influence, just as great literature and music might.


We respond to this presence/power in love and trust. But we have to conceptualise it. It is here that we see the link with theology. Religious systems are the product of reflection on the faith experience. these conceptual systems are suyperstructures upon faith,. they are sueful in enabling us to handle it, but they cannot replace the genuine faith experience of the nearness of the presence/power of the divine. They might even get in the way of the life of faith, if they are ill-thought out or raise questions that they cannot answer. Faith, seen as enlighenment needs theology to provide it with a conceptual form, but theology needs the faith experience to give it life. Without this basic sense of presence theology is just a system of ideas.



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