Friday, May 25, 2007

Faith, Belief, Hope

I have been trying to purge my language of the word faith. In my opinion it creates more confusion than clarity. Secularists accuse the religious of acting on faith, by which they mean acting irrationally. The religious accuse secularists of denying the pervasive nature of faith—faith in science and progress and whatnot.

Last summer I engaged in a lengthy debate on the nature of faith and rationality with some friends of mine. I wanted to say that faith is irrational. One Christian friend in particular wanted me to define rationality. This is the right question, and I have realized that rationality is acting based on a reason. We all have opinions on what are good and bad reasons. Because the Bible said so is a bad reason in my opinion. Because empirical studies indicate—that’s a pretty good reason.

I realize that empirical studies can’t tell me everything, and even when they do they are indications. In the end, I have to say I believe things for a reason. The word belief encompasses the concept of faith, and I think belief should replace my use of this ambiguous word. People believe for many different kinds of reasons. Discussions about faith versus irrationality are no longer to my liking.

Please notice that I am not saying what is true for you may not be true for me. My opinion about what are good reasons for belief is formed by my understanding of Truth and how one might most likely get there. As I have said elsewhere, I believe there is one single Truth about reality. I just don’t have it in my back pocket.

There is another common use of the word faith that can be replaced by the word hope. An atheist and theist can both have hope while admitting they do not have very good reasons for believing in this particular outcome. A hope for things unseen—what is more human than that?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


In this inaugural post I would like to say that I'm not sure what will appear on this page. I primarily want to comment on other posts, and I thought I should have something up besides a quote from Go Down, Moses. Since I lack a topic, this particular post might as well be about William Faulkner (as if I needed an excuse).

Recently I have realized that the book of my youth was the Bible, and there is nothing I can do about it. The imagery of the Old Testament, of angels and idols and giants and miracles, and the strictures of the New Testament will never completely leave me. This fact may have something to do with my appreciation of Faulkner. There is nothing insightful about saying that Faulkner is neo-Biblical, because there are so many direct Biblical references in his novels. His lengthy sentences also have something to do with it, lulling the reader into Biblical boredom punctuated by Biblical violence and profundity. But what makes his Yoknapatawpha fiction so powerful to me is a view of life and people and land that I can best describe as Old Testament, where a cursed people struggle against Yahweh with the hope of a promised land. This is high drama, and Faulkner was somehow able to recapitulate his secular version of this cosmic story in a single Mississippi county.

In the future I'm sure I will revisit the Bible for nostalgia, but I hope to never stop reading Faulkner.