1.1 Faith Defined

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1.1.1 One cannot discuss beliefs without addressing the subject of faith. First it should be noted that there are at least three uses of the word, which have different meanings. In one sense, the word "faith" is used as a noun, to describe a set of beliefs or an overall religious view. "Keeping the faith", "She is very active in the faith" and so on, are examples. This is not the form of "faith" I will be discussing.

1.1.2 The concept of faith as a mode of thought chiefly refers to believing something for which we have no evidence. This ranges in extremes from totally unfounded and spectacular claims which seem highly improbable to the nonbeliever, to many beliefs we take for granted and which only require a tiny "leap" of faith. These beliefs include religious matters, but may also refer to political, racial, social, business, or personal matters as well. This is the particular form of the word "faith" which I mean when I use the word.

1.1.3 A third use of the word "faith" is distinctly different, although not generally appreciated. This is when it serves as a substitute for "confidence": when we "have faith" in someone, for example. This confidence is based upon past evidence. We generally say we have faith in our spouse, child, parents, or other friends and loved ones - people with whom we are familiar. We usually do not have much faith in strangers, as they are unfamiliar to us. For strangers, we have no past experience - no evidence on which to base such confidence. For some people, we have evidence to believe that they are liars or cheats. In this case our lack of confidence in what they say is also based upon evidence.

1.1.4 In my opinion, when we say "faith" in these instances, we should be saying "confidence" so as not to distort understanding of the word "faith." When we use the word "faith" as a substitute for the word "confidence" we make the concept of faith appear more valid and necessary than it actually is.

1.1.5 Many religious humanists, freethinkers, and Unitarians, who may be completely naturalist, empiricist, and skeptical in their beliefs, choose to use the word "faith" poetically to mean confidence or optimism, or to stand for their evidence-based beliefs. They likely do this so as to suggest a feeling of reverence for their beliefs, in a predominating culture that views "faith" favorably. However, I do not recommend this, as it only serves to distort and confuse its more commonly understood meaning.

1.1.6 Some people claim that faith is intrinsically part of any and all thinking - that we cannot operate without faith in something. However, if understood as I have described it above, faith is completely unnecessary. Claiming that faith is a part of all thinking is to equate "faith" with "belief." However, beliefs can be derived in many ways, one of which is through faith, another is through reason and evidence. Not all belief is "faith."

Continue to 1.2 Faith As A Virtue