Sharon Salzberg wrote a book on faith from a nontheist perspective. While she was working on it, a neighbor asked her: “How can you possibly be writing a book on faith without focusing on God?” . . . “Isn’t that the whole point?” Actually, no. It isn't. Salzberg writes:
“Her concern spoke to the common understanding we have of faith . . . But the tendency to equate faith with doctrine, and then argue about terminology and concepts, distracts us from what faith is actually about. In my understanding, whether faith is connected to a deity or not, its essence lies in trusting ourselves to discover the deepest truths on which we can rely. I want to invite a new use of the word faith, one that is not associated with a dogmatic religious interpretation or divisiveness. I want to encourage delight in the word, to help reclaim faith as fresh, vibrant, intelligent, and liberating. This is a faith that emphasizes a foundation of love and respect for ourselves. It is a faith that uncovers our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart. Faith does not require a belief system, and is not necessarily connected to a deity or God, though it doesn’t deny one…it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.”Salzberg also says faith is "the act of opening our hearts to the unknown."
Unitarian theologian Henry Nelson Wieman noticed the human temptation to devote our lives to ego-gratifications such as “social success, financial opulence, or even scholarship or beauty or social concern.” Whatever it might be that can transform us and save us from our ego-gratifications, faith is committing ourselves to that – committing ourselves “with the fullness of our being” to anything, any process or practice, that will direct our attention and energies to something ultimately worthier.
For professor James Fowler, faith is “a way of knowing, construing, and interpreting existence.” Everybody knows, construes, and interprets in some way, so everybody has some kind of faith, on that definition.
For existentialist writers, “bad faith” meant refusal to confront facts or choices. It’s a kind of self-deception about who we are and our freedom and power in the world. If that’s “bad faith,” then good faith is being authentic, present to just what is, undeluded. It’s a commitment to reality at all costs – whatever that reality may be. Good faith is being faithful to yourself and to your situation.
5. Faith and Trust
Faith is about a fundamental kind of trust – more basic than ordinary trust. With trust there is some particular outcome that you trust from some particular person or thing. I trust the bridge I walk across will hold. I trust a friend not to let me down. I trust the bank not to defraud me of my money. There’s some outcome that I trust to occur from the entrusted.
It feels good to be able to trust, to rely on someone on something that you have every reason to believe is trustworthy. It’s like, ahhhhh. That thing that I wanted – a solid bridge that won’t collapse, reliable company when I’m lonely, financial security – is going to be taken care of.
It feels really good to be able to trust in things and people for what I’ll need. I can relax, and that’s so nice. Trust is a really great thing. It’s often fragile – but it’s great when you can get it and maintain it.
Faith, though, goes beyond that kind of trust. Faith isn’t about the outcome. It isn’t about what I want or need. It isn’t about guarantees. Faith feels good that way that having trust feels good -- only: you have that great trust feeling without relying on any particular outcome. I know we often say things like “faith in X” or “faith in Y,” but that’s really trust we’re talking about. Ultimate faith isn’t in anything in particular. It’s acceptance of what is, whatever it is. The result of that acceptance is a generalized positive feeling -- like the positive feeling of trusting, only free-floating, not dependent on any agent or any outcome.
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This is part 2 of 4 of "Faith Like a Chalice"
Next: Part 3: Openness to Whatever
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