Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world


The connotations of the word “faith” are generally favourable. We ask people to “have faith” and we praise those who are “faithful” and we condemn those who are “faithless”.  We don’t always ask, “Faith in what?” Look deeper, and other connotations appear.

We talk about Christianity and Islam as Faiths. That usage is clear and simple, indicating a defined set of beliefs known to have many adherents. The word says nothing about the nature of those beliefs. In a similar way we talk about “Faith Schools”, meaning those dedicated to promoting a faith. Other usages are more complex, generally referring to a belief that something will happen, with or without human action. This sort of faith can vary in degree: we have total faith that the sun will rise tomorrow but less than total faith that we as individuals will be alive so to see it.

Sometimes there is a faith-to-action link. The authority that selects a national sporting team can believe that including EXON POTTERGRUE will increase the ability of the side to score goals or score runs or take wickets. If that belief is strong, they select him. There can even be a faith-to-result link if, say, a shared faith leads to greater and more effective cooperative action. Chief Executives have turned round failing companies because of their inspirational vision. One can believe that a cause is worthy, and give money, knowing that the gift will enable the funs to reach a target and make some major purchase.

Faith can also mean nothing more than hope. If a betting man believes that GRUESOME GRANNY will win a major horse race, that punter puts money on GRUESOME GRANNY to win or to be placed. His action has no effect on the outcome, but in this case faith can be measured – by the amount of money he risks in relation to his resources and the hoped- for gain.

Faith can sometimes be proved wrong. Many early medical treatments were believed in by their practitioners. Some of them had no effect and some of them did serious damage. Faith is not in itself a good thing. Faith can be controversial. Faith can be condemnatory of others.

Religion is a special case, notably those religions that offer some form of after-life. A modern translation of Omar Khayyam says it all with the line, “Who’s been to hell, who’s been to heaven?” The thing hoped for is not identifiable in the way a sporting fixture is won or lost, or a hospital can or can’t buy a scanner. It is only defined by the imagination of poets and priests, as are the actions said to be effective in reaching it. The imagination often leads to a prescription – “This is the sort of behaviour that will improve your chance of getting into heaven and avoiding hell.” The benefit is invisible and unkown and not provable. But there may be substitute rewards – the approval of your priest or your religious group, or the psychological comfort brought by the belief itself. There may even be attempts to measure your faith, and thus your chances of heaven or hell – like how closely you follow the prescription, The rules of observance can descend to farcical levels. Religious faith can provoke saintly actions. Yet religion has been the cause of many wars and much human brutaity.

Yet another possibility is that one might judge the prescription to be a good way of living, and decide to follow it without believing in the ultimate reward promised. One might then be judged as “faithful” by the religious authority when it was not the case at all.

There are many ideas wrapped up in this word “Faith”. it is not a simple word.


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