Faith and Beliefs

I believe that since faith and beliefs are so often confused, it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the differences. If I were to design a bumper sticker for this topic, it would be, Keep the Faith but Question the Beliefs.

Theologian and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Harvey Cox, in his book, The Future of Faith, describes a conversation he had with a friend, who described himself as “a practicing Christian but not always a believing one.” Initially Cox was surprised with his friend’s statement, but the more he thought about it, he came to the conclusion that to call oneself a practicing Christian but not a believing one acknowledges the certainties and uncertainties that mark the life of any religious person. When I read his book, I realized I had come to the same conclusion about the differences between faith and beliefs a number of years ago, but I just wasn’t able to articulate it as well as he did. In my case, the more I studied the tradition of the Catholic Church, and the fathers of the church, the more I came to the conclusion that many of the beliefs of my pre-Vatican II background did not pass the litmus test of my conscience.

My faith was in the Jesus of what Cox calls the Age of Faith, the first three centuries after Jesus died, when the early church was more interested in following Jesus’ teachings than making obligatory what to belief about Jesus. The Jesus that I believe in and in whom my faith is grounded in is: the Jesus who gave us the Beatitudes and his example of how to live; the Jesus who focused on compassion for the disenfranchised. As Dr. Cox observed, when he realized how faith and beliefs were not the same,

“To focus the Christian life on beliefs rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught ‘faith’ consists of dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds, this came as a welcomed liberation.” Amen!

This webpage provides a number of references to faith and beliefs. It primarily focuses on the Christian tradition. It does not pretend to be all inclusive. The references are meant to be background for future discussions on my blog or as possible sources for your spiritual reading.

    1. From Blind Belief to Enlightened Faith – Reprint from the Theosophical Movement. The following is a quote from the article that is characteristic of the author’s position.

      “Blind belief passing through the fire of reason emerges as enlightened faith, casting off the ashes of exclusiveness, fanaticism and bigotry. If a man of religious belief passed from blind belief to real knowledge and practised the ethics of his own creed, he would soon be forced to discard the exclusiveness of that creed and to embody its universal aspects. Thus enlightened faith comes to birth.”

    2. Faith Versus Belief. Posted in The Thinker by Jeffrey Ellis. In addition to this article there are a number of interesting topics that the website covers.
    1. The Omega Connection – Faith and Belief. A brief but interesting article.
    1. Bill Moyer’s website Faith and Reason, contains a wealth of information about faith and beliefs. It contains dozens of interview of religious leaders from every denomination, scientists who have positive and negative views about religion and in depth articles and programs both in text format or tapes of actual intervies. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/faithandreason/index.html
    2. Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (New York: Harper, 2009). 16. The author of classic, The Secular City, writes his last book before retiring from Harvard University, on the difference between faith and beliefs and how important this distinction is for the future of faith.
    1. Donald F. Fausel, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith: The Memoir of a Cradle Catholic. (Bloomington, IN. 2010 iUniverse) Fausel’s Memoir is a combination of stories of his life pre and post-Vatican II, including his time as a catholic priest, his struggles with many beliefs of the church, his dispensation from the priesthood and his reflections on his life’s journey, back to a responsible faith in his catholic tradition.
    1. Judy J. Johnson. What’s So Wrong about Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Beliefs – This webpage is a commentary that Johnson contributed to her book in the Australian website Catholica. After considering some of the major features of dogmatism: the power of dogmatism and its psychological aspects, its intolerance of ambiguity and its authoritarian positions, the author concludes that “It seems reasonable to conclude that, given that features of dogmatism become manifest in social institutions, the challenge for scientists, religious leaders, and politicians – indeed, for all of us – is to open our minds about dogmatic thought; first and foremost our own.”
    1. Faith and Foolishness: When Religious Beliefs Become Dangerous – This is an article in Scientific America, by Lawerence M. Krauss, that offers statistics about the high percentage of respondent who discard scientific facts in favor of their religious beliefs.
    1. What is Belief, What is Faith? This is a video on YouTube by Randall Niles.

      He suggests that beliefs are something we arrive at after a period of time when we intellectually accept a premise, either because of a preponderance of the evidence or evidence beyond a reasonable time, while Faith is when we put our beliefs into action. He provides an interesting but simple example (parable) of a tight rope walker who successfully walks across Niagara to the amazement of large crowd of on-lookers. When he finishes, he ask the crowd if they believe he can walk across Niagara Falls. They all shout yes! He then pushes a barrel across the falls and ask the same question and get the same answer. Next he puts a friend in the barrel and pushes the barrel across the falls. When he finishes he asks if they believe he can push someone across the falls in a barrel. They all respond excitedly, “we believe,” his response to the crowd is, “whose next?” That, says Randall, is the difference between Belief and Faith. Faith requires putting beliefs into action.
    1. Here’s a summary by Meghan Smith, News Editor, of The Gavel Online on March 25, 2011, of an address at Boston College by Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late senator, Ted Kennedy. It is on faith and political beliefs. She said at one point, as a young girl, growing up in a Democratic family, she actually thought that Jesus must have been a Democrat, because He advocated for all the things that she learned growing up: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and reach out to the poor and disadvantage, all things that were a vital part of her family’s beliefs.
  1. Mark Powel, on Faith vs. Beliefs

    This is a video on YouTube by Mark Powell giving his views of the French Theologian Jacques Ellul on faith and beliefs. On the same You Tube page there are a number of other spiritual topics that Jacques Ellul presents, that are worth listening to.

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