If Faith and Belief


Many of the problems associated with religion nowadays, be it religious strife in the Middle East or sectarian rivalry in Northern Ireland, or even just the competition between various churches here in America, can be traced back to a confusion between faith and belief.

Faith, in the gospel sense of the word, means a loving trust in God. Belief, or more exactly religious beliefs, are ideas that we have about God. Granted that the two are closely associated -- one can hardly have faith in God without believing that God exists -- but still, they are not the same. To some extent, they are even opposed, because even though beliefs attempt to explain the reasons we have faith, it seems that the more certain we become about our beliefs, and the more we become convinced they are true, the less real faith is involved. Why is this so often the case?

Perhaps it is because faith is concerned with a person -- a "who".

Belief is concerned with things associated with that person -- a matter of "what". Faith is an affair of the heart. Belief is more of a head-trip. Much as in love and marriage, faith must be placed in another as a person in a covenant-relationship. If not, and the emphasis is placed on what qualities or assets the other brings to the relationship, then a marriage is turned from a covenant into a mere contract.

In the same way, when religion is reduced to the acceptance of a list of propositions about God, then whatever loving trust we may have had in God "for better or for worse" is turned instead into a kind of business deal in which God is expected to conform or even perform according to our expectations. This is not to say that beliefs are not important. Some beliefs are liberating and life-giving. But others can have disastrous consequences. Often the reason these beliefs, whetehr good or bad, can become so disruptive is that the risk of making a real commitment to God in faith has been replaced by a security-blanket -- often consisting of an effort to eliminate all other beliefs but one's own.

One thing more. If people really "trusted" (had faith) in God, could they really believe that God could reject others who don't happen to agree with their particular definition of God or the way that they think God expects us to act? Could it be that God is really that narrow-minded? Instead, genuine faith in God (who is infinite or without limit) would be able to accept or even expect differences in belief -- which are, after all, the product of our limited intelligences. In a word, faith unites, while belief divides.

I hardly expect everyone will agree with me, especially on this last point. But would not that disagreement in itself go a long way towards proving it is so?

R.W.Kropf  May 5, 2000                                    Faith&Belief.doc    00-05-05.htm if