What is Faith?

Faith is not the subject of scientific investigation and analysis, nor is it  the product of reason and our brains, but rather the ontological experience of the presence of God in our hearts and minds.  Faith is participation in the grace and glory of God, it is the Revelation of the Truth of God in our hearts and lives and in the world as a whole.

Faith does not require complicated thinking, complex analyses and syllogisms.  It is the gift of God, offered to all, the well-educated and the illiterate, experts and beginners, clever and simple, all who have open, humble and pure hearts.  It is not the product of rational processes, since God is not proved to us but is manifested.  He is revealed mystically.  He is experienced in the heart, spontaneously, simply, humbly, and privately.

Faith does not mean understanding, but trust.  It is not opposed to rational thought, but transcends and surpasses it.  It is not anti-reason, but beyond reason.  What is beyond reason in Orthodoxy does not eliminate reason but rather evacuates* and elevates it so that it is capable of accepting the experiences of the Divine Revelation.  It is our voluntary self-abandonment to the will and mercy of God.  Reason involves “narrowing God down,” reducing Him to our personal needs and demands, to our selfish will.  When I go beyond reason, I leave the way of my heart open to God, to enter and to act within me in His own way, which is neither reasonable nor unreasonable, but beyond reason.  It is the eternal Truth of God, the source and road of our salvation.  It is the subjection of our reason to the Reason of God.  It is the effort we make to accept the Reason of God rather than our own when the two do not coincide.

(from Theological Gallery produced by Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour, 2007)

* By ‘evacuates’, I think he means ‘emptied of reason’s insistence on being sole arbiter of the real, the true and the good’.

11 comments:

  1. What a word salad. You’ve elevated a pragmatic human reaction to the fact that there is more than most humans can know and comprehend to some kind of heartwarming pseudo-mythical trance. I understand the motivation to try to subsume faith into the ideology of your particular interpretation of one of the world’s thousands of religions, but this is just as crass as saying that morality only can be derived from some divine revelation. Let me be more clear…
    I have faith that certain physical principles work as described, despite not being a scientist myself. Given time and some education, I could understand those principles and my faith would be replaced with knowledge. My acceptance of those principles might even be unwarranted, but since there are a lot of good reasons to believe them, I will allow myself to continue believing them, thus, faith.
    Your post seeks to elevate that useful tool of shared understanding to an unreasonable level. Faith, as you describe it, leads to a specific abandonment of reason, and equates directly to some reassuring belief in the the unbelievable. This is not faith. What you are describing, however comforting you make it sound, is insanity.

    1. Dear Owen,
      I don’t think you do understand my motivation. My motivation is to share a piece written by an anonymous monk that speaks of the actual experience of many people. Does it seem insane? Sure it does to those who have not themselves had similar experiences or who do not personally know some of the holy men and women who have these “ontological” encounters with God. Those who know some of these holy people know them to be very sane and reasonable, even if their description of their spiritual and mental experience speaks of a knowing that also goes beyond reason. They do not speak of an abnegation of reason, but of the possibility of its transcendence, or of a deeper Reason within, above or beyond reason. And it is the actual encounter of and trust in that deeper Reason that the writer is calling faith.

      1. Michael,
        You’re saying that your foil for testing the relative sanity of a proposition is whether a lot of normal-seeming people believe it? Lots of folks still think that sickness is caused by evil spirits. Is than an insane belief? Yes. Does your quoted piece seem insane? Yes. Are the people that believe those things insane? Ever hear of cognitive dissonance? A person may not be clinically insane, but can still hold a plethora of beliefs that, were it not for their commonality, have significant social stigma attached. Believing Elvis was an alien and is still alive is not sane, but muttering to yourself and expecting the universe to alter its course (prayer) is not. Why? Commonality.

        So, your monk, and you by proxy, are attempting to usurp a very useful mechanism of social order by injecting a dose of mysticism. Religious folks the world over have been trying to accomplish this, and largely succeeding because they are not properly resisted. A commonly shared delusion is still a delusion. I’m not saying that the experience has no validity, as humans obviously have a need to experience the numinous, but the attempt to shoehorn it into your preferred mythology is entirely missing the point. We should be trying to understand and benefit from this purely from the context of humanism.

        At the end of your reply, you finally hit the nail on the head. You clearly admit that the writer has misappropriated the word faith and is now defining it in the context of something you define as “beyond reason”. When one has gone beyond reason, one has exceeded the limits of what is often known as sanity (with the aforementioned caveat of commonality). The fact that many people share the writer’s delusion is not uplifting, it is sad and frightening. I’m sure you’ve noticed that an ontological ‘god’ encounter is just a delusion, and is a type of delusion that varies wildly with what you believe that ‘god’ is like.

        Faith is an average, ordinary, everyday system of allowing one to operate in a society with a common understanding of what is going to happen, how things work. I implore you, please stop trying to redefine it as something that validates the unfalsifiable, especially your particular brand of the unfalsifiable.

        1. Owen, you sound like my son and the way he recently had talked to me. I was appalled for him to say I was delusional, because I truly had raised him with the strength of faith and to somehow make a decent human being out of him in spite of a drunken, lazy and irresponsible father. I succeeded with the self-discipline I passed on and had received myself as a youngster from Catholic Nuns. I raised him without guns and violence and yet he became a Navy Seal because of his father belittling and shaming him a mama’s boy, sisi and so on. He once told me he became what he is because I believed in him, in spite of the negative from his father. I believed in him because he was a gift to me and thankful for the years I was able to raise him till he made is own way thru the jungle. Without my faith and strength he probably would have followed in in fathers foot steps. Don’t knock faith when it is all we have sometimes to guide us thru this wilderness of life not knowing how to survive. Faith was put in my cradle, and it sustained me thru the worse of times, not having given up my own life. The reality and statistics of shattered lives in the world of science, everything must filter thru some argument is unlivable. Trust is the bedrock for Love, Life and well being. Science aids us in all manner to better it and learn to understand it. But Trust can not be replaced by science, we just learned to trust science, which is and will never be completed, we just trust that we will find more answers and more knowledge of how things work. The discoveries are endless, and when you think you know it all, it comes crashing down with new revelation. I love science and learning, yes and what we thought was pure believe is now replaced with reasonable outcome. The age of reason is all good, but balanced with what we still do not know by faith is what makes life worth living. We still never know how our children will turn out with all the variable in this world. We can pray and hope for the best. And by faith we give all we know on education, deed’s etc. to make this possible. Life is by faith….we live by reason and reasonableness in it. But good to read your argument. I can see my son gets a lot of support out there. All just my humble opinion, and I truly don’t know much. Blessing and Merry Xmas.

          1. Maria, nothing you said has anything to do with faith, and I was not knocking faith, I was simply asking people like you to quit using it in some kind of unreal, magical context.

            Your story is one of strength and perseverance, not faith. You may feel like your belief in the unprovable somehow sustained you through difficult times, but a lot of people in this planet have suffered worse for longer and did not have any need to claim that their belief in a magical sky daddy made it possible for them to survive. You’re describing a sort of arrogance, that a deity ignored lots of other deserving people and gave you some special favor.

  2. Owen,
    You said, “Faith is an average, ordinary, everyday system of allowing one to operate in a society with a common understanding of what is going to happen, how things work.”

    Jesus said faith the size of a mustard seed can remove mountains or you can speak to bushes, command them to uproot themselves, and they will obey. Now, Jesus was not telling us what faith can do, but what faith is like. Faith is not a utility for Christian landscaping. Commanding plants to move themselves is impossible. This is what faith is like…it is embracing the impossible. Faith is not observing patterns and making predictions. That is scientific knowledge. Virgin births do not happen every day. We do not observe men raising themselves from the dead. These things are impossible. Therefore they can only be embraced by faith, not by reason.

    What is impossible for man is possible for God. This is the foundation principle of faith. Faith is believing the impossible to happen.

    1. Hektor,
      No, I reject your misappropriation of the word faith. Believing the impossible, untestable and unknowable is there very definition of the word ‘delusion’. Faith is more subtle and more useful. Religions the world over have stolen the word and are misusing it, simply because the proper words for the things they believe are unsavory….delusion, magical thinking, etc.
      Thank you for adding a biblical context to the discussion, since it is obvious that if the mythical hero of your particular religion said something, then it must be right. On the other hand, logic and reason (note the lack of the capital R) are all any of us really have, and nearly all religions want us to shut that faculty down and get crazy with their particular belief.
      May I ask, since you’re a follower of the Christ myth, how you came to settle on this particular untestable, unprovable belief and therefore rejected the Hindu pantheon?

      1. Dear Owen,
        I spent twenty-five year teaching languages and linguistics so I am somewhat qualified to speak on the nature of words and language in general. Words do not have fixed meanings. Their meanings change with time and depending on the social context and construct in which the word is used.
        A word often has multiple definitions depending on the many factors. In fact most doctoral dissertations in the humanities (and I have read many) begin with the definition of significant terms because how one scholar defines a word can be quite different from, even somewhat opposite to, how another scholar uses the same word. This diversity, far from being troubling, is actually part of the way ideas evolve.
        Regarding the question of why one might be a Christian rather than a Hindu, certainly there are many factors, not the least of which is opportunity. However a significant point of the original post is experience. Faith, the original post posits, is a matter of suprarational experience. Many people adhere to a particular religion because it’s the only framework in which they have encountered a supranational reality. That particular religious systems would be exclusive is not unreasonable. Scientific theories are usually exclusive and do not allow for a bit of one theory to be mixed with a bit of another.
        I am an Orthodox Christian because I have found Orhodox Christianty to be the most helpful religion in developing my supranational relationship with God (That is, most helpful of the religions I have looked into, and of course I have not looked into them all). Nevertheless you have to embrace a whole system for it to work (just as in science). What about others? Ultimately they are not for me to judge. At least this is the Orthodox Christian teaching. I know other forms of Christianty and some other religions and not a few atheists I have known seem to delight in judging the eternal destiny or the intelligence of others. But I don’t think that approach is very helpful to anyone. At least that is how I have learned my religion.

        1. I agree completely. Words mean only what we think they do, and we need to stop with the assignation of magic to the word faith. It has nothing to do with magic, or the suprarational.

          May I ask why you act as though it is just fine for a person to hold any religious belief? When confronted with a person who feels that none of it it worth believing, then suddenly you fall back to some kind of weak universal validity based on where you were born. You know very well that according to your dogma, anyone who does not hew to your preferred delusion is eternally doomed. Please have the intellectual honesty to stick to your guns. Don’t act like they are all fine, as long as one feels that one’s belief connects to something ‘beyond reason’. You know that your holy text has some very explicit things to say about that kind of thing, as do most ‘revealed’ texts.

    2. Owen,
      In the words of St. Andrew the Apostle, as he was hanging on the cross but still praising God and asked to give a reason for his faith, he replied, “you become His disciple too, and you will know why I praise Him.”

      The only way to “know” God is through faith and experience, not reason. Faith begins small, but grows.

      Knowing something involves experience. I can describe what a roller coaster is to someone who has never ridden one. They can watch others ride and hear my description. But they won’t “know” it until they experience it themselves. So, become His disciple and you will know. Your God commands it and also lovingly invites you from your delusion into light.

      In peace and hope. And please pray for this fool.

  3. I want to thank everyone for participating in the comments on this post, especially Owen for his honest and earnest presentation of his position. However, I think we are at the point of reststating ourselves. Therefore I am shutting down the comments for this post. Again I thank everyone for their honest contributions.
    Fr. Michael

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