Are all beliefs suitable as objects of faith?

I found Carl McColman’s great Website of Unknowing last week, and something really wonderful he was saying about belief attracted my attention immediately. Carl was quoting from his first book, Spirituality:

[the word Belief] stems from an Indo-European word, lubh-, which means “to hold dear” or “to like.” … the same ancient root from which love originates. This connection between belief and love suggests that belief has something to do with being in relationship. To believe means to trust and to love. To believe in the Sacred means to love the Sacred — and to be the Sacred’s beloved. To believe in God means to trust, depend on, and rely on God. Belief is not a matter of certainty or lack of doubt. Belief is a matter of emotional openness. Belief grows out of such characteristics of spirituality as willingness and vulnerability.

This is all very well. But what of those beliefs which cannot be transformed into this sense of active love, trust, and embrace?  This attitude of heart and mind which Carl calls belief I have long known as ‘living faith.’  And I’m wondering how far this quality of loving activity which he writes about will aid me in drawing a useful distinction between beliefs which can and cannot be fit objects for faith.

Take for example a belief like that which the creed asks us to hold about the virgin birth of Jesus.  The incarnation itself is clearly a divine gesture whose present meaning and value overcomes my resistance and draws me into an attitude of service and love.  But I can’t say the same thing for the virgin birth.  Belief in Mary’s virginity seems to be more of a statement about the technique of incarnation, a detail that is over, past, and done, and this is beyond my power of response. But if a belief cannot be acted upon, realized, lived into, how can it attain to trust, reliance, love?

Take on the other hand a New Testament concept which we don’t find in the creed – that the risen Lord has bestowed a Spirit of Truth, a divine Comforter, upon the world.  Now this belief about a spirit of adoption which may be apprehended in prayer and in life is something which I may certainly act upon, verify, realize (or not) in contemplation and action. And this has all the hallmarks of a religious concept which can be a proper object of faith – trust, reliance, love. It can be truly “embraced” in more than a merely subjective way.

Anyway, I’m still mulling over the differences.  The original discussion may be found here


8 thoughts on “Are all beliefs suitable as objects of faith?

  1. Oh, John, I love you site. First of all it is beautiful the way that you have incorporated the pictures with your writings. And I agree that the move of the Spirit is calling lay people to understand the heart of God in the scriptures. I will have to read your back posts. I am so glad that you introduced yourself to me.

  2. Ok, I caught up all of March, April and May which is all that your Archives show. You are like one of my Facebook friends, (a lawyer for the government here in Washington D.C. somewhere) much smarter than me. I love to read what he writes though and occasionally try to participate in conversation over my head. Bill, is actually not just a Facebook friend. He is a member of my church and a trusted friend. I think that the fact that you are a “lay person” is almost a misnomer. One doesn’t have to be “ordained” to be a theologian or clergy for that matter. (Some of my Anglican friends might have some problems with my saying that. But that is the direction the Anglican Church may be moving in eventually.) How does one decide if a worshipping community in a home is a church? And they are encouraging us to start worshipping communities….But that is for my blog….

  3. A Chara (dear friend), we seem to share something common imagination on our theological reflection. I too have cognitive anxiety regarding the dogmatism of material totems within the sphere of faith. It would appear that you too imagine faith as a distinct epistemological arm as opposed to reason; that faith too is a form of knowing. On this I am with you and thus naturally avoid concrete manifestations of faith-objects. Belief would properly by seen as a ‘leaning-towards (intuition)’ rather than a ‘dependence upon (facts)’ modus of thought.

    Yet in this schema scripture also must be seen as a human record of divine revelation, rather than the Revelation itself. I am trying so hard at the moment to disentangle the problem of Revelation in a Materialist theism (believing there to be a God, and knowing God does not exist). This engenders serious questions regarding Revelation and the Incarnation.


    • Thanks for commenting, Jason,

      I liked your framing of that problem on your blog – ‘believing there to be … and knowing God does not exist [in time and space]’.

      and how interesting that you picked this post on faith and belief for your comment, because that could be the way I end up going about unpacking your [anti-]materialist apologetic for my own use.

      A God who ‘exists’ is I think by definition a finite God, and I think you’re making that point in your own recent posts. And I would agree that God as ‘existent’ could not be an object for faith and could not in fact be identical with the eternal, infinite God.

      Quite different, however, is the God who ‘is’ [not existent] – here is an object of living faith (as I express it in the above post). The spiritual reality of this God as such should be available in a true worship which seeks conformity to divine will as to a law of love.

      No problem that this spirit reality which is the object of faith in time and space cannot be shown to ‘exist’ in terms suitable to the materialist. Because we have already agreed that nothing existent ought to be an object of worship as such – not even an divine being incarnate and walking about in Palestine 2000 years ago. The incarnation shold only direct our attention to the Father-who-is-spirit, higher than existence, and the only true object of worship.

      So I would still urge the materialist (or anyone) not to offer worship to the existent one – whoever he is – but instead to look deeper (by faith) to see if there is offered a way or a truth or a life which is a revelation not of an existent God but rather of God-as-spirit, he-who-is, the only suitable object of worship – the Father of all.

  4. John I cannot express how overjoyed I am to have found you on this ‘tinterweb-imi-bob. Thank you for your patient consideration of my meandering thoughts.

    It was this post which I commented on because it is intimately related to my thesis. Id Est that faith is an epistemological category (how else can transcendence – truth, ethics, beauty et cetera – be known?) along with memory, experience and empiricism inter alia. So one can only imagine that we are travelling on cognate journeys at the moment. I do then hope that you shall assist me as I shall try to be of some meager assistance to you.

    On the subject of the Incarnation. Orthodox Catholicism (or Catholic Orthodoxy) makes the ontological distinction between the two natures in the singular person of Christ. Thus Christ is both wholly and truly God, and man the same. Thus He is both creation and Creator. It is theologically incorrect to equate Christ with God. God does not equal Jesus in the mathematical sense. Jesus is fully man, physical, finite and real. Jesus is fully God, pure essence.
    Thus to move toward a solution with you, Christianity does not seek the worship of the Incarnation, but the fully presence of God with that unique physicality.
    This formula was adopted at Chalcedon and is doctrinally binding upon the Church. So you are in perfect harmony with Church Tradition.

  5. Pingback: Evidence for God « homophilosophicus

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