Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Faith Always Good?

Many people, especially the makers of schmaltzy Hollywood movies, believe that faith is always good. They think that it doesn’t really matter what we have faith in, so long as we “believe.” But is this really true?

I would take the unpopular position that it is not good to have “faith” in things that are false. But then I’m not sure that I would call faith in things that are false really faith. I would say that true faith—the kind that is a gift from God rather than something that we gin up ourselves—is belief in God’s revealed truths. Failure to believe what God has revealed to be true is the vice of unbelief. Willingness to believe things that are false or not revealed to be true by God is not real faith but gullibility.

It is true that those of us who have been given faith by God should be humble and respectful in our attitude toward others. They too are humans made in the image of God. We too are sinful and prone to error in the evaluation and application of facts and moral principles. But our own faith is not any kind of work that we have achieved through our own virtue or our own intelligence. Rather, it is a gift given to us by God, and but for God’s grace, we too would still be among the unbelieving. On the other hand, it is also clearly an error for us to treat people who do not believe the truth or people who believe error as though they were right. It is wrong to believe in the moral equivalence of unbelief and errant theologies.

This error is played out all too often with respect to Islam. It is appropriate to respect Muslims as human beings and to treat them with the love of God due to fellow human beings, but it is not appropriate to act as though Islam were in any way true, or as if believing in Islam were a noble and good thing all by itself. Certainly there are many people who believe in Islam who are no doubt hospitable, generous people. But that does not make their beliefs true, nor does it make their beliefs helpful. Things people really believe really do matter. Culture ultimately flows from the “cult” that is popular among the members of a culture. One of the few valid things pointed out by the post-modern philosophers is that even those who claim to be unbelievers really have certain beliefs that drive and affect their actions. Nobody is completely ideologically neutral.

Because of conflicts among Christians in the West, Christians eventually discovered the very biblical notion that religious persuasion should occur through preaching, debate, and discussion rather than through the force of arms. But they let the pendulum swing too far and tried to exclude consideration of religious belief from the political sphere altogether. For awhile they were able to survive on the religious capitol their ancestors had paid into the system and upon the common cultural bonds of people who were nearly all educated in most of the basic truths of Christianity whether they were fully committed to them in practice or not. But as we have become more multi-cultural, we have seen not only the rise of those who do not believe in Christianity, but also of those who believe in other false and corrosive religions. This presents increasingly difficult problems for politics, law, and the cohesiveness of society.

Many today in England and Europe are essentially advocating that the way to deal with heterogeneous peoples in one country is simply to give in to the most noisy and belligerent cultures provided that they are not Judeo-Christian ones or those of native Europeans or Englishmen. In other words, they are advocating giving in to Islam and almost say that Islam is the future of England and Europe. This is tragic, not only because it threatens the loss of specific indigenous western cultures, but because Islam is a false religion that has negative consequences in the real world. In a sense, the truest version of any religion is that which most resembles Christianity. As there are some Muslims whose beliefs are in some way closer to Christianity than other Muslims, their version of Islam is the “truest” from a Christian perspective. If people are going to believe in false religions, it is the versions of them that are the closest to truth that should be encouraged if any of them are. But overall, we need to point out the falsity of what is false rather than merely allowing it to take over society. I am not saying that the government should in any way repress any religion. It is not the business of government to use force to resolve religious differences. But it is the business of those who argue, preach and debate to deal with the resolution of religious differences. Indeed, it is of critical importance. And as we continually remind the students here at our Christian law school, Trinity, it is of even greater importance that we ourselves seek the Lord in our own lives and that we pray for ourselves, for others, and for the nations. We should pray that God will open the eyes of our brothers and sisters and give them the ability to see things as they truly are with the eyes of saving faith

1 comment:

Ken said...

I certainly could not resist commenting on a post that employs Yiddish!
Great points about faith. It reminds me that faith, unlike the false characterization of it being belief without proof, is a logical inference. Such is the case when Hebrews 11:17-19 where we learn that Abraham offered Isaac by faith meaning: by basing his actions upon knowledge, rational and intellect because it states that he was willing to offer him up with the foreknowledge that it had been promised to him that his descendants would be wrought though Isaac. How could this be if Isaac dies having produced no seed? Thus, Abraham reasoned that “God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”
I also appreciate your point about other beliefs. I often state that I can respect people’s right, free will, to believe whatever they want but cannot respect those beliefs in and of themselves.