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What Does “Faith” Mean?

matthew 17:20On my way to the airport this afternoon, the taxi cab driver told me a long story about how he bit a man’s ear off during a fight, and isn’t allowed to have contact with his son, and was put into jail for eight months after he messed up his girlfriend’s apartment.

I’m not sure what the lesson on his story was supposed to be, but as I opened up the door of the car to leave, he finished with the line, “… but I don’t worry about a thing, because I have faith.”

Can anyone explain to me, in this context or any context, what the word “faith” means? I’m beginning to suspect it’s just a synonym for the phrase “hey, what are you gonna do?”

9 comments to What Does “Faith” Mean?

  • Bill

    This one is soooo simple. ‘Faith’ is that characteristic which you yourself exercised by not jumping out of that cab screaming at the first stoplight: the extrarational (some might say ‘irrational’) belief that things will work out as you’d wish them to, without logical evidence and frequently in the face of contradictory evidence. And faith is borne of need, or desperation, or powerlessness (at least one of which, I presume, was the case for you as well).

  • Ralph

    Faith is belief in the absence of evidence.

    Many philosophers have laid out elaborate proofs that this is a good thing.

    I believe these philosophers to be full of crap, regardless of their elaborate proofs.

    I suppose my belief that they are full of crap, in the absence of evidence, must be a good thing.

    • If these philosophers really believed that there wasn’t any need of evidence for a belief, they wouldn’t have written their proofs.

      • Stephen

        This isn’t quite right. There are all sorts of proofs one could write without evidence. Euclid’s “Elements”, for instance, is full of them.

    • Stephen

      I don’t know that this is a clear definition. Are you saying that all beliefs that are held apart from evidence are a matter of faith? Or, are you saying that only beliefs that cannot be verified with evidence are matters of faith? The distinction is important because people tend to hold all sorts of beliefs apart from evidence, though the beliefs could be verified with evidence. I believe, for instance, that my father is who my mother says he is, despite the fact that I have no evidence for the claim. I could do a blood test, but what’s the point? Even if his paternity were confirmed, I wouldn’t believe it *because* of the evidence. But, most people wouldn’t say that I hold the belief as a matter of faith.

      • I think that if they wouldn’t say that example was one of faith, they’d say that because you actually did have some evidence. You know what your father looks like, for instance, and you know how liable your mother is to tell untruths. I don’t think it’s the best example for that reason.

        • Stephen

          I wonder. Though most of us recognize that we look like our parents, and trust in their probity, I don’t think we believe that they are our parents *because* of these facts. That is, I certainly didn’t come to a moment in which I decided I had to answer the paternal question. I suspect this is true for most people. Rather, we just believe it. That we look like our parents, and that we trust them because they don’t usually lie about these sorts things, might serve as justification for a belief after the fact, but didn’t serve as evidence for the belief.

  • Tom

    Faith is a word that is fraught with psychological and religious connotations and comes in handy, because it’s so vague, when one is confronted with people like the taxi driver, Rick Santorum, or anyone and anything else that needs to be dealt with mentally, rather than physically, and which is often unavoidable.

    Many use the word on themselves as some sort of magic incantation to get beyond a situation. i had faith that i would pass the physics final on electricity and magnetism even though i didn’t study as long or as hard as i should have. Well, that didn’t happen, but as it turned out, the prof called me in to his office and i did it at his desk with him asking me directed questions so i could figure it out. So in the end i “got by.”

    In the religious sphere, it’s all magic so faith fits right in when ideas are too unfamiliar to grasp, too unbelievable to think about (if one wants to remain in the little club of the particular church, or cult), and prevents longwinded discussions with people one would rather avoid.

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