What We Mean by “Faith” is Important
copyright 2009 by Howard Pepper
We use “faith” in so many ways, it’s no wonder we are often confused; worse yet, sometimes misunderstand each other without even knowing it…. “Faith-based” groups, “Christian faith” (or other favorite), “leap of faith,” etc.
There is something important about the word and the concepts behind it — trust, acceptance, relying on something or someone… things foundational to everyday life and a sense of peace. To me, faith is an undergirding process and perspective shared by us all, regardless of religious beliefs or lack of them. The aspect, within that, of trusting others, or God, or a “higher power” is often tough. It’s harder for those more deeply mistreated by others, especially early in life, or those encountering really tough circumstances. They may have “a faith,” religiously speaking, but real difficulty trusting.
So do we grow in faith, especially the trust aspect; and if so, how? Over two decades ago, James Fowler proposed “stages of faith” in six phases. Others, like M. Scott Peck, of The Road Less Traveled and other popular books, had similar, if less detailed stages. Fowler’s stage concepts are akin to, understandably, those of earlier work on stages of intellect (cognition), morality and life-long developmental tasks (Erikson).
In reviewing Fowler’s work recently, I found it interesting that in a few hundred very long interviews, he and his team almost always received heart-felt thanks and appreciation. They regularly were told that it was very enjoyable because the interviewees “never got a chance” to talk about their faith in depth and analytically. Could it be that few, even good friends, were interested enough to ask and listen intently? Maybe combined with a general cultural taboo? It’s probably changed some in this Internet era, and the existence of many blogs that cover issues of faith, including this one. It’s a positive change, though we still need face-to-face interaction on deep, important matters like this as well.
Please share how you define faith, especially in terms of your own experience. Do you recognize any stages you’ve gone through? How would you describe them? If you consider yourself “spiritual but not religious,” are you comfortable with the term “faith” for your views?
As to reasons to live in basic trust, do you believe and feel, as theologian Karl Barth once put it, that there is “something ultimately gracious at the core of the universe?”