The word faith is an ambiguous one and its various connotations get hopelessly confused with each other in ways that muddle many arguments about the ethical and epistemological justifications for holding beliefs on faith. Because of this, I want to write several posts here which disambiguate faith’s various senses and evaluate the worth of each practice to which it can refer and the epistemological and ethical guidelines for adopting each such practice, insofar as it is a good and desirable practice at all.
Faith is closely related to loyalty, as evidenced by the ideal of “faithfulness” which is in many contexts a synonym for loyalty or taken as an instance of loyalty. And both loyalty and faithfulness have connections to trustworthiness. In this post, I want to explore the difference between two kinds of trustworthiness—the trustworthiness of the loyal person and the trustworthiness of the honest person. In the process of exploring the trustworthiness that loyalty requires vs. the one that honesty requires, we will start to lay the context for understanding how faith exploits our loyalties and affects our abilities to assess people’s trustworthiness as authorities in determining both what is moral and what is true.
Loyalty is the species of trustworthiness that involves being a socially reliable ally. If I can be trusted politically or socially to support you even to the point of risking harm to myself, then I am trustworthy to you and this trustworthiness is loyalty. To be loyal is inherently to put the interests of some over others. And a loyal/trustworthy person may not be very widely loyal/trustworthy. The loyal/trustworthy person may have only a few loyalties, to a few close intimates (be they family, business partners, friends, fellow soldiers, political allies, etc., or some combination of these) and be untrustworthy to everyone else to whom she makes no specific implicit or explicit commitment.
On the other hand, I might be generally trustworthy politically and socially to everyone, including strangers, except where being trustworthy to a specific person, or to someone paritcular in a specific situation, might mean being disloyal to someone else to whom I have a more primary loyalty. But whenever there are no overriding loyalty commitments, I am trustworthy to people in general. Of course, the fact that I trustworthily give the accurate time to the stranger on the platform does not make me loyal to him in any exceptional sense. But it does manifest a degree of fidelity to him that is not insignificant.
So, if there is someone who has both specific loyalties and a generalized loyalty to people in general, then she must explicitly or implicitly rank loyalty priorities in a hierarchy of some sort. Maybe her loyalty to her wife takes precedence over her loyalty to her family or vice versa should there ever be a conflict in which she must choose loyalty to the one over loyalty to the other. She may be trustworthy to people in general as a default and yet for the sake of loyalty to her friends, family, business partners, fellow soldiers, etc. become untrustworthy to specific people or to people in general in some way required by her loyalty to those whose interests she ranks as higher superseding priorities to others.
The other major kind of trustworthiness, distinct from this social kind, is honesty. A socially loyal person may be credible to those to whom she is loyal but not generally credible since she may put loyalty over the truth to protect her social allies. An ideally honest person is not merely honest to those to whom she is loyal and neither will an ideally honest person resort to dishonesty to protect a loyal person. An ideally honest person is trustworthy to us not necessarily because she is motivated by any particular loyalty to us but because she is committed to the truth—both to finding as much of it as she can and offering it to us as best she understands it.
The ideally honest person does not subordinate her thinking to concerns for loyalty but only to the pursuit and presentation of the truth. She may incidentally also be a generally loyal person wherever being loyal to us does not involve being dishonest (or breaking with any other virtue that she ranks of higher importance than loyalty). But what is important about the person whose trustworthiness comes from commitment to honesty first and foremost is that she is reliably truthful to everyone, regardless of her affective attachments and even when being honest involves being disloyal.
In another post, I will explore the ways in which faith is a corrupt form of loyalty to a group which demands that our loyalty both override our honesty and to do so in such a way as to redefine honesty as loyalty, so that the only way to be considered trustworthy, whether in matters of belief or socially, is to be faithful to the group. In normal commitments to loyalty, we might knowingly lie to protect our intimates or our group. In the case of faith commitments, we not only make honesty a lower priority but we outright self-deceive ourselves into making adherence to the group the standard of truth itself. As a result, from within a faith, approvable behavior and thinking are both assessed primarily in terms of loyalty to the group and its guiding viewpoints.
For more on faith, read any or all posts in my “Disambiguating Faith” series (listed below) which strike you as interesting or whose titles indicate they might answer your own questions, concerns, or objections having read the post above. It is unnecessary to read all the posts below to understand any given one. They are written to each stand on their own but also contribute to a long sustained argument if read all together.
Faith As Tradition