Faith as Hallowing

Faith as Hallowing April 11, 2015

Faith is the activity of hallowing

A few days ago I shared a proposed definition of Christianity from Richard Beck. Now I’m sharing his proposed definition of faith:

Faith is the activity of hallowing, the practice of picking out patterns from the indifferent egalitarianism of particle physics to say that these things are sacred, these things are holy, these things are worthy of honor, these things are worthy of care, these things are worthy of emulation, and these things make us human. 

Click through to read the context. What do you think of this definition?

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  • John MacDonald

    Faith is the activity of wishful thinking.

    • melayton

      You say that like it’s a bad thing. (Unless I’m misreading you?)

      Sometimes, the way it’s done, it actually is. A description of how thins are motivated by how we’d like them to be. But humanity has an equally strong need to understand how things should be and to motivate ourselves to strive after that better arrangement. Wishful thinking seems key to that whole project to me.

    • Gary

      Exactly. You hit it right on the nose, in one short sentence. I might add, “the practice of picking out patterns”, that make you feel better about yourself and others. And the corollary, the practice of ignoring patterns that are inconvenient. The post’s definition of faith reminds me of the physicist (I forget his name right now), that thought God was a singularity. I should say, Singularity. Even tried to prove it with higher math. Convenient for him, not so convenient with anyone with common sense.

      • Gary

        Should have added, the “wishful thinking” physicist made his Eigen functions holy. And tried to read into them more than what they really were.

        • Gary

          Just to complete, Tipler, Omega Point.

  • Michael Wilson

    I like to avoid the elevated language of religion, so I have always translated faith simply as trust, hallowed as special or reserved. I guess if we say faith is marking off some part of the world as meaningful we are in away trusting that this is meaningful, since in an objective since we might conclude nothing has absolute meaning. Without us souls, I could still say these chemicals in an animals brain is love, but it is an opinion to find this meaningful.

    However at the end of the day, I think faith is an issue believing without evidence. I think this is misconstrued as believing without foundation, but I think this is a mistaken view of what is happening. Faith should take experience into account, but we cannot know the future or what is observed. All promises are in doubt. But in some instances, the best position to experience your best life is to believe, without evidence that a promise will be delivered. I don’t know if life is worth living, if goodness and kindness are better than selfishness and cruelty, but I think in many short term situations it does work and I choose to believe that these will make life worth living. To believe the opposite is a path to unavoidable disappointment and living a life of despair, a self fulfilling prophecy that life is not good.

    • Lars

      “…the best position to experience your best life is to believe, without evidence that a promise will be delivered.” Are you describing faith or hope? Is there’s a difference between the two? I truly believe, no faith required, “that goodness and kindness are better than selfishness and cruelty” and that is the best path regardless of what deity you do or don’t believe in. While I suspect we both share that hope, I don’t often have faith humanity will get there any time soon.

  • Kris Rhodes

    Seems very far removed from most things said about faith in the Bible. And in contemporary terms, it seems to be defining “having a value system,” which is a contentious way to define “faith” since there are many who have a value system who also find it important to deny that they have a faith.

    • Can you give examples? Faith in the Bible mostly means trust, usually in God. In our time it has come to mean believing things without or in spite of evidence. Beck is suggesting something more along the lines of Tillich’s proposed definition – that faith is the construction of a worldview, valuation, and in that sense it may be that “faith” is something that people share across religious divides as well as across the divine between religious and non-religious.

      • Kris Rhodes

        Sorry, examples of what? Examples of things said about faith in the Bible? I think we can shortcut the need for those examples since you yourself have just said “faith in the Bible mostly means trust, usually in God.” I agree exactly with that–which is why I said the definition given in this blog post is “far removed from most things said about faith in the Bible.” The definition given in the blog post defines faith as something other than “trust, usually in God.”

        Or did I misunderstand what you were asking for?

        I agree that Beck is suggesting something more along the line of Tillich’s understanding, and indeed when I was a Christian I agreed with Tillich that atheists have faith too, and even that sometimes atheists are better at faith (genuine faith, not idolatrous faith) than Christians are.

        Since then I’ve come around to the view that this is an oversimplification, since there are many (in particular, many atheists) who have a “worldview, valuation,” etc who also find it important to insist they don’t have faith. It is an unfair kind of argument by fiat to insist that they do. Especially if this requires divorcing one’s definition of faith from the concept actually discussed in one’s holy scriptures under that term.

        • Well, terminology changes, and so fighting for the meaning of a word to change, or to go back to something it once meant, seems inevitable.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Absolutely, semantic drift is inevitable.

            In this particular case of semantic drift, I am pointing out that it’s important not to be confused by that semantic drift into thinking that, by pinning faith on people who take themselves to be faithless, one has thereby made any particular scriptural claims about faith applicable to those people’s attitudes. We can feel free to define any term any way we wish, but when those terms have other common usages, we should be careful to distinguish between our usage and those.

            How many times have you seen this conversation happen? (I’ve seen it many times.)

            A: I am not religious, so I do not have faith.
            B. Do you have a worldview, do you have a value system?
            A. Certainly.
            B: Then you do have faith!

            In this dialogue, B presents herself as having in some since shown that A was mistaken in his initial claim. I see this play out all the time. And it is actually B who is making the mistake, by (hopefully accidentally!) equivocating on the term “faith.”

            The definition given in the blog post is one which runs the risk of seeming to legitimize such acts of equivocation. So some fear and trembling is called for if one insists on using it.

          • If what one person means by “faith” is a values system, and what another means is “believing things without evidence,” then misunderstanding will likely ensue. But if both already use the words in those respective senses, presumably the point is that one needs to clarify what one means by a term that has a range of meanings and uses?

          • Kris Rhodes


            I’ve always been kind of puzzled, though, on why the insistence on using the term “faith” for this more contemporary idea described in the OP. What was accomplished by attaching that meaning to that term? But that question may be beyond the scope…

          • Kris Rhodes

            I mean, I think the _clearest_ way to proceed, minimizing the possibility of misunderstanding, is to use “faith” to mean “trust” since that’s what it means in every other context in English, as well as in the Bible, and then use “have a worldview/value system” to mean the other thing–since that, basically, is what the other thing is.

            But it is really, really common for liberal protestants (and now, of course, some others, under their influence) to really want to use “faith” in this revised way. I think it’s intereting to wonder what motivates that.

          • Actually, I find that it is just as much religious conservatives – and opponents of religion – who set aside the Biblical usage, focusing on believing certain things to be true. Tillich’s arguments are to some extent a response to the popularity of other definitions, and his argument that it should mean being ultimately concerned is an expression of the more traditional meaning – trust – reworked in terms of core value commitments more appropriate to the liberal Christian existentialist viewpoint he held, which doesn’t view God anthropomorphically and so cannot use faith to mean “trust” in the interpersonal sense.

  • Lars

    Seems another way to say this is “Faith is….the practice of picking out patterns” from the indifference of random reality and seeing in that randomness the hand of God and the will of God.

  • David Evans

    It needs definitions of “sacred” and “holy” to make it meaningful.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    Perhaps it might be useful to list some propositions in which we might have faith but which are not obviously religious in nature. How about these for starters:

    We are not living in a computer simulation.

    There are not infinitely many copies of each of us, living in an infinite Universe/Multiverse.

    Other people are conscious beings.

  • John Thomas

    Personally I am not sure about this definition of faith. But it is a fact that we have already moved beyond the limits of epistemic certainty when we make a judgment on matters of ultimate or fundamental nature of reality, meaning and purpose of reality etc. In that sense, we are all making statements of faith or trust in what we believe, at that point, whether or not we concede it. And I am not saying that it is a bad thing, I don’t mind human reason based on some sound logic taking over from the point where evidence is hard to come by. And also there is the reality that everyone wish to lead their life based on some metanarrative about reality. As long as we are not intolerant of opposing worldviews, I believe that we can all get along fine.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      we have already moved beyond the limits of epistemic certainty when we make a judgment on matters of ultimate or fundamental nature of reality, meaning and purpose of reality etc. In that sense, we are all making statements of faith or trust in what we believe, at that point, whether or not we concede it.

      I would like to endorse the above statement.