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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

the opposite of faith...

Monday, November 27, 2006

So how would you handle the question that was posed to me today... 'what is faith and what is the opposite of faith?' The thing that intrigued me about the question was the second part - what is the opposite of faith?

On the one hand you could argue (and I probably would) that faith doesn't really have an opposite. Some (Richard Dawkins, et al) would suggest that scientific rationalism has provided an opposite (or, at very least, an alternative) to faith, but I'm always struck, when talking to such people, by how many 'leaps of faith' they are still taking in their arguments. It's a well rehearsed point that science has not (and cannot) disprove the existence of God or the realm of faith, and so faith is still very much in the equation of the beliefs of even the atheist.

As I mused over this further though, I started toying with the idea that maybe the people closest to the opposite of faith are not the atheists, but the so-called 'people of faith' who think they've got everything sorted. An ultra-conservative theological viewpoint that claims to know all the answers (albeit through 'revelation') and has no room to be surprised or to have that knowledge challenged by further revelation is one that is closed to the mystery of God. Such a view has virtually pushed out the realm of faith, since everything is already black and white - all the t's are crossed and all the i's are dotted; here there is nothing to 'believe' by faith because we already 'know' everything.

It's an interesting idea and somewhat paradoxical that possibly the closest we know to the opposite of faith is not to be found outside the church in the academic lecture halls (which, after all, are given to the pursuit of knowledge and the recognition that there is always more to be discovered, so keeping alive the realm of faith), but is actually to be found inside the church amongst those who have jettisoned the realm of faith in favour of an unshakeable 'knowledge'. Interesting... but probably full of holes as far as theories go!


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:05 PM


Interesting idea! That would also mean that Jesus is batteling the opposite of faith in his clashes with the farisees, not just arguing against a competing interpretation. I have always defined faith as "trust in God" - it is no power to it self, but a focusing of another that has that power. Also in this sense you could argue that a "rigid faith" with its trust, not in God, but an idea or a set of propositions, would be the opposite.
I think it would mean that a trust in anything else but him, be it ideology, self or whatever could pose as an opposite to faith.

commented by Blogger Pastor Astor, 6:32 PM  

I think your descrption of 'ultra-conservative' Christians is a somewhat patronising caricature .

commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 10:29 PM  


sorry if I have caused offence. That is why I chose to use the tag 'ultra' as I have some very good friends who would consider themselves conservative theologically for whom the description I've made would not be in any way accurate.

However, I've also come across people for whom it is accurate. I remember watching with horror a debate from one such group concerning the election of Rowan Williams, when one person said something along the lines of "we're not just talking about a man in error on an issue of ethics (homosexuality) but we're talking about having an archbishop who clearly doesn't believe in God." It's this sort of narrow-mindedness that feels it has the right to stand in judgement on others without any similar judgement falling upon ones self that I am referring to.

Such a person clearly feels he/she has nothing more to learn (unless it backs up what they already believe). That's the attitude I'm challenging. But, as I said in the original post, I'm sure my theory is full of holes!

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 8:45 AM  

I have always felt that science and religion have more in common than apart, and that their respective common enemy is narrow mindedness

commented by Anonymous Dave, 11:05 PM  

I am convinced the opposite of faith is fear. Just like the smallest flicker of light will dissipate the darkness, the tiniest amount of faith will annihilate fear. Fear will strangle the breath of faith and so it is a choice to have the character to choose faith and not walk or live in fear but faith.

commented by Anonymous KJM, 3:30 PM  

It is interesting that people, for the most part, see knowledge as an opposite of faith.

It is said of Christ that, 'by his knowledge he led many to righteousness'. The proverbs tell us to seek wisdom and knowledge. If knowledge in any way comes into opposition with faith, we had first better do away with bible studies.

What scriptures would lead us to believe that acting out of ignorance has any spiritual blessing? Let us do some substitutions: "by grace are you saved, through 'not knowing what is going on'" or "if you do not stand in 'an ignorance of what is occuring', you will not stand at all." These sound foolish, yet this is what I believe a majority of theologians would have us accept.

Without knowledge, hope becomes a wish, and faith, as the substance of hope, is then vapour.

commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 4:41 AM  

Thanks for all your comments on this post.

'Anonymous', please don't think that I was suggesting that the pursuit of knowledge is a bad thing - in fact, quite the opposite. What I was challenging in this post is the viewpoint held by some that they already have 'The Truth', and so leave no room for God to disrupt their faith with fresh revelation, or, indeed, to have their 'knowledge' challenged and possibly changed by another person's 'knowledge'.

It seems from reading Scripture that God is often in the business of disrupting and even subverting people's 'knowledge' about him. One such clear example is Peter's vision in Acts 10 in which God seems to be telling Peter to disobey the Word of God (or, at the very least, Peter's understanding of it) concerning what is clean and unclean.

Of course we must study and be learners as followers of Jesus, and seek to understand more and more as we journey with Christ and one another. However, surely a religious viewpoint that leaves no room for surprise and fresh perspective is one that has given up on learning, believing it has already arrived at 'The Truth'. It seems to me that such a viewpoint has also jettisoned the very essence of faith.

What do you think?...

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:31 AM  

You're on to something. Certainly, there are those believers who are the opposite of humble in their arrogant claims to possess the final, unequivocal, everlasting truth... only to go and essentially read tea leaves as they divine the "true" meaning of scripture as it relates to life 2000 years later.

But let me try a different definition on you... faith is the degree to which you're willing to act in the face of an unknown result. Acting without evidence that the result you BELIEVE will happen, will actually happen. Take a child learning to jump across a stream. Having never done it, he has no reason to believe he can... or does he?

His dad just jumped the stream and is on the other side exhorting him to cross. His dad tells him, "This is no wider than the set of blocks you jumped this morning." Eventually, the child screws up enough "faith" in his ability to clear the creek that he sails into his father's arms.

So here's the crux: Everyone acts on faith, if you take this definition above. Some people act on faith that repeatable events will recur; similar events support the likelihood of the next event; personal experience in other realms justifies attempting an unknown. Yes, this is "faith" of a sort.

But it is NOT anywhere near the "Faith" exhibited by religious believers who effectively accept hearsay to make truth claims about fantastical imaginings (God, heaven, transubstantiation, virging birth, winged horses, talking snakes, etc.) And if you say this is a caricature and "No True Christian" believes literally... welll, then drop the "faith" that the Bible is anything other than a book that you interpret to suit your own needs.

commented by Blogger Beyond Belief, 2:23 PM  

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