Monday, 26 January 2009

Faith or World-view?

I've never been entirely comfortable with the word "faith" used as a way to describe individuals or groups. It implies to me a coherent system of belief - or an organised religious movement. It also implies active trust by those who belong to such systems or organisations - in something.

The problem is that the distinction between groups of people who belong to a "faith" and those who do not can be a divisive one. All people believe in something, but certain people are given greater (or lesser) respect because they belong to a "faith". This creates a value driven classification of people which I think is ultimately divisive. It also produces a strange sense of relativism - emphasised by Prince Charles' claim to be "defender of faith" - irrespective of whether any particular faith is true or not...

As an Anglican I am all too conscious that I don't belong to a coherent system of belief - or an organised religious movement. While Methodists have their committees, the URC have documents and the Catholics have papal authority, we Anglicans have been at our best when we've embraced variety and diversity - it's possible to be an Anglican and believe or do pretty much anything - within reason. We're neither coherent nor organised and our attempts to become so have usually gone badly...

The word belief is a little better. Even atheists have beliefs. In fact the truly committed atheist needs to have a great deal of belief since he or she needs to believe in the non-existence of something on the basis of very little evidence that this thing does not exist. We could therefore talk about beliefs and believers - although this may penalise agnostics and the apathetic who don't know what to believe in or can't be bothered... and atheists may not like being called believers...

I prefer the term world-view. We all have a way that we understand the universe and the way things work. We all have a sense of how we want things to be or a set of values that we feel are important. We might not act on the basis of our world-view but we do have one. This term doesn't imply anything coherent or organised. It isn't divisive or derisive. It would be possible to speak about "people of all world-views" - and really mean everyone.

Language is important and it actually affects the way we think. This is my suggestion for a piece of sensible language use that would genuinely promote equality and diversity - although that may be my world-view so don't feel you need to agree.

2 comments:

Jo Norwood said...

I've been through the idea that atheist belief in no God is of the same value as the Christian belief in God argument so many times it gets tedious.

Usually, my response to it is based on singing the praises of the Christian idea of faith. Which is a virtue mentioned in the same breath as hope and love.

If I understand it rightly, in the Christian context faith emerges through time and has to be fostered. I guess it comes through prayer or something. Its all a little theoretical for me.

I don't think its fair to give the same value to a belief that there is no God. Which is, if anything a state of being characterised by a lack of the assurance that comes from faith.

There's also the classic Richard Dawkins argument against non-belief in God being a form of belief, and I'm working on an argument that the problem with the statement is in the fact that it makes a category error.

But as you rightly point out, this is all really beside the point. Faith implies a faith in something and therefore has all kinds of unhelpful and problematic implications, wheras world-view is universal.

In the end of the day, I think religion is a good term too, in that it describes a certain type of behaviour that we can look at objectively without too many assumptions about the views behind it.

Tim Norwood (A Vicar) said...

I'm afraid I'm not that metaphysical either and can only really cope with using the word "faith" as a firmly held conviction that something is true or trustworthy. Anything else is a bit woolly. It all depends on yer basic epistomology don't it...