Faith vs. Knowledge
Written at Big Bear Café in Los Gatos with a café Americano at my side and no music because my bluetooth earbuds have no battery left.
Several months ago was with friends of mine discussing faith and belief. At one point in the conversation I thought I was stating the obvious by drawing a distinction between faith and knowledge. I made the benign claim that faith is not knowing, if it was a type of knowing, then it wouldn’t be faith. Several Christians in the group quickly became defensive and the thought of their faith being distinct of knowledge. After the discussion, I reflected on how common and often Christians lay claim to linking faith and knowledge as synonymous.
Is there a difference between faith and knowledge? I believe there is a huge difference between the two. People of the Christian worldview, especially, are notorious for linking faith and knowledge. Perhaps the Christians insistence in linking faith and knowledge is because there is a visceral fear that faith without knowledge [or knowing] minimizes and waters down Christianity. This insidious fear, in this current age of reason, is what prompts the Christian to [try] and have their cake while eating it to.
So what is the difference? Knowledge is the process building beliefs out of concepts and propositions that brings us to a place of knowing – conceptually – with our mind. Faith is confidence in something or something, a non-knowing process of trust; it is our way of finding coherence in and giving meaning to the multiple forces and relations that make up our lives. Faith is a person’s way of seeing himself or herself in relation to others against a background of shared meaning and purpose. Faith is rooted in deeply meaningful abstract values and knowledge is rooted in concrete propositions.
Often times I am caught in the dilemma of sitting in Starbucks with all of my stuff laid out while having the strong need to go to the bathroom. So I try and find the most unassuming person close to me and ask, “Excuse me, do you mind watching my stuff while I go to the bathroom?” I have done this around, say, 75 times, and never have my belongings been stolen. When I walk away to the bathroom, I don’t know my laptop and Nook will be alright. I do, however, have faith (or confidence) that the person watching my stuff has my best interest in mind. The same holds true when flying. When I board a plane for Dallas, I have faith that it will arrive at DFW Airport, but I do not know that it will land safely.
If that’s faith, then what do I know? Well, I know that kicking puppies is wrong, that the earth is round, and that I have a brain. Claiming I have faith that I have a brain seems a bit strange. And if I want to maintain any semblance of intellectual honesty about the earth’s shape, I might restate my claim by saying: I know the earth is round based on the evidence presented to me, but I am open to changing my belief if future evidence proves otherwise. The distinction between faith and knowledge is important because when knowing morphs into knowing absolutely, then we better hope that it doesn’t metastasize into an ideology. I do not worry that my supreme confidence that rape is wrong or that I have a brain will be polarizing will lead to sectarian violence. But when ideology is fueled with absolute knowing, then the whole world better watch out. Ideology is a system of ideas that informs the way we look at the world, values, and meaning. It is at this juncture that the distinction between faith and knowledge reaches the breaking point. It is one thing to say “I know I have a brain” and another to say that “I know God will cast to Hell those that do not worship Him” or “I know that everything in the Bible/Koran is true.” Ideology is just that: ideas. Ideas are best guided by faith rather than knowledge. Church officials refuse homosexuals the right to preach behind the pulpit because of something more than faith. Christians believe that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life because of something larger than a mustard seed of faith. It is a knowing. If it was an open-minded faith that engulfs the heart of Christianity then its history would not be plagued with wars, oppression and killings.
Even in the last 100 years, Christianity has been either lagging or hostile in the charge of giving compassion and rights to women, minorities, and homosexuals. The reason is because their boots are cemented in the knowledge of their inerrant sacred text which was written by their infallible God stating His objectives unequivocally. Thus, the history of Christianity has been a history of back-peddling and apologizing for past grievances because … they thought they knew but realized they didn’t. Confidence and faith, however, leave room for dialogue and open-minded reflection that things may not be what they appear.
I would love for religious people to have more intellectual integrity and leave room for more compassion and peace. I have always found it odd that Christians speak so objectively and concretely about a deity that is effable and incomprehensible. It takes a heavy dose of humility and honest reason to say: “I don’t know if what I believe about God is absolutely true.” Making this claim does not mean that the values and virtues of Jesus ought to be discarded as rubbish. It simply means that you choosing to elevate your mind above a totalitarian regime of dogma and doctrine that imposes its demands upon your reason. For this is where knowledge, functioning as absolute knowledge, wields is grotesque head and moves people in masses to become subservient slaves to bronzed aged ethics from stories told in peasant villages in Ancient Palestine. I say, “No thank you.”
I will place my faith in my ability to promote goodness and stand up to injustices when I can. My faith is my ability to see the virtues and value in humanity and all that is around me. My faith is in my upbringing and my past experiences that help me understand that living an ethical life takes continuous self-reflection and examination. And while I will always be a work in progress with many struggles, I have faith that if I keep striving to live a meaningful and compassionate life, peace will continue to flourish within me. This is where my loyalty dwells and where my faith remains.
~Wes Fornes 🙂