Technical Faith Revisited

Start with the idea that a concept need not be inherently good or useful. Then, consider the equally uncontroversial idea that people will tend to rate highly those concepts to which they are merely prejudiced to favor, that they decide to rate highly.

Ideology makes specific demands on language. All groups or disciplines invent labels to fit with a thing upon which they want to put emphasis. The word Objectivism, recognized in some ideological circles as meaning something other than the word “objective” plus the suffix, “ism”, is a manufactured, quasi-technical term used to indicate an entire system of thought. Invoking the generic meaning of “objectivism” in particular circles can result in a lot of misunderstanding.

What are other examples of common words encumbered with technical meanings which have subsequently folded back into colloquial usage? A simple word like “run” is similarly “weighted” with metaphorical and technical sense while re-purposed to describe a stair step; another, not-so-simple example in “selection”. It is strictly metaphorical and passive when used in biology, a usage which must continuously be explained to prevent confusion. Conventional meaning is transformed by a technical need.

The word “faith”, then. A not small group has agreed, universally and without variation, that a mode of interaction with reality exists in which invisible stuff is said to be simply by virtue of active and purposeful acknowledgement or assertion. Passive experience is set aside in favor of a kind of willed experience; common experience is construed as merely supplemental in support of this idea.

Unfortunately, the word “faith” also just happens to carry a more generic meaning of “trust in continuity of experience”, as when I say “I have faith that my friend will pick me up from the airport, like he always does.” This meaning is too easy to conflate with the other,  since they seem to have a common feature of a “perception” of reality: One is wished, the other is habit.

I think that the cult writers who came up with “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” in Hebrews 11:1 knew full well that they were forcing a literal meaning that did not exist in colloquial Greek. Later translators had an ideology to support, so we end up with a completely bizarre notion: The “foundation” of faith spoken of in that verse (sometimes translated “substance”) and which the writer seeks to elevate, is set in parallel with the concept of conviction. Foundation is thus asserted to mean conviction.

Similarly there, the word “faith” is simultaneously set parallel against “conviction” and it is at this point he goes off the rails! When we have “faith” construed to mean conviction, foundation,  evidence, and the mark of a good theory, we can expect to see many bottles of ink expended (to accelerate going off the rails):

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

If faith is substance, and faith is evidence, then it is an easy step for a naive reader to conclude that substance and evidence and faith are all equally synonymous.

The big problem with this way of thinking is that anything can have metaphorical substance! This is poetic conceit. The evidential arrow points in the wrong direction. The writer is preoccupied with his own poetry and has lept to the same backwards conclusion (faith, similar ) while reiterating the old, cultish notion that spoken words, divorced from causation, have inherently creative, magical power!

In common, English usage, the metaphor of “substance” could very well apply, in my example of the faithful friend coming to the airport: Substance or not, what sensible person actually thinks that thoughts have a remote effect upon the actions or disposition of a friend? The faith here is only evidence of one’s own expectation, one’s own experience, not in the fact that the friend will actually arrive; not even that the friendship exists!

Isn’t it true, for that matter, that even the most superstitious, “mindful” spiritualist would stand, irritated, tapping his foot and eyeing his watch while waiting helplessly for his friend to show up? Faith, it seems, is little more than the substance of one’s own anxieties.

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