By Harris Franklin Rall
THE MEANING OF FAITH
I. THE LOSS OF FAITH
PROFESSOR R. A. MILLIKAN, the physicist, pointed out a few years ago that the well-being of humanity rested upon two pillars. One is science, "belief in the spirit and method of Galileo, of Newton, of Faraday, and of the other great builders of this modern scientific age." Through science we understand and rule our physical world, and make its forces serve us. But, he declared, "The most important thing in the world is a belief in the reality of moral and spiritual values. It was because we lost that belief that the World War came, and if we do not find a way to regain and strengthen that belief, then science is of no value."
In large areas today religious faith has disappeared. Some would ascribe this to science. "Once," they say, "men did not have knowledge; then they believed in God and angels and evil spirits, and they depended upon God for help. Now we know. Instead of the guesses of religion we have the facts of science; we observe and demonstrate by experiment. That is the only real knowledge, the world of science is the only real world, and the help that science gives us is the only real help. We do not pray God to avert an epidemic; we look for the germ. We do not ask God for rain; we learn about dry farming or plan for irrigation or wait for a better season."
Another reason for loss of faith lies in the practical materialism of our age. Materialism as a theory holds that there is nothing real except matter; among thinking men that theory is dead. But materialism as a philosophy of life is very much alive. It rests upon the belief that the wealth of this world consists of things, and that to possess enough of things, or of the money that will command them, is the sure road to happiness. Never did the world of things offer so much attraction to men as today, when science has brought forth conveniences and comforts and luxuries of which our fathers did not dream, and made them available for the common man. In such a day it is easy for the world of the unseen to lose its meaning and power. And when the deeper needs of life are felt which mere things cannot satisfy, or the times of crisis come when our science and our machines are helpless, then faith in God and help from God are gone. And so we have today disillusionment, cynicism, and despair.
Nowhere is the loss of faith more apparent than when we turn to our national and international life. The responsible leaders of the nations are terribly afraid of war. They know what the late World War did and they realize that another might wipe out our Western civilization. But they cannot give up the old ways: the belief in force, the multiplication of armies on land and navies of sea and air, and national selfishness and greed. There is not faith enough to believe in a new way.
II. WHAT FAITH IS AND DOES
One reason why faith does not make more headway may be that both friends and enemies of religion have so often misunderstood it. Not many go as far as the small boy's definition, "Faith is believing what you know isn't so"; but many think of faith as something that is somehow against knowledge. For some it is "a leap in the dark" Knowledge, they think, deals only with what you can see; if you want to go beyond that, you simply shut your eyes and make the leap. Others think of faith as accepting a belief on the word of someone else—priest or preacher, Church or Bible. It is not hard to sympathize with those who reject faith if this is what it means. But faith is not unthinking submission to authority.The root of faith is inner conviction. Faith goes with freedom of spirit, not servitude. Jesus wanted faith; "Repent and believe in the good news," was his message. But he did not tell men that they must accept this doctrine or that because he said so. He said, "What think ye?" He showed them God and the truth of life, so that they might see and believe for themselves.
Nor does faith go against experience, rather it appeals to it just as science does; only it is the experience of a different kind of world. Natural science deals with the world of appearance, the world as it comes to us through our senses. We do not question the reality of this world or its importance; it is the world of our daily work, and our life depends upon it. But the world of the unseen is just as real and sure. We experience this unseen world just as truly as we do the seen, though in another way. Truth, love, loyalty, justice, the faith of a friend, the Spirit of God—I have never toughed one of these with my hands, or seen it with my eyes, or weighed it in balances ; but these are real, nevertheless. Religion says they are the most real: that is why "we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal ; but the things which are not seen are eternal." The difference between man and other animals is that while both live in the world of the seen, man lives in the world of the unseen as well; and there are found the meaning of his life, the real ends for which he lives, and the Power upon which he depends.
In the broadest sense faith is trust in a world that is not seen and willingness to act upon this. In this sense it belongs to all man's life, and is everywhere its necessary foundation. That is true of the world of business. The "hardheaded" business man must walk by faith. Most of his dealings are with checks and bills, bits of paper that have no value except as he can trust the men or the government behind them. When faith is gone, you have a crisis, a panic, a depression. Science needs faith. "As for the strong conviction that the cosmic order is rational," Thomas Henry Huxley once wrote, "and the faith that, throughout all duration, unbroken order has reigned in the universe, I not only accept it, but I am disposed to think it the most important of all truths." This is, as Huxley saw, a matter of trust; science assumes this order before it begins its work, and can never prove it. It sees only the tiniest fraction of the universe but believes that this order rules the vast whole. It is so in the state. Autocracies rest upon force and fear, but all other governments depend upon faith, not only faith in men but faith in God, in something just and true at the heart of things. That was Lincoln's trust in the darkest days of the Civil War: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty." Clearly, all the highest relations of men rest upon faith, a faith that is not irrational and not apart from experience, but that deals with the unseen and goes beyond what we can prove. The home rests upon it, all friendship, all love. As Romain Holland says: "Love is a perpetual act of faith."
But the supreme importance of faith is found in religion. The unseen world, the world of order and truth, of beauty and love, of mercy and righteousness, breaks through everywhere in life. Religion gathers this all together and says: the world of the spirit is one, and its name is God.
All these point to God and have their being in him. Therefore have faith in God. Believe that the true and good and beautiful are not only real, but the most real, that through all these God is speaking to you. And when you see all this at its highest, when you see the love and truth and righteousness that are in Jesus Christ, then trust this God that comes to you in him and surrender to him your life. Over against such a God the one thing needful is faith. Faith is the vision of the unseen, the trust in it, the surrender to it.
Faith thus rests upon experience, but transcends it; it sees what this experience means and trusts it, but goes beyond it. It demands not merely trust but obedience and loyalty and courage. It makes of life a high adventure instead of a timid surrender. Santayana calls us "to trust the soul's invincible surmise." Josiah Royce, another great philosopher, described faith as "the soul's insight or discovery of some reality that enables a man to stand anything that can happen to him in the universe." Donald Hankey declared that it was "betting your life upon God." Kirsopp Lake calls it "not belief in spite of evidence, but life in scorn of consequence." It has been called "the resolution to stand or fall by the noblest hypothesis," and "man's Yes in trust and loyalty to the highest that he knows." To which we may add the word from Hebrews: "Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen."
III. THE BATTLE OF FAITHS
We have been using the word "faith" for man's attitude and act in believing; but we also speak of a faith, that is, of the beliefs which man holds, his creed or philosophy of life. It is such a faith that we wish to consider in this volume. In the broadest sense of the term everyone has a faith, something that he believes in, something that he works for. The question is, What shall my faith be? There is today, as there was when Christianity began, a battle of faiths, each trying to win the allegiance of men. What is the greatest rival of Christianity today? It is not, I think, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Mohammedanism, or any of the other world religions; it is secularism.
Secularism is a very common creed. The term comes from a Latin word which meant originally generation, or age; it came to mean the passing age or time, or the world. By secular we mean the finite as against the Infinite, time as against the Eternal, the visible as against the unseen, the world of things as against the world of spirit. Secularism is the creed that holds that there is nothing for man but this world and this age; there is no God above us, no life beyond, no authority except our own desire, no goods except material things. It stands squarely over against the central belief of religion, the faith in God, in a world that is unseen and enduring, that is near us and yet above us, and that gives our life its meaning, its hope, and its highest good.
This secularism has a double root. The first is doubt. Multitudes feel that they can no longer believe in an unseen world, that we must give up our faith in God, that our only knowledge is of things we see. Here are the "acids of modernity," of which Walter Lippmann writes in his A Preface to Morals. But there is another root and I think it is the deeper one. It is not so much the denial of another world as it is the belief in this world and the love of this world. That is paganism, and there is the real enemy of high religion. The paganism of today is not belief in idols or in "heathen gods." It is found just as much in London and New York as in Hong Kong and Calcutta. It has a triple creed: it believes in wealth as the highest good, in force and cunning as the supreme power, in self-interest as the one rule of life. It is manifest in the greed for wealth, the spirit of self-indulgence, the love of luxury, the measure of success in terms of money, and in an economic order in which the highest appeal is to a desire for individual advantage and the common method is ruthless competition.
Nationalism is one form which this modern paganism has taken and the cult of nationalism is the greatest rival of Christianity today. By nationalism is here meant not that love of country whose unselfish devotion goes with love of God and men, but that attitude which shuts out other peoples and puts the nation in the place of God. Externally, in regard to other peoples, it means a strictly selfish individualism. Within, it means totalitarianism, the claim of the political state to include all life and to dominate it all. Its true nature is best seen in Fascist Italy and Germany, where it is most fully developed, but in some measure it is present almost everywhere.
The three factors that enter into this modern super-nationalism are commonly autocracy, militarism, and capitalism. (1) Autocracy may be vested in a political "leader," a military clique, or an economic group which controls the nation's industry and directs the government from behind the scenes. In an autocracy freedom of thought and speech and faith disappear. The final authority is not God or conscience or reason, but the state. Forms of religion remain, but they are made to serve the state. No appeal to conscience or God, for example, will save a man if the nation decides to go to war and kill. (2) Autocracy means militarism ; the state depends upon force to compel its own people and to assert its will against other nations. Fascism means the rule of force. (3) In its present-day form Fascism means capitalism, that is, the control by the state or by a group within the state of the nation's material resources, and their use not for the people but for the state, or for the group in power. Competition remains, but it is between nations rather than individuals or groups.
Communism, as it is set up in Russia today, is like Fascism at certain points. It suppresses political freedom, it will not permit the Church to carry on any work of education, it is avowedly antireligious and secularistic, and it stands for the use of force, first in establishing the revolution, and, second, when needed, against other nations. It has sought to make a religion of Communism, demanding for it absolute faith and devotion, just as Fascism does. On the other hand, it has no desire for war, it seeks the social good of the masses instead of the few, it makes the state the instrument and not the end, and it substitutes economic co-operation for competitive war. It would seem, too, that its antireligious policy and its suppression of political freedom are not a necessary part of its system.
IV. A FAITH FOR TODAY
Here, then, are the reasons that make it important for us to inquire as to a faith for today. There is first the urgent need of some faith that will give meaning to life, that will supply confidence and courage, and that will bring guidance and authority. The alternatives for our day are literally faith or chaos. Secondly, there is the competition of the rival faiths of secularism and nationalism. Third, there are the questions and doubts which come from our new knowledge and which assail the old faith. Finally, there are the changes taking place in religious thought itself and the confusion as to what the Christian faith really is. Even before we begin this study one point seems clear: there is no higher form of religion offering itself than the Christian faith; no higher concept of God than that personal Spirit, just and merciful, whom we know through Jesus Christ; no loftier ideal of a way of life than that furnished by the spirit that was in Jesus.
He who would set forth a faith for today must face frankly two questions: Can we hold such a faith? And, Just what does such a faith mean in terms of belief and life? To answer these questions is not a simple matter. The short and easy way that men used to take was first to "prove" that the Christian religion was divine, and then simply to set forth the whole system of traditional ideas about God and the world, about man and salvation. Our plan must be different. We can no longer take complete systems on authority. We must see what this central conviction of the Christian faith is, this belief about God and life as we find it through Jesus. We must ask as to the right with which we hold such a faith. We must face all the facts that come to us from our world today, and take into account the highest insights which experience and reflection furnish. We must not be afraid of change; our concern is with the truth and our faith is in a living God, working in his world today and guiding men into the truth. And in the end we must realize that this God is more than what our minds can fully grasp or our ideas encompass, and that a God who was less than that could not command our faith and worship.
A NOTE FOR THE READER
Keeping in mind the use of this book by classes and discussion groups as well as by the individual reader, each chapter is furnished with questions and a brief book list. The questions are not intended for review purposes or to test the reader's knowledge but to aid in further study and group discussion.
The book lists are meant to be representative but not comprehensive. They reflect different standpoints, though no attempt is made to have all positions represented. A brief general list is first given containing works that will be of value for use throughout the volume. The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics and Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible are included because they are usually found in libraries. They will be referred to as E. R. E. and Hastings' D. B. The student should accustom himself to use these works and others of a general character in connection with the different chapters, looking up for himself the pertinent articles. One of the greatest helps to clear and sound thinking is the constant use of a good dictionary, and the habit of looking up all important terms and not letting a word pass whose meaning is not wholly clear.
The books listed have been selected with special reference to those who are beginning in this field rather than for the advanced student. In most cases the simpler and more popular treatments are put first. Some more advanced works are included for those who wish to make a more thorough study of a given question.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
SOME WORKS FOR GENERAL REFERENCE
FOR FURTHER BEADING