As I look at human history, it seems to me that over time what might be argued as the opposite of faith(1) has shifted.(2)
In the generations of the writing of the Bible, the opposite of faith was doubt or unbelief.
Two illustrations among many:
Following Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas, one of his disciples, expressed his doubt, declaring, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” When Jesus appeared, Thomas burst forth in a confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” to which Jesus replied, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”(3)
The Apostle James, writing of the relation between faith and wisdom, counseled: If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.(4)
From the Age of the Enlightenment and onward through the modern era, the opposite of faith was fear.
The Enlightenment,(5) generally speaking, exalted reason; that human capacity to observe and to understand and to know the makings and movements of life in and of the world. Knowledge emboldened a faith that sought a deepening revelation of truth at whatever the cost of the sacrifice of olden beliefs; some predicated on an unquestioning and, at times, fearful acceptance of religious dogma.
In the post-modern era, the opposite of faith is certainty.(6)
Life is increasingly complex. One manifestation, in my view, is the spread of religious pluralism(7) and an associated unavoidable competition, at times conflict among belief systems. Another manifestation is the speed of the dissemination of information from an ever-growing number of sources, which, necessarily, overwhelms the human capacity to absorb and make sense of it. Through these and manifold other ways, there is, I think, an attendant rise in the awareness of life’s innate ambiguity. One reaction, for many, I also think, is a longing, even a demand for certitude; the nature of which is contrary to what faith, as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,”(8) is and does.
(1) By “faith,” as I defined in a previous blog post (paulrobertsabernathy.com: More Less Randomly Ordered Opinions…On Reason and Faith, February 15, 2019), “I mean my belief in the existence of God and, in believing God to be a reality, my response to God in desiring to be in relationship with God.”
(2) Two immediate admissions: One, I am not the first to think this. (Truly, there is little that I think that is wholly original to me. For somewhere and at some time, I heard it or read it.) Two, I neither know who first thought this nor do I recall who else may have thought this.
(3) John 20.25, 28-29
(4) The Epistle of James 1.5-8
(5) Late 17th century-18th century
(6) For this observation and opinion, I do know two sources (among many). Anne Lamott in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2004) and the Most Reverend Richard Holloway, Bishop Emeritus of Edinburgh, in his, Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir on Faith and Doubt (2012).
(7) In a word, back in the proverbial historical day, one might have been able to say, “Those people who believe differently than I live way over there!” That is no longer true. Folks who ascribe to all manners of belief systems abound, as they always did, and, now, abide all around us. Even if they didn’t, that is, even if “those people” still lived “way over there,” in this Information Age when something that happens half-way around the world can be shared and known nearly instantaneously, our consciousness of manifold human differences in and of belief is undeniable.
(8) The Epistle to the Hebrews 11.1