If faith is an opinion about the world . . .

How do we form such opinions?

We believe what we see.
But seeing isn’t as simple as it seems. As children we learned to see in the same way that we learned language. We developed a vocabulary and grammar of images. We learned the meanings of images and how various images relate to each other.
Later science taught us we can’t trust what our eyes tell us. Our eyes tell us this table is solid, but science tells us it is made of atoms, which in turn are made up of sub-atomic particles. What seems so solid to our eyes and to the touch is, as Lucretius taught, nothing but “atoms and the void.”

My wife enjoys photographing nature–butterflies, flowers, birds. Her interest has trained her eyes to see in a unique way.

Can we choose what to see?





We learn about things we haven’t seen from people we trust.

We learn to interpret our experiences by listening to others. We eventually learn that some people are mistaken and others are more often correct. We choose whom we listen to.


We learn to relate things like cause and effect and draw conclusions based on things we have seen and experienced. We may learn that sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusions. We may eventually think about reasoning and learn better ways of reaching conclusions.

But what if by faith, we mean not an opinion about the world or a set of opinions about the world.  What if by faith, we mean trust?

1.  If faith is trust . . .

Whom can we trust?

How do we learn to trust?

Can we choose to trust?

Erik Erikson said learning basic trust is a child’s first developmental task. If our parents meet our needs and provide us a secure, warm, intimate environment, we may learn to develop basic trust.

We learn to trust—or not—before we develop language and reasoning ability. We eventually learn that not everyone can be trusted and we learn to think about trust. We can choose whom we trust.

What if faith concerns not only our ability to trust, but also our trustworthiness. What if we think of faith as a commitment.

2.  If faith is commitment . . .

Suppose I’m committed to sustainable living, but I find it’s not easy being green. What do I do when recycling is not convenient, when I don’t have the money to buy organic apples, when worms attack my home-grown tomatoes?

Of course, we can re-evaluate commitments, or we can accept a little compromise.

I was cycling with a friend in a hilly area. Going down a long hill I pedaled as fast as I could. For those of us who remember the national 55 MPH speed limit, it is always a great thrill to break that limit. But I exhausted myself going downhill and lagged behind my friend on the way up the next hill. I apologized, but he said, “Hey, at least we are not sitting on the couch.” We were doing something for our health, even if we were not perfect. Can we live with a pretty good level of commitment?

If we think of faith as a commitment, especially when the commitment takes the form of a vow or a promise, then faith becomes a virtue.

3.  If faith is a virtue . . .

There is no virtue in being gullible, but most of us think we ought to keep our promises. We shouldn’t make promises carelessly, but when we do, we should keep them.

So if faith is a virtue, then we can choose to adopt the disciplines and habits that strengthen the virtue of faith.

Maybe there is one more possibility. Maybe faith is the ability to envision an alternate world, a better way of life.

4.  If faith is the power of creative imagination . . .

Maybe the world has never been changed without faith.

For thousands of years, no one was able to imagine a world without slavery. If we could go back and ask Aristotle, he would say, “that’s impossible, who would do the work?”

It wasn’t too long ago that people could not imagine a world in which women could be trusted to vote.

4 Responses

  1. Dr. Alterman–you never stop teaching do you??? I’m in Ft. Scott, Kansas with 29 other students for two weeks at Licence to Preach School, staying in the boys’ dorm at Ft. Scott Community College, but we do have internet access, and I was excited to get your email!! I like the page. I liked the article on faith. Can we choose to believe? Of course we can! Whether or not our belief is based on faith depends upon what it is we choose to believe in, but it is MY belief that we gain the most from a belief that is based on faith. It takes more thought and insight than something we believe in because we can see, hear, touch, smell, or feel it. A belief based on faith is much deeper, and once it is set in our psyche, is much harder to shake than one that is more cognizant, based on actual fact and/or experience.

  2. Hey Leslye,
    Did you get flooded down there in Fr. Scott? I heard there was flooding in Pleasanton. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress in prison–for preaching without a license. Now you won’t have to fear being locked up for telling folks the good news.

  3. Your exposition of how we come to grow in our faith–by observing the world around us–demonstrates well-thought out principles. However, I must pose to you a question: Does our faith initally spring from these observations, or must we first answer a call before these observations can develop into faith?

  4. Theaomai,
    I was thinking of faith as a general, universal phenomenon, not specifically religious faith. I was trying to make the point that there are many types of faith or ways of having faith, and that faith in some sense is necessary to life, and can be a force for good. I was thinking of an answer to “rabid atheists” who think all faith is irrational and evil.

    But I agree that Christian faith, faith in the God and Father of Jesus Christ, faith as a commitment to follow Christ in the way of love–faith in this sense is a response to a call, and we hear this call in the Gospel. God may use a variety of ways to prepare our hearts to hear this call.

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