Friday, December 01, 2006

Paul Tillich - The Dynamics of Faith - Faith and Doubt

"We now return to a fuller description of faith as an act of the human personality. An act of faith is an act of a finite being who is grasped by and turned to the infinite. It is a finite act with all the limitations of a finite act, and it is an act in which the infinite participates beyond the limitations of a finite act. Faith is certain in so far as it is an experience of the holy. But faith is uncertain in so far as the infinite to which it is related is received by a finite being. This element of uncertainty in faith cannot be removed, it must be accepted. And the element in faith which accepts this is courage. Faith includes an element of immediate awareness which gives certainty and an element of uncertainty. To accept this is courage. In the courageous standing of uncertainty, faith shows most visibly its dynamic character."

And so Tillich begins his discussion on Faith and Doubt. We tend to see things in terms of opposites: Life/Death, black/white, and so on. But here, Tillich speaks of faith and doubt as two important and really necessary parts of the dynamic of faith. (It might be of some use here to mention the etymology of the word "dynamics"--from the ancient Greek meaning "strength, power"-- this is important to note, because it's the purpose for Tillich pointing out these dynamics within Faith -the parts of Faith that give it strength and/or power) Doubt is essential, he says, and it must be accepted as an element in faith. Instead of creating a fissure or a symbolic line of demarcation between faith and doubt, Tillich shows that the two are connected most curiously and most fantastically in courage.

Part of the human need for boundaries and separation might cause us to look at faith in a way that doesn't include doubt. But doubt can't be gotten rid of completely--although there are times when we may feel we've discarded all doubt, it's still there. For me, I feel a real closeness with this idea of faith--the key figures throughout movements for peace, justice, mercy and so on, have mostly had a faith (I'm speaking of people like Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, and even Christ, etc--so I'm really addressing the Christian faith, but other faiths would probably apply to)--and just about all have had doubt. I think maybe we forget that, but I think maybe we shouldn't.

But here Tillich begins a short discussion on the risk of faith:"Where there is daring and courage, their is the possibility of failure. And in every act of faith this possibility is present. The risk must be taken." Maybe I'm misreading, but is this sort of Pascal's Wager? I'd be inclined by reading on, to say Tillich isn't making a wager: "And this is the risk faith must take: this is the risk which is unavoidable if a finite being affirms itself. Ultimate concern is ultimate risk and ultimate courage."

Tillich makes his way through three types of doubt: methodological, skeptical, and existential-but only one can be related to faith as ultimate concern. The kind of doubt in matters of empirical inquiry or logical deduction is what Tillich calls methodological: but : The doubt which is implicit in faith is not a doubt about facts or conclusions. Next, skeptical doubt, he calms more of an attitude than an assertion. Skepticism leads to despair and/or despair, which leads to complete unconcern -- and then it all breaks down, because as Tillich says "man is that being who is essentially concerned about his being....The skeptic, so long as he is a serious skeptic, is not without faith, even though it has no concrete content." Then Tillich names existential doubt "the doubt which is implicit in every act of faith."

Tillich is kind of like a Derrida before his time--he's not a fan of binary opposites and shows here how existential doubt is really a combination of skepticism and methodological doubt:

"It does not question whether a special proposition is true of false. It does not reject every concrete truth, but it is aware of the element of insecurity in every existential truth. At the same time, the doubt which is implied in faith accepts this insecurity and takes it into itself in an act of courage. Faith becomes courage. Therefore, it can include the doubt itself. Certainly faith and courage are not identical. Faith has other elements besides courage and courage has other functions beyond affirming faith. Nevertheless, an act in which courage accepts risk belongs to the dynamics of faith."

There is a middle ground it seems in faith. I wonder if there has been anything said for Tillich similarities to Buddhist thought?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home