The Authenticity of Faith

In a few weeks I'll be sending a draft of a second book to the publisher. It will come out with ACU Press, I'm guessing this winter or spring. The book works through in a fuller, more careful and scholarly way the material I blogged about years ago in a series called Freud's Ghost and more recently in the series The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience.

The title of the book is called "The Authenticity of Faith" and I'm building it around this quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel:

It has long been known that need and desire play a part in the shaping of beliefs. But is it true, as modern psychology often claims, that our religious beliefs are nothing but attempts to satisfy subconscious wishes? That the conception of God is merely a projection of self-seeking emotions, an objectification of subjective needs, the self in disguise? Indeed, the tendency to question the genuineness of man’s concerns about God is a challenge no less serious than the tendency to question the existence of God. We are in greater need of a proof for the authenticity of faith than of a proof for the existence of God.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

13 thoughts on “The Authenticity of Faith”

  1. That's a great quote. I've often wondered/marveled at how similar a person's worldview/philosophy/theology is to their own experiences. It seems these things are in fact formed in a very personal way and can many times reflect our own wishes, doubts, hopes, and fears no matter how earnestly we attempt to reach objectivity or universality. 

    I've had an idea for a book that took a large number of historical figures and what they believed and analyzed and scrutinized their belief system in regards to their very personal experiences in life. The first time that I really took note of this was in a Theories and Techniques of Psychotherapy class which over-viewed a number of different psychotherapies. Interestingly, the therapist's own conceptions of how the world worked was typically manifest in their therapy and treatment of patients and patients' issues. It seems no matter how much emphasis psychologists place on striving for and remaining objective, we cannot escape our intimate subjectivity and limitedness. Perhaps that's really not a bad thing in the end, but that's merely a pondering at this point.

    It would be fascinating to see how their [famous therapists, philosophers, politicians, theologians, etc throughout history] personal life experiences directly impact or influence their worldview and subsequent programs of change. 

  2. Richard,

    James fuses those two questions that your quote treats separately (the genuineness of faith and the existence of God). From "The Function of Cognition":

    "'Reality' has become our warrant for calling a feeling cognitive; but what becomes of our warrant for calling anything reality? The only reply is--the faith of the present critic or inquirer. At every moment of his life he finds himself subject to belief in some realities, even tho his realities of this year should prove to be his illusions of the next. ... Every science must make some assumptions" 

    But what happens when the assumption is metaphysical, indeed, an Ultimate Reality posed behind the full machinations of the cosmos? From James' "Some Metaphysical Problems Pragmatically Considered":

    "We can always any conceivable world...that the whole cosmic machinery MAY have been designed to produce it. ...'Design' worthless tho it be as a mere rationalistic principle set above or behind things...becomes, if our faith concretes it into something theistic, a term of PROMISE."

    Commenting on that view in his Preface to THE MEANING OF TRUTH he wrote: "'God or no God' means 'promise or no promise.' It seems to me that the alternative is objective enough being a question as to whether the cosmos has one character or another, even tho our own provisional answer may be on subjective grounds." 

    It seems to me that James' view is just what is needed to justify a claim that we can only come to God like little children. And James was savaged for it, motivating him to explicitly opt out of faith. (He tells the story in the Preface.) 

    I have long hoped that someone could right this wrong and give James the respect due on these points. 

    Best wishes on this worthy project!

  3. The concept which seems to separate Christianity from all other religions is the fact that it is, in essence, all about a personal relationship. 

    Never mind the rest of the Bible and 2,000 years of history.  What about this relationship with a "person" called Jesus?  All I have ever learned during this lifetime about relationships I learned through the give-and-take with the real people around me. 

    My empirical experiences do not provide me with any tools to use in discerning the workings of this imaginary relationship.  That for me is the essence of "faith", and it, for me, remains a complete mystery.

  4. Discerning the relationship between other's needs and their faith is difficult enough. When it comes to distinguishing this interplay in myself it feels as if I'm stuck in a recursive loop!

  5. Color me stoked, on account of I trust you not to say the sorts of obnoxious things that would mean I couldn't loan my copy to an atheist friend. A much more interesting question, I think, than the existence of God (which is of course a pointless thing to argue, if not think about). I'll take two, please!

  6. Oh, I think an atheist would find the book very interesting and would agree with a lot that's in it. I also think Christians who will read it will agree a lot, but some will feel a bit (perhaps very) uncomfortable at times. It cuts right down the middle. 

    It's kind of a paean to Winter Christians.

  7. Richard,

    I've been reading an excellent book by Merold Westphal called 'Suspicion and Faith' which looks at the critiques of Freud, Marx and Nietzsche in terms of each of their fundamental suspicions about religious belief. It is well worth a look if you haven't already.

  8. Thanks! I'd not known of Westphal's book, but looking at it on Amazon it looks like it fits well with what I'm doing in Part 1 of my book. I have a chapter there titled "Masters of Suspicion." I've ordered a copy.

  9. Hi Dr. Beck,

    I am looking forward to your new book. The last few days I have been thinking a lot about "emotional sobriety" and your book seems to address this issue when it comes to using faith as a narcotic.  

    Can't wait to read it!

  10. I think I mean I will grouse about it, at least a little.

    Two reasons I think so: First, because it's going to be published by ACU Press, and our ideas of good scholarship are somewhat different. They're pretty interested in Not Getting In Trouble, and I'm pretty interested in Not Caring About Getting In Trouble.

    Second, because I don't think I was satisfied with the conclusion of the /Varieties/ series. I remember thinking, "OK, so maybe Freud's critique doesn't condemn every Christian, but if it condemns almost every Christian, isn't that sufficient to condemn Christianity?"

    But that's probably the extent of the grousing I'll do. At any rate, I won't come in while you're teaching class and give you a clothesline off the top rope.

Leave a Reply