The Habit of Faith

I recently came across this quote from Thomas Aquinas on faith:
For just as, by the habits of the other virtues, man sees what is becoming to him in respect of that habit, so, by the habit of faith, the human mind is directed to assent to such things as are becoming to a right faith...
I'm not enough of an Aquinas scholar to know for sure what he means by "the habit of faith." But it's an arresting phrase.

Aquinas here compares faith to the habits associated with virtues. To review, good habits are virtues and virtues are acquired by good habits. Virtue and spiritual formation go hand in hand.

And yet, we often don't think of faith as a habit, as a product of spiritual formation. Faith seems more attuned to mental assent, believing in things, shifting it away from formation toward intellection.

But what if faith is actually a habit?

The reason I'm interested in thinking about faith as a habit is that I think this is an important insight for people going through a season of religious deconstruction. As I and others have pointed out many times before, deconstruction is often a necessary and vital part of our faith journey. And yet, we also see people leave the faith because of the deconstruction. Frequently, people deconstruct themselves right out of faith.

That almost happened to me. But one of the things that helped me make the turn back toward reconstruction is that I found that faith could be a habit of the mind, a matter of attention, specifically.

For example, during deconstruction you spend a lot of time reading and exposing yourself to skeptical, critical, questioning, and doubting voices, views, arguments and perspectives. This prolonged and exclusive focus on and, frankly, marination in doubt creates a habit of the mind. To stay with the food metaphor, our theological diet can become very unbalanced during seasons of deconstruction. If all you're eating is doubt, well, is it any wonder that your faith becomes unhealthy and sick?

My turn toward reconstruction came when I started varying my diet, reading and exposing myself to joyous, unapologetic, and intellectually stimulating Christian voices. By regularly exposing myself to a more faithful voices I slowly habited myself (if habited is a word) back into faith. During the season of deconstruction I couldn't just will myself to believe. But I could turn my attention, treat myself to a faithful theological diet, and habit myself back into faith.

In short, faith, I've come to think, is a habit as much as it is a matter of belief.

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