Reasons for Our Hope

Why Faith Is Not About Certainty

Many nonbelievers equate faith with certainty, or with a desire for explanations: how the world came to be, why the good suffer, etc. And it must be said that many unreflective believers make superstitious use of religion. But few of the serious believers I know think of faith in this way. For most it is a kind of perception, a form of gratitude, and very far from anything like explanation or certainty.

There is so great a divide between these ideas of what faith means that they really need exploring. We need to ask why people who say they have no need for faith insist they know the experience of those of us who do believe, when they themselves admittedly have no aptitude for belief; it’s like a tone-deaf man who insists on explaining the nonmeaning of music.

There is plainly a version of faith, one with an ancient pedigree, that rules out doubt of any sort. It was probably not all that difficult to sustain in a period during which most of your contemporaries claimed to share your belief, at least paying it lip service—a time when belief was seen as a desirable thing, or when peer pressure made it seem so.

While I can say the creed and mean it, I cannot say it the way I would (for example) recite multiplication tables. My belief that this is true is asserted not as a recitation of simple facts, but in the face of the possibility that it may not be, in the deep...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.