I find myself in agreement with much of what Bearing says (and if you haven't read her post, I encourage you to do so) but the nature of faith is a topic sufficiently broad and deep that it seems one does not lose by drawing out its meaning in different directions, making distinctions as one goes along.
He classifies "faith" as being an act, and this is correct; but it seems that he identifies it too much with "belief," or with being convinced "enough" of something. Here is the statement of Darwin's that I disagree with:I don't think it's so much that I am failing to make a distinction as that I am primarily talking about the latter, of which I think that the former is something of a subset.
This usage still informs the way that we use the term in reference to interpersonal relationships. I have faith that my wife loves me. She has faith that I am faithful to her. Etc.
Obviously, in this sense one can have faith in any number of things or people, and as it notes, faith in this sense necessarily presupposes belief. I can hardly have faith in my wife's love (as in, trust in its existence and steadfastness) if I don't really believe that I have a wife or don't really believe that she loves me. When Christians talk about "having faith" however, they're pretty specifically talking about "having faith in God" -- that combination of believing in God's existence and of trusting in God to remain steadfast and trustworthy in His love for us.
Darwin is failing -- at least clearly -- to make a distinction between "I am faithful to my wife" and "I have faith in my wife."
The first is concrete. The second is the metaphor.
The faith that Christians are supposed to have is not the same thing as trust that God's love exists and is steadfast to us. The faith that we are supposed to have, I am certain, is faithfulness *to* God -- fidelity to the laws and precepts that He sets out for us insofar as we are aware of them. When we are told to have faith, this is not at all a command to believe something. (How can you be commanded to be convinced of a truth?) It is a command to do something: to live your life, in your body, in your mind, in accord with the will of a God.
We're in agreement that in human relations, the relationship between spouses is probably one of the best analogies for faith in God, but when talking specifically about the kind of faith which an agnostic or atheist is talking about when he or she says, "How can you believe in something you can't prove?" I think that perhaps the best analogy is "I have faith that my wife loves me."
I think that in this analogy it is important to keep in mind that we are, as believers, responding to someone despite doubt or incomplete knowledge. I have all sorts of reasons to believe that MrsDarwin loves me, and none that I can think of to believe otherwise, so it's not like this is a difficult leap of faith. But at the most basic level, we never know what is going on in some other person's head. And just about all of us have had the experience in life of some situation in which we find out that for some other person was not thinking or acting in at all the way that we believed. So, even in the closest marriage, if one thinks about it, one must admit the possibility (however unlikely) that one's spouse does not actually love one but is acting in the manner he or she is for some other reason.
The reason I think this is a useful analogy in talking about faith in God is because we all know that the correct response to this doubt is not to decide, "I'll just hold back a bit and make sure that I don't act too loving in return, because it would be bad if I responded to love that wasn't really there." That's a sure recipe for making your spouse's love wither.
So, despite not knowing with certainty that MrsDarwin loves me, the correct response for me if I want a happy marriage is to perform an act of faith: I choose to believe that she loves me, and following on this I should choose to in faith by responding to the love which I have chosen to believe in.
Obviously, I could believe that she loves me and refuse to love her in return. There are those who do this in response to God's love. Bearing quotes the relevant passage here:
The Greek word for "faith" in James 2 (the faith and works discourse) is the same Greek word (pistis) translated as "belief" in the passage from Mark that I quoted above. Does pistis mean "steadfastness" in any way? Or does it only mean an intellectual assent? It goes on to use pisteuis in the next verse to mean "believe" as in "You believe that God is one" and then "pisteuousin" in "Even the demons believe, and shudder." The "faith" mentioned in James is then the same as the "belief" which even demons can have.Certainly, I agree with James' point: faith without works is dead. Indeed, I'd go the same direction as Bearing and say that if we draw a distinction between "faith" and "belief", it would be accurate to say that faith without works isn't even faith. Faith is an act, not just a mental act, but an act of the whole person.
I don't really think of demons as "steadfast."
Where does this leave us with the marriage analogy?
Well, it's not a perfect analogy, as tends to be the case with analogies. Personally, I think that biggest utility of the analogy is in pointing out that in a situation where we are not sure of something (and while I can't say that I've experienced this, I gather many people at some time in their marriages experience a point at which their spouse's love seems in question), if we want to have a lasting relationship the correct response to that doubt is not to hold back or hedge one's bets, but rather to make a decision and act accordingly. When we talk about salvation, the marriage analogy is also a bit useful. Damnation is, after all, the decision to be eternally separated from God. Salvation is the decision to be eternally united in loving union with God. Just as deciding how to response to our doubts about our spouse's lose determines whether we will have a lasting relationship, so does our decision how to respond to one's doubts about God.
About those doubts, Bearing says:
One may be "faithful" while having severely impaired belief, even no belief at all. (Which raises the question: Why would someone who did not believe in God ever strive to live according to God's laws? I will not answer the question here, and maybe will bat that question back to Darwin, but I will simply note that it is not logically impossible to be faithful in this way without belief; whereas if faith == belief, it does become logically impossible to have faith without belief.)I guess this is where it's my turn to wonder if she's using too intellectual a definition of "belief" here. To me, if you say "Why would someone who did not believe in God ever strive to live according to God's laws?" I find myself thinking: I really don't know, unless that person thinks those laws happen to be good laws to live by regardless of whether a deity exists who made them. But I would say, someone who doesn't feel belief might very well live in accordance with God's laws because he chooses to believe that God exists. I'd tend to say that if you want to follow God's laws because they are God's laws, if you want to "act faithfully" towards God, even though you feel unconvinced that God really exists, you do believe in God. You may not "feel" it, you may be assailed with doubts and discouragement, but you do believe.