Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Words, words, words

I always used to wake up in the morning to the Today Programme on Radio 4. Thought for the Day was the spur that got me out of bed and heading for the bathroom. I have kicked the habit now and so I missed a contribution that may have postponed my shower. It was Madeleine Bunting, pure Maddy at her inspiring best, defending faith.

To place faith and reason in opposition is false ... faith is vital: whenever we get in a car, a train or an airplane, we are expressing our faith in the responsibility and expertise of other people ... Any difficult decision - having a baby, making a long term commitment to a partner - is about faith ...

Inevitably, she brought in a familiar theme,

Other cultures understand how human beings need faith and how to strengthen it, but our culture I believe, having lost much of its religious faith, has lost its insight into the nature of faith altogether...

and so on, and on ...

She concluded:

We need, I think, to re-examine our prejudices and resurrect the idea of faithfulness. There are important values embedded in this word: 'a faithful account' is accurate and true; 'in good faith' is about a promise; 'to keep faith' is to keep that promise. These principles of constancy, integrity and commitment are how we build the faith of others- our children, partners, colleagues, friends - in ourselves just as, in turn, they build our faith in them. Faith is how we accept what is beyond our control, and recognise each other's freedom. How we relate to each other must be full of faithfulness if we are to create communities, a society. Faithfulness is about living with trust and confidence instead of anxiety, fearfulness, suspicion and cynicism.

There is a slight problem with all this guff - language. The same word can have different meanings and Bunting managed to use the word 'faith' in every sense except 'belief', its religious form. She was talking about trust, loyalty and truth. Are we really prejudiced against trust, loyalty and truth? Do they require resurrection? If so where did they go? Is Christopher Hitchens writing books about the need for distrust, untruth, and disloyalty?

In these senses, faith and reason are certainly not opposed, they are contingent on each other, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with belief. Trust, loyalty and truth are based on analysis, judgement, affection and experience. However, when, for example, the religious ask us to have faith, they mean us to suspend judgement and embrace belief. It is not the same thing at all. Sorry Maddy, but you have to do better than the use of slippery euphemisms to shake my faith - in a liberal, secular society.

Hat tip Will


Dr Hiding Pup said...

The Roman goddess, Fides Publica, was goddess of all state documents. Perhaps, in the 21st century, we ought to resurrect our faith in the government?

KB Player said...

I thought I was having a nightmare and Mush Brain had taken over my psyche as I lay in snooze mode this morning. Glad to hear a rational explanation.

However, Thought for the Day is the asylum where the anodyne and syrup-voiced are kept for their own safety and to get us workers out of bed through sheer nausea. A fitting home for MB.

Sometimes, though, Radio 4 has allowed her on to programmes that require analysis and information. That is truly terrifying.