Faith is an interesting concept to try to disentangle from religion.

    n 1: a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that
         control human destiny; "he lost his faith but not his
         morality" [syn: {religion}, {faith}, {religious belief}]
      2: complete confidence in a person or plan etc; "he cherished
         the faith of a good woman"; "the doctor-patient relationship
         is based on trust" [syn: {faith}, {trust}]
      3: an institution to express belief in a divine power; "he was
         raised in the Baptist religion"; "a member of his own faith
         contradicted him" [syn: {religion}, {faith}, {organized
      4: loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person; "keep the
         faith"; "they broke faith with their investors"

Without religion and supernatural powers, you immediately lose the first and third definitions, and if you’re just left with “complete confidence” and “loyalty”, it seems like you’re missing out on a lot.

Faith seems, to me, to be somewhere in between belief and certainty — you can believe things without having faith in them, but you can’t have faith in something you don’t believe; and if you’re already certain, then you don’t need faith. Faith is obviously something you can lose, and it seems to be something you need if you’re going to be religious.

One of the ways in which you seem to need faith for religion is in unprovable beliefs, like “everything happens for a reason”, because no matter how many times you can find the silver lining to a cloud, there’s always a chance you won’t be able to find one the next time, and even if there really is one, it’s only through faith that you can hold onto that belief.

Of course, the only time you want to do that is if the belief is actually true (in spite of the contradictory evidence that caused you to doubt in the first place), or if holding the belief is at least helpful. In the cases where it’s not, well, that’s what the term “misplaced faith” is for.

I think, then, that leaves faith as something like “the ability to act on (or in accordance with) your beliefs, despite having doubts about whether they’re valid”.

Which from one perspective seems really scary (if you’ve got doubts, shouldn’t you resolve them first?), and from another seems simple appropriately cautious and anti-fanatical (better to act being aware of doubts, than to feign certainty, or to give in to inaction).

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