Commitment of Faith

Can (religious) faith entail an absolute commitment to the one in whom we place faith and his word, such that one should hold that "no circumstances could arise in which I would cease to believe", (see the middle of this post, and this post and discussion) as marriage is a commitment to a person such that one intends and may hold that "under no circumstances will I cease to be faithful to this person"? Or must any rational person admit the (at least theoretical) possibility of certain things that would make it rationally and morally necessary to cease believing?

Since faith by definition is about things that we do not see to be true, there is no inherent contradiction in faith as such being contradicted by things we do see to be true, such an absolute assent of faith seems to imply an assent to the content of faith so strong that one would desire to hold to it as true, "even if it (the content of faith) were to be false". Can such faith be justified?

Consider the following situation: a woman has grounds to suspect her husband is cheating on her; there is a lot of evidence that he is; even when she asks him and he tells her that he is not, she must admit that the sum of evidence including his testimony is against him, and he probably is cheating. Still, she decides to believe him. I argue that the very act of believing him entails a commitment to him such that once she has given faith to his word, while it is still in fact possible that she is believing him though he is actually lying, this possibility is less relevant for her than it was prior to her giving faith. In this sense, after faith, the "if it were to be false" becomes less of a consideration for the believer, and to this degree she wills faith "even were it to be false".

A more detailed analysis of the situation: various persons present her with claims or evidence that her husband is cheating on her. Before confronting him or asking him if he is, she collects various evidence for and against it. She decides that since believing him if he is dishonest is not without its own evils, if the evidence that he is cheating (after taking into account the evidence constituted by his statement on the matter) constitutes a near certainty that he is cheating — let's say, over 95% probability that he is cheating — that she shouldn't believe him if he says he is not, but must either suspend judgment or maintain that he is cheating. Now, suppose the man says that he is not cheating, and the evidence is not quite that much against him, let's say, the evidence indicates a 90% probability that he is cheating, and a 10% probability that he is not. She makes the decision to believe him. Since she would not decide to do so unless she believed that it were good to so, she is giving an implicit negative value to "believing him, if he is in fact lying", a much greater positive value to "believing him, if he is speaking the truth", and consequently an implicit positive value to "believing him," (even though he is probably lying).

Going forward, she is presented with an easy opportunity to gather further evidence about whether he is in fact cheating. She must make a decision whether to do so. If she is always going to make the same decision at this point that she would have made if she had not yet decided to believe him, it seems that her "faith" she gives him and his word is rather empty. A given decision to pursue further evidence, while not incompatible with faith, is a blow against it — to the extent that, out of fidelity to him, she accepts his claim as sure, she must operate either on the assumption that further evidence will vindicate him, or that he is innocent despite the evidence. But to the extent she operates on one of these assumptions, there is no need to pursue further evidence. Pursuing evidence, therefore, implies abstracting from her faith in him. To pursue evidence because it is possible that further evidence will be even more against him and provide her with enough grounds to withdraw her assent to his claim of innocence means giving that faith a lesser role in her life and relationship with him, and is thereby a weakening of the exercise of that faith. Consequently, if that faith is a good thing, then, having given such faith, she must be more reluctant to seek a greater intellectual resolution of the case by greater evidence than she was before she had given it.

In the act of giving faith, one makes a commitment to the person and his word; if such a commitment is good, and the breaking of such a commitment bad, then the value of that faith is thereby increased. So "believing him, if he is in fact lying" becomes overall less negative than it was prior to giving faith, and "believing him, if he is speaking the truth" becomes overall a greater positive value. Believing makes the possibility that objectively what one believes might be wrong less subjectively relevant, and makes one generally operate on the assumption that what one believes will not be proven false.

These considerations don't give a direct answer to the original questions, but do shed some light on them. If even faith given to persons in individual cases and in a limited respect entails a certain unwillingness (though not an absolute and unqualified unwillingness) to act upon the possibility that one's faith might not correspond to the truth, much more so in the case of religious faith given in relation to God and the whole of one's life.

8 thoughts on “Commitment of Faith”

  1. Certainly thought provoking, and I think, true. Faith in God fortunately is always well-placed, thankfully

  2. If the woman's husband is publicly accused of adultery, her zeal for her husband may lead her to seek evidence that he is innocent. In this case, the very fact that she trusts that he is innocent leads her not to worry about the possibility of coming upon evidence that proves he is guilty, since she thinks that this will not happen.

    At the same time, however, seeking evidence that he is innocent necessarily gives rise to the possibility of coming upon additional evidence that he is not. If this happens, she may end up convinced that he is guilty, not because there was some weakness in her commitment, but precisely because of the strength of the commitment that she had.

    1. That argument seems to suppose that there is a necessary connection between the assurance with which she believes him when he says to be innocent, and the confidence she places in her own faith.

      The consequence of such a connection would be that it is impossible for her to simultaneously hold, based on the assessment of the evidence, "he is probably lying," and at the same time "but I believe him anyway" — would you say that this is, in fact, impossible?

      Again, it would entail treating her faith itself as a piece of evidence utterly independent from all things she assents to based on evidence, without the possibility of a self-reflective consideration of the probability that her faith is mistaken based upon evidence such as the number of the times when her faith turned out to be mistaken.

      This position would seem to imply that faith in the common human sense (leaving aside supernatural faith) is not only motivated by something other than evidence, but entails assent to something false, namely the probability of one's faith being "correct", or corresponding to the truth.

      1. I think it is entirely possible for someone to say, "This is probably false, but I believe it anyway."

        I also do not see how the opposite would be implied by my comment. If that is what she thinks, she will say, "Considering more evidence would probably show that he is guilty. However, I believe that it will show that he is innocent, and on account of that belief I will look for it."

        Obviously being this explicit about the situation is psychologically improbable, but there is nothing impossible about it.

  3. Saying "I believe that it will show that he is innocent" presumes not only belief in him, but faith in her belief, or the belief that evidence will vindicate the truths she believes, or at least the belief that evidence will vindicate this particular truth that she believes.
    But since faith in this case involves the intellect being moved by the will and the good rather than insight into truth, there is no reason, and indeed it is irrational to believe that in general evidence will vindicate the truths I believe more than it will in general vindicate truths that a person believes.

    While it is certainly possible to also hold that evidence will vindicate this particular truth that she believes, why would this belief be particularly linked to the strength of her belief in his innocence?

    If we consider someone who says "the evidence is against him, and probably the evidence will mount in the future — I don't know anything about what the future will bring, and maybe I won't be able to believe him in the future if it is proven beyond reasonable doubt — but as it is, I believe him in spite of the evidence against him," and someone who says "the evidence is against him, but I believe he is innocent, and I believe the evidence will vindicate him in the future", why would you say that the second person has more faith in him than the first?

    Generalized, that seems equivalent to saying that a belief is stronger to the degree that I have a network of beliefs that assimilate that belief to knowledge and reasoned opinions, i.e., to the degree I act as though my belief were not based on the will, but on a secret source of insight that only I had.

    1. I don't think there's anything strange or unusual about saying that someone who believes that the evidence will vindicate someone, has a stronger faith than someone who supposes that it will not, or that there is a good chance that it will not. I think most people would think this is true, and say that people who believe this have a stronger faith. I remember a real life crime story, for example, for a wife was completely convinced that her husband was innocent of a murder which he was accused of, even though she did not have proof, not even proof which would be valid for her (because she was asleep at the time of the alleged event). But her confidence in her husband led her to push the investigation forward for years, even after he was convicted, and in the end she uncovered evidence that got him released. I think most people would say this shows the strength of her faith in her husband.

      People believe for the sake of the good, but one thing that is good is the truth. Now if you believe that something is true, you may have some other good primarily in mind, but you think that you are also getting the good of truth out of this. But the expected value here in terms of the truth, that is, the expected amount of truth, is going to depend on the probability that the thing is actually true according to your knowledge and reasoned opinions. So you will have more motive to believe it, in terms of the truth to be gained, if the probability is higher.

      Again, your principle motivation may not be truth. But everyone cares at least a little about truth, so this will always contribute to a person's motive to believe. And it will contribute more to the belief of someone who has reason to think there is a higher probability. So I do not have a problem with saying that a person tends to have a stronger belief when he has more evidential reasons for it, even though his belief is moved by the will.

      That may be tangential to trust in a person; your belief may be overall stronger, but that does not necessarily imply that your trust is stronger. So the real question is whether the behavior of someone with more trust tends to assimilate itself to the behavior of someone who has more knowledge of the truth of the thing. I think the example of the woman above at least shows that people think it does. And in the lives of the saints, for example, it is considered a sign of great faith if after praying, they act as though they knew that their prayers would be answered, often to the point of asserting that they will be, even though they may not have any special evidence for this, and even though it does not follow logically from the principles of the faith. You cannot explain this by saying that they merely mean that they trust what God is going to do as good for them, if they themselves explain that they trust that God is going to do these particular things.

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