January 23, 2008


Lately El Cabrero has been thinking about the nature of faith, which is an aspect of life for anyone even if one doesn't profess any religion. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

As mentioned before, the great 20th century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich has some interesting things to say about it in his 1957 book The Dynamics of Faith. To recap, here are some things he says faith is not: dogmas subscribed to, intellectual assent, an act of will, something that happens when emotions are manipulated.

Instead, faith is about the things that ultimately concern a person, whatever that may be. It can be positive or destructive. When things like money, power, nation, creed, ideology, etc. are ultimate concerns, the results are idolatrous and demonic.

Even a good religion or worldview can become idolatrous and destructive when it is regarded as the ultimate itself rather than as pointing to the ultimate. Another way of putting that would be to say that when we treat a symbol of a thing as the thing itself, there are problems.

For Tillich, faith is mediated by symbols:

Man's ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.

Symbols are like and unlike signs. Both point beyond themselves to some kind of meaning. Signs can include anything from traffic lights to letters and numbers which have a conventional meaning. Symbols have several unique characteristics according to Tillich:

*A symbol participates in that to which it points. He uses the example of a nation's flag, which is more than cloth for people who honor it.

*Symbols open up "levels of reality which otherwise are closed for us." For example, pictures or poetry can reveal more about a given subject than any amount of statistics.

*Symbols can open up elements of ourselves that we wouldn't otherwise realize. If we really encounter Dante's Divine Comedy or Hamlet, it can open up aspects of ourselves:

There are within us dimensions of which we cannot become aware except through symbols, as melodies and rhythms in music.

*Symbols can't be manufactured to order. They have to grow out of the conscious and unconscious depths of our being.

*Symbols grow and sometimes die:

They grow when the situation is ripe for them, and they die when the situation changes. The symbol of the "king" grew in a special period of history,and it died in most parts of the world in our period. Symbols do not grow because people are longing for them, and they do not die because of scientific or practical criticism. They die because they can no longer produce response in the group where they originally found expression.

Next time: religious symbols and myths.

A NEW SHORT COST OF WAR VIDEO from AFSC is now at YouTube. Check it out and pass it on.

HEALTH CARE. Here's an interesting item about what's being left out of the health care debate.

IT'S ABOUT JOBS. Here's an interesting item on the need for a job creation policy by historian Frank Stricker, author of Why America Lost the War on Poverty and How to Win It.

MORE ON SOCIAL CAPITAL from Bowling Alone author Robert Putnam is here.

IN LIEU OF SOCIAL CAPITAL, is your pet smart or are you just lonely? According to Nicholas Epley, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business

When people lack a sense of connection with other people, they are more likely to see their pets, gadgets or gods as human-like.




Anonymous said...

Yay, Counting Crows! My sacramental theology professors weren't too fond of us playing loose with signs and symbols...especially since the RC church likes to invest "signs" with the level of meaning that Tillich ascribes to "symbols." Just to show that the Romans are different, and therefore the ONE TRUE CHURCH.


El Cabrero said...

Counting Crows were one of the coolest parts of the 90s.

Re: signs and symbols. It goes back to the whole finger pointing at the moon thing. Finger is not moon.

Thanks, Chrissie!

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