09 April 2013

Is Faith opposed to Charity?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I shall be thankful if you can clarify the following. Does dogmatic faith in any way promote Christian charity? Reading Luke's parable of the good Samaritan I get a feeling that Jesus was primarily concerned with charity and less with faith. 

In the parable we find two persons who are given credentials of faith-- one is a priest and the other a Levite. Both however are personifications of inhuman callousness and exclusiveness.The Samaritan on the other hand has neither faith nor dogma(Jesus does not even mention whether he is a believer or not).Samaritan however has a human element and conscience that is responsive to the sufferings of others. I am inclined to believe that the more one thinks of faith , the more exclusive one becomes. Moreover the more emphasis church gives to dogmatic faith, the more it thinks of organisational cohesiveness, organisational uniformity,preservation of hierarchy and less about Jesus Christ who always thought of the human element.From what I have read about church history ,I feel that whenever the Church was concerned with dogma and faith there were instances of excesses at times lapsing into drastic inhuman measures like forced conversions ,inquisition and burning at the stakes.

So the question is , don't you think that the terms faith and charity pull in opposite directions making a Christian feel rather uncomfortable - faith pulls towards exclusiveness, rigidity,blind loyalty to the dogma and organisation hampering concern for individuals; and charity pulls towards inclusiveness ,concern for the feelings of others and universal philanthropy that transcends organisations and beliefs. I had asked a few questions in the past and received very convincing replies from you. Hence this question.]]

Interesting question. Thanks for sending it on to me. You use the term "dogmatic faith" by which I think you mean faith in doctrine or dogma and you contrast that with charity. You then conclude that Jesus was about charity but not faith when in fact I think you mean Jesus fostered love and was unconcerned with dogma or doctrine. You also link concern with doctrine or dogma with inhuman abuses (which you call faith) and note that charity seems to pull in the opposite direction. My problem here is that the way you are using the term "faith" is neither Biblical nor theologically rich enough; it is far too narrow a notion to call "faith" and might better be called belief. (Thus, though this is both necessarily and unfortunately a bit too simplistic, you might consider that we believe in content --- which doctrines and dogmas are ---  while we have faith in persons or living realities like God, or friends.)

It seems to me that narrowing the term in the way you have so that it refers only to adherence to or concern with doctrine is precisely the problem you want to avoid, and precisely the reason there have been problems in the history of faith like those you mention. Instead you need to recover a broader, richer, and more Scriptural sense of the term faith --- a sense which includes appropriate honoring of content (which we call doctrine and dogma) while not making that the be all and end all of the reality of faith. (Doctrine and dogma have a place in mature faith, but dogmatism and all that goes with that does not!)

The most fundamental meaning of the term faith is a responsive (or obedient) trust. (cf Rom 10:11, Phil 1:29, Gal 2:16) To have faith means to entrust oneself to another. Once one has done that a number of things will happen. If the person (or God) is worthy of that trust we will find that we become more fully human, that we grow in our capacity to love others without condition, that we become holier people (another way of saying the previous two things), etc. We become persons of confidence, courage and hope, marked by that person's affect on us in light of our having entrusted ourselves to them. Remember all the times in the Gospels that we hear Jesus saying to someone who trusted him, "Go, your faith has made you whole, " or something similar. Thus, far from being antithetical to charity, faith leads directly TO charity. It empowers love as the other person's love moves us beyond ourselves and out to others (or back to community which illness, etc may have deprived us of). In other words faith creates the capacity for community; it does not, when genuine, lead to exclusivism. Similarly it leads to the capacity for compassion precisely because when faith is well-founded it leads to the situation of being loved and loving; compassion is never exclusionary.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan those who fail in compassion are not seen as men of genuine faith --- though they hold fast to the letter of the law; the Good Samaritan, who falls outside the Law and is despised by men of the law, is one who fulfills the law more fully than either of the others. He is a man who trusts God and acts out of that trust. He is capable of real compassion and freedom to do other (and more) than the letter of the law calls for because of his relationship with God (I argue this is implicit in the parable). In some ways authentic faith means putting people before principles and that is what we hear in this parable. It is a classic law vs gospel text.

Finally, faith (and here I mean faith in God, faith in its most proper sense) will have other dimensions including the doctrinal because faith has a content. (If I trust and love God I am going to believe certain things about God.) It is a complex reality which rightly affects and involves every part of the human being (heart, mind, will, etc) at the same time in what Tillich calls "a centered act" of the whole person. It is for that reason we have seen problems in the history of the Church whenever one dimension of this reality is cut off from or given a mistaken priority over other dimensions --- something which is inappropriate both to faith itself and to the one called to have faith. Still, the bottom line, it seems to me, is that we are called to have faith IN God as well as believing all kinds of things ABOUT God. This faith (responsive trust) IN God is more foundational than beliefs ABOUT God --- even when the doctrinal part of things comes first in our experience. (That is, we are usually taught things ABOUT God before we are introduced to the idea of entrusting ourselves TO this God and  this is often done in order to induce us to or otherwise justify such trust --- but entrusting ourselves is more foundational for a life of authentic humanity or faith.

I hope this is helpful.