Philosophy of Religion

Chapter 10. A Definition of Religion

The Interrelation of Faith and Hope

Shannon Kincaid, Ph.D.

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College

The City University of New York

At first glance, the relationship between faith and hope might seem obvious.  People that have faith, have hope.  People that have hope, have faith.  Seemingly, a person cannot have one without the other. 

Yet the situation is more complex than that.  Many would argue that (1) they have faith because they need hope.  Others might claim that (2) they have faith precisely because they have hope.  Others might say that (3) people have hope because they need faith.  Still others could argue that (4) people have hope because they have faith.   

(1) seems like a cop-out.  It reads like a bad version of Pascal’s wager.  “I have faith because I need to hope for something.”  This seems a self-serving justification for faith, be it religious or secular.  (3) is almost as bad, and it is really just a inverted reformulation of (1).  Claims (2) and (4) are trickier.  Whether people have faith because they have hope or they have hope because they have faith carves out several subtle distinctions regarding the nature of justified true belief.  Indeed, it seems possible that an incurable optimist might have hope without having faith, and that a fatalist might possess faith without hope. 

In resolving this dilemma, the etymological foundations of the terms “faith” and “hope” are significant.  “Faith” (from the latin fidere – to trust) is typically defined as a belief which expresses confidence in the truth, value, or veracity of something or someone, and is often characterized by an absence of verifiable empirical justification or logical proof.   

There have been many descriptions of faith, be it religious or secular, but it is St. Anselm of Canterbury who captures best the essence of faith.  “I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand, and what is more I believe that ‘unless I do believe I shall not understand’ (Isaiah 7: 9).”  (Proslogion, Opera Omnia 1). 

This sentiment was expressed in the last century by Santayana, who argued that faith lies at the very core of human activity.  For Santayana, like Hume before him, the uncertainties of human existence demanded a commitment to a set of assumptions that, while unprovable, made human action possible.  As Hume demonstrated, we cannot prove that the sun will rise tomorrow, but we act as if it will.  This, for Santayana, was the essence of human faith. 

On these grounds, faith is an expression of a current state of affairs; it represents a belief that actually exists.  Yet hope is different.  It is directed towards the future.  Where faith expresses a fact about the present, hope is directed at a future state of affairs. 

“Hope” (OE hopian – confidence or trust) is an expression of what Husserl called “directed intentionality.”  For Husserl, hope might best be understood as a confident expectation in the achievement of a desired state of affairs, and it was an example of what he called an “anticipated fulfillment of intention.” 

If Husserl and Anselm are right, faith is something you possess in the present moment.  It reflects a desired intention.  Hope is the anticipated fulfillment of that intention; it deals with future states of affairs.  On these grounds, faith is the result of current belief systems as shaped by experience, whereas hope is the product of desiring a future state of affairs.  And while the two are intimately connected, (2) is the best expression of the relationship between faith and hope. One cannot have hope without faith. (4) incorrectly assumes that individual experience and current belief is a necessary and sufficient condition for the realization of intentions.  This entails a premise stating that one can have faith without having hope.  Yet the pessimistic fatalists have the upper hand in this argument when they demonstrate that one can have faith without hope.   

However, one does not have to be an incurable optimist to claim that faith is a sufficient and necessary condition of hope.  When people have hope they have faith, because they hold a belief that says “I believe that the future will be better.”  And while they have no grounds to “prove” the hopeful assumption, they have faith in it.   While faith without hope is possible, hope without faith is not.  Thus faith is not sufficient for hope. 

Some argued that (4) individuals have hope because they have faith.  Such as might have this view are asked to consider that people have faith because they have hope.  That is, consider whether or not children have hope or faith.  Children can have hope (e.g. “give me food” is the directed intention of children), and faith (e.g. “hey, they give me food” is an oft-recurring mental state of children.  A child’s faith in someone as a food-giver can be shaken, even destroyed, by a long absence.  A child might have no realistic “hope” of receiving food, yet it can still believe that it will, somehow.  This is the lesson of the book of Job.  The truest faith often exists in the absence of the fulfillment of directed intention. 

(2) is the best possible choice because it entails the claim that a person can have faith without hope, and that no one can have hope without faith.  So when the claim is made that people have faith because they have hope it is in this sense true:  Faith is a NECESSARY condition for hope: that no one can have hope without faith.  Thus, if there is hope present you know that there is faith present as well. 

Oxygen is necessary for fire.

If you have a fire you know that you have oxygen present.

Oxygen is not sufficient for fire- thank goodness! 

Faith is necessary for hope but faith is NOT SUFFICIENT for hope because you can have faith about a number of things and yet no real hope. 

One can have faith in an afterlife and no hope that one will meet with a desirable state of affairs when arriving there and for all the thereafter.  So faith without hope is possible: hope without faith is not possible. (At least it is not possible for mentally stable people.) 

Hope is always accompanied by faith.

Faith is almost always accompanied by hope- but not always. 

It is a matter of primacy-not temporal but axiological.

 People need to have faith because they need hope.  

And so we have that :

a) it is not the case that (3)  people have hope because they need to have faith.

b) it is not the case that (4) people have hope because they have faith.  Faith is not sufficient for hope. 

c) it is the case that (2) they have faith because they have hope. That is to say that we know that a person who has faith has it because they have hope and they could not have hope without having faith because faith is necessary for hope. 

But what of the case (1) that was dismissed as being what amounts to a “cop out”; namely, that people have faith because they need hope?  Many would argue that (1) people have faith because they need hope.   But that position is not the sort arrived at through some wager ala Pascal. The sort of faith that would be the result of a process of reasoning as is prescribed by Pascal that would not be genuine faith.  C.S. Peirce criticized the sort of doubt that was utilized by Descartes and commended to others as “methodic doubt” as not being genuine.  Peirce termed it “paper doubt”.  In a similar fashion faith arrived at for the sake of providing hope would be a weak faith, perhaps even a “paper faith”.  So, in a prescriptive sense people having faith because people need hope (1) is to be rejected as being a self –serving sort of “cop out” with little intellectual legitimacy.   This would be the case where a person was neutral with regard to faith or possessing no faith at all and is in the process of inquiry to determine what faith, if any, to have.  Such cases seldom, if ever, occur.  In a descriptive sense, however, examining the way in which people approach the review of their faith there is something different that occurs.  People inherit faith (beliefs) and hold beliefs as part of acculturation.  Once possessed of faith in that which provides meaning, value and comfort in the face of death most people will become tenacious with their faith out of fear of losing hope.   The confrontation with existential angst of the terror of one’s absolute end drives many to flee into the comforting arms of faith.  There they can be suckled with hope.  So it is that describing what it is that does occur it can be argued that in fact people have or maintain their faith because they need hope.  They do this when they have or believe that they have no alternative set of beliefs to serve them as their current faith does to provide them with a basis for hope.

Faith is the servant and server of hope.  

Pope BENEDICT XVI confirms the position that faith is for the sake of hope !!!!! See his 2007 ENCYCLICAL LETTER SPE SALVI

None of this is meant to endorse the notion that any sort of faith will be or ought to be accepted.  The content of faith, what one believes, needs to be examined by rational people.  There is much that has been said and will be said about what people have a right to believe and how they ought to arrive at those beliefs.  

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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2005. All Rights reserved.

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