Faith (2018) collects former US President Jimmy Carter’s reflections on the nature of faith and its place in our world. What is faith? From where do we get it and how can we keep it, even when doubts arise? Here, President Carter shares what he’s learned about how powerful faith can be.
Faith is linked to all sorts of ideas. Devotion, commitment, allegiance and loyalty are just some of the more common associations. So what does it actually mean?
Well, it’s hard to pin down a precise definition. Faith can mean different things to different people. It all depends on which lens one uses to look at it.
Let’s start with the broad and secular understanding of the concept. Here, faith usually refers to a belief in fundamental values and the institutions that uphold them. Take the United States. The country has a widely agreed upon set of principles expressing its shared values. These are clearly defined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Common principles can also be found at the global level. Think of international agreements ratified by the United Nations. These include the Geneva Convention, which protects the rights of wartime prisoners, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Then there’s the religious understanding of faith. Believers form communities based on common values that provide moral guidance in their members’ lives. The Bible’s Ten Commandments are a good example of what those values can look like in practice.
But there’s also a more personal meaning. We first experience faith as children. We learn to trust our mothers; we believe that they’ll protect and feed us. Later on, we begin to establish faith in our fathers, siblings, friends, teachers and others who are close to us.
The one thing these different interpretations have in common is that they’re not limitless. We can lose faith in things we used to value. Friendships and marriages, for example, can break down when we come to think of them as ill-conceived. The same goes for business deals and other practical arrangements.
Another limit is our own behavior. Our faith is challenged when our actions don’t match our principles. Some people might, for example, believe in the idea of racial equality. But they allow selfishness, pride or envy to cloud their judgment and end up disrespecting their African-American or Hispanic peers.
This raises an interesting question: How did we first acquire faith? In the next blink, we’ll take a closer look at why we start believing in the first place.