The opposite of faith?

++Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has made this bold statement.

Twice now I’ve seen people respond to this with the aphorism (without proper attribution to Paul Tillich’s “Dynamics of Faith”), “the opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty.”

Not only without attribution, but without explanation.  And to say such a thing without explanation as a response to the Archbishop’s statement (he is a good churchman, but not much of a theologian in my view), is A Bad Thing.

Be a little intelligent about this, mes amis, a little thoughtful, a little logical. Because you get into trouble if you don’t.


The only certainty in the world is Jesus Christ.
The opposite of faith is certainty.
Therefore, the opposite of faith is Jesus Christ.

Mes cheris, I have not even had any caffeine this morning, and I, a washed-up and burnt-out former theologian can make this connection. Don’t think by quoting (without attribution) Tillich, you look so smart and holy. Because you’ve just undermined faith.

Jesus Christ is no certainty, at least not in my experience.  Jesus Christ is about faith, and faith means risk–not certainty.  It means the very real possibility of losing everything, being badly hurt, let down, disappointed.

It may not be Jesus Christ who directly hurts, damages, disappoints, but rather the people who claim to be his representatives.  There’s a meme currently running around Facebook to the effect of “If you’ve lost faith in the church, you haven’t lost faith in God, but you’ve lost faith in people”.  Which is a nice, smarmy little bit of victim-blaming:  it’s the fault of the person who’s been hurt, rather than the fault of the people who have done the hurting.  The hurt person has idolized people and an institution.  It’s convenient to dismiss the notion of the people who have done the damage claim to be the earthly representatives of the God in whom faith has been lost.

Talking about Jesus Christ as “certainty” undermines the work of the church, because when the promises of “certainty” are not fulfilled in a timely manner, people decied they have been on the receiving end of a deception.  When people believe they have been deceived, they leave whatever person or organization has lied to them.

Calling Jesus Christ a “certainty” means every attempt at evangelization is a lie.  Asking church people to participate in this damages the church.

Is this really desirable?

One thought on “The opposite of faith?

  1. I agree with much of that, Wendy.

    You say you think Justin Welby is not much of a theologian. I would have been less kind, although the sermon you point to is far from his worst.

    To start a sermon on the claim that “The only certainty in the world is Jesus Christ” instantly fails theologically and philosophically.

    By “world”, in theology, I always mean Kosmos (and expect other theologians to do the same), or what we now call the Cosmos, with perhaps 170 billion galaxies each with potentially billions of Earth-like ‘worlds’, whereas to the Church until the 17th century, The WORLD was one solid and fixed Earth (on pillars), with the ethereal heavens ‘above’ and the underworld below.

    One could never look up at the night sky, with the knowledge we moderns have of the Cosmos, and say the only certain thing in it is a Jew called Joshua (or “Jesus” in Greek) who was the Messiah (“Christ” in Greek).

    A more intellectually honest statement I think would be to say something like, “I have faith (trust) that the Creator of all this is bringing mankind on Earth into Kingdom, a process that ‘He’ started on Earth a mere few thousand years ago, through the People Israel and their messianic king called Joshua”.

    And from this statement of faith there are, obviously, all kinds of uncertainties, such as what did/does “Israel” mean? And are the great eschatological promises fully realised, or inaugurated (and partly realised)? Everything about the meaning, or the many meanings, of Jesus is uncertain.

    Obviously, if the god of Welby’s world is not the Kosmos of God, Creator of the Kosmos, then he’s likely to say anything. But if the god of a religion is not the same as God of Nature it is a poor religion indeed.

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