I don’t think the greatest enemy of monotheism is atheism, agnosticism, polytheism, dualism, or pantheism: It is bad monotheism, monotheism carried out in bad faith.

Yes! “Bad faith” is NOT a virtue even in our very freedom-loving society. Promises are to be kept, contracts fulfilled, responsibilities exercised “in good faith.” It’s actually a legal requirement, though often unenforceable.

And it applies very much to religious faith and behavior. As Scripture says, “the name of God is blasphemed among the unbelievers because of you.” We have a huge problem with that in America today. The self-worshiping, self-promoting, angry, dishonest, power-grubbing behavior that passes for “faith” in public life today is repulsive to true believers and unbelievers alike. Surely it is bad faith. And surely it constitutes “taking God’s name in vain.”

The first chapter in Brian McLaren’s Finding Faith: A Self-Discovery Guide for Your Spiritual Quest is devoted largely to distinguishing between “good faith” and “bad faith”. In it he tries to determine what sensible people mean when they say things like, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere,” and comes up with this:

I think these people realize something quite profound: “Right faith that isn’t good faith isn’t really right faith.” (Faith that believes true things, but does so in an ugly or inappropriate way, isn’t justified just because it is conceptually correct.) They might even be going further: “I would rather have a wrong faith that is good than a right faith that is bad.” (I would rather hold some inaccurate beliefs with a good heart, so to speak, than be accurate in all the details and yet have the wrong approach, the wrong attitude.)

He then asks a logical next question:

… wouldn’t people with good faith come, over time, to have an increasingly accurate faith? … isn’t the goal of a right faith best served by concentrating hard on a good faith?

Many people who are rejecting faith

are rejecting “bad” faith. They have decided that the operating system they inherited or installed is “no good.” It doesn’t work for them. Maybe it can’t account for the data presented by real life. Maybe it doesn’t make its adherents into better people. Maybe it is too complicated to be useful. Maybe long-term it is too boring or depressing to be livable. For these and other reasons, people often “lose faith,” meaning they discard their version of faith.

Then McLaren lists descriptors, eight for “Bad Faith” and seven for “Good Faith” – I wonder what you think of these. (I guess if you want to read his description of each, you’ll have to find a copy of the book.)

BAD FAITH DESCRIPTORS

  1. Bad faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.
  2. Bad faith is based on pressure or coercion.
  3. Bad faith is often the result of a psychological need for belonging.
  4. Bad faith appeals to self-interest and base motives.
  5. Bad faith is arrogant and unteachable.
  6. Bad faith is dishonest.
  7. Bad faith is apathetic … if my faith produces no action, it cannot be good faith… Sometimes this lack of action is covered by a surplus of talk … Sometimes people substitute the active life of faith with the fascinating lore of faith …
  8. Bad faith is a step backward….A faith that makes me less loving, mature, wise, alive, or responsible sounds to me like bad faith….Healthy people don’t step backward or down; they only step forward or up. This insight explains both why some people leave faith and others accept it; in either case, their move into or out of faith is perceived by them as a step UP.

GOOD FAITH DESCRIPTORS

  1. Good faith is humble, teachable, and inquisitive.
  2. Good faith is grateful.
  3. Good faith is honest.
  4. Good faith is communal.
  5. Good faith is active.
  6. Good faith is tough.
  7. Good faith is relational.

Well, what do you think? Is that a helpful list? Did he include things that shouldn’t be there? Did he leave out something you would have included?


coverBrian McLaren:
Finding Faith: A Self-discovery Guide for your Spiritual Quest

A Christian minister (in Maryland), but not out to tell you what to believe – he treats what believing is, good and bad faith, problems and benefits of affiliation with a church, ways to experience God, etc. Very useful.