Reflection paper for Paul Tillich’s “Dynamics of Faith”
Answers the Discussion Questions # 1, 2, 3, 5, and 11
Before we raise the curtain for the reflection of “faith”, I believe we must start from defining what faith is based on the writings of Paul Tillich. Every living being, according to Tillich, has “concerns”. However, humans, different from other species, has “spiritual concerns”. When a spiritual concern becomes “vital” in one’s life, “ultimacy” is claimed by the concern. This is where unconditional demand or total surrender is required for those who are ultimately concerned, but of course, promise of ultimate fulfillment comes simultaneously. Eventually, one’s spiritual concern is transformed into one’s faith.
Here, we must stop for a moment and question whether faith is always “religious” as majority of people regards so. I trust that the answer greatly depends on how we conceptualize “religion”. In case of Christianity, nowhere in the bible, if I recollect correctly, does God describes his words or the gospel with the term “religion”. Therefore, the word “religion” might have been created by mankind in order to categorize communities that believe in ultimate beings. There is a sense of irreverence, nonetheless, in this attempt to classify believers’ content of faith, because this one and only “truth” of these faithful ones is degraded into merely one of the myriad possibilities of human knowledge. Hence, those who noticed this logic may restrain from considering faith as a “religion”- a category, and apply the word “truth” instead.
After briefly understanding what faith is, we must wonder how faith relates to our lives. Tillich states that faith is a “centering act” that holds the characteristic of “total personality” in which both conscious and unconscious qualities of Man must function together. A historically renowned philosopher, Rene Descartes, once said: I think, therefore I am. This axiom tells us that one recognizes the “self” because one “thinks”. Indeed, the perceiving of the “self” is sine qua non for a being to be qualified as an individual. Then is “thought” the root of our presence? Isn’t “thought” also an element that is governed by the laws of cause and effect? Where, then, does thought bloom from? Why do we ask “who am I?”, and how do we acquire the answer?
Picture a man born in a world where no other being exists. Is there a necessity for the man to think who he himself is? Even if he did so, how, from where and who can he get the answer? This hypothetical scenario leads to one significant conclusion: one can only develop the sense of the “self” only when one encounters the “other”.
Then again, we must conjure up the very first being who recognized the “self” without the “other”. And naturally we will acknowledge that this being is of a wholly different dimension- the perfect, the eternal, and the only one. Continuing the logic, I assume that with the guide of this ultimate being, the very first Man cultivated a sense of the “self”. In other words, this ultimate being is our root, origin, or perhaps creator!
This is where the “unconsciousness” awakes. Our “instinct” stretches out to our root, and our “emotion” yearns for this parent of our soul. And we must nod our head to the fact that this process can only seem “irrational” to us, since we are finite beings, who can neither conquer time and death nor can comprehend the being of infinite. (Maybe this unfathomable aspect of the ultimate being is why some critics claim fear as the source of faith. Certainly, there is a degree of “fear”, but “reverence” emerges as well, and later on, the two sums up into “awe”.)
Next stage is where the “consciousness” works. We consciously determine to search for this ultimate being whom we unconsciously long for. Now we have our spiritual concern, and our rationality or ability to reason supports us in deciding direction and approach for this goal. Personally, I view this process as the freedom of will. “Faith” is successfully built in the end, and we mustn’t forget that the gears of consciousness and unconsciousness spin jointly.
Hitherto, we have mainly contemplated on “faith” itself, and from this point on, I wish to give my responses to the criticisms against “faith”, especially religious ones, as one of the persons of Christian faith. My idea to the argument accusing faith as irrational is already above, so please allow me to proceed with my reply to the indictment against faith as “totalitarian”.
First of all, in my perspective, the best form of a government is dictatorship by a strong and righteous leader. Truly, good leaders can be elected in Democracy, and surely a sense of fairplay lies there, since the public is granted with the right to vote for preferred candidates. But oftentimes commoners are swayed by political strategies that deliberately misrepresent information that must be open to the citizens. In addition, even if by chance, a capable leader is elected, he or she may not sit on the chair of the president during the next election. This is the limit of Democracy, and reason why I consider Democracy as a “provisional” solution. Christianity, on the other side of the coin, represents dictatorship by the omnipotent God, but promises eternal peace in exchange. What I want to express is that a totalitarian rule can be a serious issue for criticism if the rulers are immoral or incompetent, but if a powerful leader is sincerely willing to act for justice, I don’t see why we should struggle? Is the term dictatorship always and absolutely bad? We loathe dictatorship primarily because we think our liberty is being threatened, but the whole point of dictatorship is that the king decides everything, and if the king is convinced of his people’s freedom, then that’s what dictatorship becomes. Dictatorship forms its shape depending on the leader.
Now, my counter argument is that the critics of religious faith should bring other solutions for the persons of faith besides the ultimate being. Can man be a substitute of God? God’s nature, in my eyes, is the “eternal responsibility as a savior”. But Man can be a savior as well. A kind-hearted person with wealth and dignified social status may use his or her power to save hundreds or thousands of people who are suffering from poverty, disease, or war and so on. Can this person, nevertheless, continue this action of saving the weak indefinitely? Can Man, no matter how powerful, remember or know the names of all those who were forgotten in the past? Can one empathize with all the sufferings and deaths of those not recorded in history and console their souls, assuring them that there is eternal life and happiness waiting for them beyond the realm of physical death? How about the future? Can a person foretell and protect all those who may suffer in the following eras? Can a human even transcend present, past, and future? Even now, someone is suffering somewhere, but I can do nothing for him or her. This is not a mission that a finite being can take responsibility for. The belief in the ultimate being, God, is a genuine hope that one day all the miseries and grievances will be brought to an end. This doesn’t mean that persons of faith should just wait until the judgment day advents. If one is truly concerned for the tragedies of societies, then one will, along with faith, do whatever one can do with given strength to become beacons for those who are in the dark.
Moreover, Man is not “eternal”. Many books and films talk confidently that Man’s potential is limitless. This is logically erroneous. I am alpha and omega is how Yahweh described himself, which means that for the eternal being a beginning and an end is equal, or perhaps the more appropriate word is “coexistent”. God exists outside the timeline; the arrows of a line extending towards two directions, the beginning and the end, are infinite while we mortals have an undeniable starting point. Then, we are destined to meet our end someday. Again, “eternal” means not only “no end” but also “no beginning”, which makes no difference between a beginning and an end. Since we have a beginning, we have an end. So, if faith is put on a finite being or system, it is more of an “idolatry faith” rather than a “true faith”. And most of the times, deceived followers will experience “existential disappointment”, as Tillich stated, for the ultimate promise was not kept.
Overall, I believe that “true faith” is a hope and belief for the bright future, there is loyalty, fear, and reverence, but there is also love. And it is rational that this is irrational, and it may be totalitarian but a good one. Thank you!