What does it mean to have faith? We sometimes seem to think that the phrase “blind faith” is redundant and that faith is the refuge of the small and narrow-minded, the naive. Making this mistake, we claim that we have gone beyond faith and depend instead on reason. But to go beyond faith is, I think, to give up on life and leads to despair. A life without faith is as unthinkable as a life without hope, without love, and without meaning.
I first began thinking about this when I noticed something I thought very interesting. The word faith comes from a Latin word, the word fides, and fides means trust. Faith is trust! And it is not just any old trust. Faith is a trust that is foundational, essential. Faith is the trust upon which we build our lives. Faith is the trust upon which we ground our ability to keep moving toward those ideals that call us so powerfully and give constant shape and purpose to our living. Faith is the trust without which love dissolves into lust, and then descends into manipulation, and eventually disappears into isolation and depression. And faith is also the heart of worship.
Worship is not blind adoration; it is the opening of the heart to the values and hopes and purpose that lie at the foundation of our ability to transform ourselves from nothing but rather interesting biological entities into human beings. It is the trust embodied in faith that opens the door of the heart and allows us to feel those values and grasp those hopes and embrace that purpose. Faith, then, is what creates worship, and true worship requires that we put aside the superficial, the mere, the artificial and pretense-laden, and stand in the otherwise blinding light of the truth of our infinite lives. How can we do this without a deep and abiding trust; how can we do this without faith?
Part of the genius of Unitarian Universalism is that it is not built on a system of belief. We do not say that you will be saved and healed from the brokenness of your life only if you believe the right thing. Ours is not an orthodox religion. Nor is our religion built on a program of actions and doings. We do not say that you will be saved and healed only if your pray in this way or do these things. Ours is not what is sometimes called an orthopractic religion. Our religion is different. It is not about either believing or doing. It is about being.
Our religion is built on faith, on a trust that carries us to the deepest places of the heart and soul where we discover the worth and dignity that we hold in common. The name of that commonality is interdependence. Ours is an orthfideic religion, if I may create a word. And our worship is based in faith and directed toward the uncovering of an interdependent worth and dignity.
In the Zulu language this interdependent worth and dignity is called ubuntu. Ubuntu is what reveals and releases the humanity that is otherwise locked in the heart. The discovery of ubuntu, of the humanity that we hold in common, is possible only where there is the deep trust of faith. It is practiced in acts of worship that we engage daily and which reaches its perfection on Sunday mornings.
Faith, trust, and worship then. These three abide, for they are but three names for the same thing expressed in different modes. Without them humanity dissolves into selfishness, suspicion, and isolation. With them our humanity blossoms into compassion, empathy, and love. wWithout them we are just biology. With them we become human beings.