faith, hope, and love :: opposites

Thanks to Ken, Ryan, and Tim for their answers, here’s my poke at the question. Of course comments are still welcome; I can’t pretend to have the final word.

The opposite of faith is idolatry

There is no opposite to faith in the sense of an total absence of it (so says Ryan), but there is an opposite in the sense that faith can be, and often is, misplaced. “Idolatry” is a word both tired out by misuse and loaded with cultic connotations, so perhaps it’s not the best one for this context. But I use it advisedly to suggest that the opposite of faith is to put foundational trust in something other than God. Most often these days (as Tim and Ken suggest in different ways) that takes the form of placing foundational trust in my knowledge and my experience, so that in our context, another opposite for faith might be pride.

The opposite of hope is resignation…

…because hope is something active, something that dies when it is not practiced. The hope of salvation then, is not the reassurance that I’ve got a cloud with my name on it, but rather reconciliation between enemies, the inclusion of the marginalized, the provision of daily bread—the embodiment of Jesus Christ in the present. Resignation is the mark of someone subject to fate. Hope is the fruit that grows in someone who prays in God’s name.

The opposite of love is fear:

I was going to say indifference, but I think that Tim’s answer gets even more radically at the source of indifference. To love means to commit oneself and one’s resources in openness to another. We are often indifferent because we fear, and perhaps rightly so, for a lack of time, a lack of resources, a lack of energy. We are indifferent because we project scarcity. The word “love” in Christian circles is often conjoined to the modifier “self-giving” which of course calls to mind the most basic definition of love that Christians can know—the cross. And, precisely there in the cross, faith, hope, and love hold together.

the ‘makeshift and incoherent life’ of tinkerers

Over lunch (triple-decker peanut butter and jelly, to be precise), I ran across a paragraph that reminded me of an ongoing conversation with a good friend:  

“The central image the Wuthnow uses to describe twenty- and thirty- somethings, when it comes to life generally and religion specifically, is ‘tinkering.’ They are, he says, ‘a generation of tinkerers.’ These are a people who pragmatically piece together a jumble of disconnected and sometimes contradictory bits of belief and practice as they—supposedly autonomous individuals—see fit. Tinkering, Wuthnow argues, is a style or habit or strategy driven ultimately by the many economic and cultural uncertainties that characterize American society in recent decades. Tinkerers are resourceful and adaptable but also often live makeshift and less than fully coherent lives.” [1]

Tinkering already assumes the disjunction of trust and truth. Trust is an impossibility in the tinkering life because truth is always something that I (a tinkerer) possess or assemble myself, truth is always contained within my own experience, and therefore there is no room for trust. If trust becomes a truth, it is appropriated as a subjective feeling of dependence, rather than as submission or obedience. Tinkering is a way to remain self-contained, self-controlled, and self-directed. Like every Babel, it tends toward confusion and fragmentation—and leaves every tinkerer alone.

This is the spiritual expression of the American Dream, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the capitalist manifesto—work hard and don’t let anyone tell you what to choose. You can make it!

This deep in history, there seems to be something of the tinkerer in every theologian, but the best theologians self-consciously work within a tradition. Christian theology is born out of the depths of prayer, not out of a sense that it would be nice to have a habit of praying, or that praying might make me a deeper and more sensitive person. This means that Christian theology already presupposes trust as its resting point, the precarious stance from which the whole gospel is proclaimed.

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[1] Christian Smith, “An Unbooming Business: Review of After the Baby Boomers by Robert Wuthnow [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007]” First Things, no. 179 (Jan 2008): 50.