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Is Faith a Virtue?

Updated on December 30, 2013

What is a Virtue?

The tie between what we consider to be virtuous and what we consider to be moral is perhaps the most prominent feature of any working definition of virtue or virtues.

Dictionary.com say;

Virtues-

n. noun

  1. Moral excellence and righteousness; goodness.

  2. An example or kind of moral excellence

Likewise the corollary of this is true; that is to same that the vices that are antithetical to our values pertain to moral paucity. So if we take the moral high ground to be built upon a matrix of virtue then let's examine the classical list of virtues that should elevate us to such a point.

For a list (by no means conclusive but not bad) we'll use; Temperance, Prudence , Courage , Justice, Faith, and Love. If you take even slightly more than a cursory glance at this list of words and perhaps even engage in a mental exercise in which you conjure up a scene in your mind of someone exemplifying each concept, you should notice that one of these words is indeed not like the others.


Odd Man Out

While ill-temperance and impudence may not be antonyms exactly of morals, certainly that which is moral is temperate and also prudent; so there is still an inescapable link here. Courage I could quite easily argue is essential for those actions which we deem to be most moral; I cite civil rights civil disobedience in the 20th century U.S. and Nelson Mandela as examples. As for justice, moral societies are built on using this pragmatic, if not philosophically infantile idea, as a bed rock in building the just state. And in considering love one might seriously entertain the notion that there would be no morality, or at least no prescient creatures practicing it if were not for lives grounded in love of something or someone.

So while I can envision cases in which either these words explicitly or words that connote more extreme versions of these words that are completely not just amoral but immoral, I cannot easily think of situations of exemplary morality that do not involve some or all of these concepts being employed.

I realize I've left out many virtues, but i find they are all subject to this argument

You'll notice I haven't discussed faith yet and that's because I can't envision this connection in either direction, that is morality necesitating faith or faith necessitating morality.

Is faith a Virtue?

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A Better Look At Faith

While I wouldn't deny for a moment that people do moral things and profess that it is because of their faith, I think there is some self-delusion here. While, I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to tell people what their true motivations are, I would ask them to consider the following; What if you had no faith, that is no religious belief, would that some how cheapen your altruistic, charitable, moral actions? Would these acts be less moral or more difficult to perform without faith? I don't think a very strong case can be made that this is the case. And so we've disconnected faith from preceding morality. Now let's look at the inverse connection, that is morality preceding faith.

The hypothesis that morality in no way leads to or of necessity involves a religious faith seems so plainly obvious as to leave one bereft of a desire to even make the argument; but i'll try.

Consider secular charitable organizers; Doctor's without Border, Medicine de Frontier, The U.N.'s Childrens' Fund, Amnesty International just to name a few. Do you suppose that the equally satisfying and at least equally moral work (I say at least, because they do there charitable work without proselytizing) done by volunteers in these groups has been accompanied by a conversion among them to a particular theism. I have no study to cite saying no, but i hardly think anyone would waste their time on doing one.

So if we encounter a disconnect between morality and faith, and I don't know how to take, "faith," as anything other than religious faith. Otherwise we are merely talking about propositions that are likely probable, based on evidence, and really just playing word games. And if we define virtue as that which is moral then what place does faith have in a classical list of virtues?

I'd welcome discussion and comments.

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    • The Agnostic profile image

      The Agnostic 

      4 years ago

      This is a thought provoking article. I think that faith, particularly blind faith, can be the exact opposite of a virtue. Blind faith does not allow for reasonable criticism. Faith can easily be used for evil. This is particularly true in more extreme faiths like Islam. Religions that condone any belief in martyrdom can be harmful. This can be seen in suicide bombers who prescribe to "extreme" Islam practice. Faith can be harnessed for good and evil.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      This is a very interesting topic to discuss. Being someone of a non-Abrahamic religion, I do believe that faith and morality can go hand in hand, or be mutually exclusive. I don't think you need faith to have virtues; but I certainly think faith can motivate people to aspire to virtuous behavior. On the flip side, there are many people of faith who seem to have more vices than virtues, so I don't take it as faith making it automatic. Very thought provoking concepts here, good hub.

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