The nature of faith

One evening, some weeks ago, as I was walking along Albert Embankment on the way from Westminster to my flat, I began to ponder the meaning of faith (as one does).   It makes a change from thinking what one should have said in the day’s debate rather than what one did say.  Anyway, I ended my journey with the conclusion that I have a morality-based faith rather than a faith-based morality. 



About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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14 Responses to The nature of faith

  1. ladytizzy says:

    Any hints on ground rules? I mean, faith and morality are major touchpapers du jour.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: I rather take the view that as they are my thoughts and my faith, I can thus apply my own definitions! However, what I am getting at is that to me faith has a rational basis. I can explain why something is wrong.

  2. Carl.H says:

    “We like to flatter ourselves with the false claim to a more noble motive; but in fact we can never, even by the strictest examination, completely plumb the depths of the secret incentives of our actions.”

    “There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, except a good will.”


    He also stated one must never lie under any circumstance, to do so would be immoral. Where does that leave our politics and specifically the likes of Nick Clegg ?

    To be a politician of any kind one must have faith, even as a voter one is only doing so in faith. Also in faith that any elected representative be moral. Your personal morality has little to do with havng faith in those terms.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: I agree. My morality is what guides me in what I do. I do not apply it beyond me. (I probably would not be too popular if I did. Prohibition anyone?) Politicians must be judged on the basis of what they do, which is open for public scrutiny and assessment.

  3. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    The real universe is sort of odd compared to whatever image we may have in our heads. In the study of theology mostly but not entirely in Roman Catholic circles and schools the condition in which faith and even God manifests is the condition of our phenomenolgical experience of life. CLearly morality is intended to roder the phenomena of life. It is clear to me that you have a great desire to see whatever good you can “afford” in a profound sense preserved in your society and see faith as a support tothat moral structure which will preserve it. perhaps you are less clear about the mechanics of it al and the fullness– as to what the full ideal is. This post and your next post inspire me to link to what follows but two days of trouble at WordPress have me copying an entire version of a brief review that seems relevant at least to me:

    ” This is a brief review reproduced from my WordPress blog. I have reproduced several of my notes from Facebook there but fewer going back this way. It seemed like a good time to reverse a portion of that flow.

    I am not an objective reviewer here. I also do not have the same exact value placed on objectivity which some critics avow. I read my mother’s second volume of her memoirs Our Family’s Book of Acts: To Love and Serve the Lord (Summerise Media Publication, ISBN 978-0-615-45595-2-5195) which is a sequel to Go! You are Sent. I read the book’s 386 or so page in a very brief time of between two and three hours. Of course I lived many of the events, knew many of the characters, edited one of the early exploratory drafts which has then been edited twice at least before the final putting together of the galleys. This is the Asian edition put together by Noah’s Ark Creations in Singapore. I am not sure when this will be available from an American publisher. There is no large distribution plan in Europe or the Western Hemisphere right now and it is really a small edition.

    Nonetheless, it is a well-written and compelling story presented nicely in an attractive volume. I think it deals with many issues, topics and persons of real interest and importance. I would not expect it to be such a fast read for most people — indeed I plan to read it again when I get the chance. However, it really has a nice flow. Discussing life as a Missionary, being a wife and mother, an intense productive and troubled marriage, the Catholic Church, social stresses around the world and the people who make up her family is a challenge for the book of this length. It does not disappoint the reader and does not waste the reader’s time in pointless searches thought things the reader does not have the time to really grasp or understand. It is in my opinion a good book and well worth the cost in money and time.

    I will try to post a comment or an update on this blog post and elsewhere when plans for North American and European distribution are knwon to me. I am hoping that this post has enough detail to be of some value as it is. However, the book is definitely of some value.”
    The North American version may follow soon it seems as I have seen some licensing papers about. I am puzzled by one thing. It seems that if one searches their soul on matters of faith as you do here– then surely one ought not to lament that the Norton View is not yet read at Christmas Mass as you have. That may be my particular background but it confuses me I dare say.

  4. ladytizzy says:

    Preamble: I should make clear that while I currently don’t believe in God, and have no use for religions, I respect those who have come to their own but different conclusions in such matters. Then, the journey is worthy.

    …faith has a rational basis. I can explain why something is wrong.

    Already in to the heavy stuff. I’m intrigued as to how and why you have arrived to this state of being, and (rightly) upbraid those who provide no evidence in support of a claim against the prevailing wisdom (such as in the drugs debate). Also, your choice in stating your ability to explain why something is wrong rather than why something is right is fascinating.

    John Berger’s Ways of Seeing was an early influence in my life when variously robed ministers were preparing me for my death. Why that book in particular? Nothing sophisticated, just the first time I recognised that a book had asked me to think for myself. Until then, everything had been learned, no knowledge had been applied.

    Faith, for me so far, means stopping the journey.

    • Carl.H says:

      I had a feeling about this one……

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: The simple answer (is so far as there is a simple answer) is that it is result of deep and longstanding reflection; I was merely giving coherence to what I have believed for rather a long time.

      I was focusing on what is wrong for the purpose of determining public policy. I believe in people getting on and doing what they want to do unless they engage in activity that harms others and therefore need to be constrained by law. I believe in people doing what is right, but the role of law is not, with certain exceptions, to prescribe what they should do in this regard.

      • Carl.H says:

        Here we go, ever deeper….

        Without wrong, law is unnecessary or only necessary when the majority or powerful perceive it necessary. Law is unnecessary until it is necessary and law will always maintain it’s own necessity. However the law as we see it is not natural law therefore against mankind making it, unnatural law, necessary.

        “engage in activity that harms others”

        Trading, consumerism, usury, manufacture ? Your mere existence could infact harm others. Infact our modern social fabric is harmful to future generations. Balance is key but the circle will complete nonetheless.

  5. ladytizzy says:

    Carl certainly touches on the wisdom of John Donne’s assertion, “No man is an island…”. The issue of rights v. right is here. Is it too much to ask Parliament to deal with it?

  6. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton, Lady Tizzy and Carl,

    The distinguished American Jurist said Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said two memorable metaphorical things about the law(although one is in a simle). He said the “law is not a brooding presence in the sky” and he said that it is “like a bad man” who care little about things that do not directly affect it and its imediate concerns. While my admiration and docility as regards Holmesian doctrine is quite qualified and limited the sharpness in his analysis is quite clear.

    Faith has ties to questions of a numinous reality or perception, to public morals, to the qualities growing out of religious disciplines and practice. That vast Greek World from India to Spain and Southern germany tothe top of subSaharan Africa has almost been forgotten in the eclipsing intervention of the Roman Empire. This is true even though it emerged as a mighty fragment in the Byzantine Empire and never completely disappeared under Rome. It could not have emerged withou its lawn dances in the moonlight, its faithful study of the sacred Homeric scriptures, its holy Olympic games and delphic prophecies. It could not have matured except for the leavening provided by Buddhists in Alexandria catering to its religious curiosity and its wide distribution of the Septuagint and the Jewish rabbis who taught the seventy books of the Greek translation of the Old Testament to gentiles in one hundred major cities.

    China without the confluence of Buddhism, Taoism and COnfucianism in several centuries is simply not China. The Arabs are peresuaded Islam gave them a leg up I think.

    Faith in its worst forms is a great engine of progress (in the wrong direction) and consevatism (of the worst things) at the same time. One simply deludes oneself to believe the oceans of secularist propaganda matter a hill of beans. Civilization and religious faith are so deeply joined it goes beyond saying. Christ made Rome into something that could give rise to what was good in modern Europe. While Yes, Prime Minister is grand stuff — it will not build what St.Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Handel’s Messiah, Venerable Bede’s lives, the Authorized Version, Wesley’s Method and other things built. Modern secualrism is often merely a case of celebrating the fact that by selling one’s inheritance on adds to cashflow without further analysis.

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