Thursday, March 02, 2017
Harry Emerson Fosdick on Faith
(The first lines in his preface to the book)
The Meaning of Faith
by Harry Emerson Fosdick
When faith in God goes, man the mortal loses his only hope.
Man's nature, like a lighthouse, combines two elements. At the foundation of the beacon all is stone; as one lifts his eyes all is stone still; but at the top is something new and wonderful. It is the thing for which the rock was piled. Its laws are not the laws of stone nor are its ways the same. For while the stolid rock stands fast, this miracle of light with speed incredible hurls itself out across the sea. Two worlds are here, the one cold and stationary, the other full of the marvel and mystery of fire. So man has in him a miracle which he cannot explain; he "feels that he is greater than he knows"; and he never has been able to believe that the mystery of spirit was given him in vain, had no reality from which it came, and no future beyond death.
The finest thing ever said of Columbus is a remark of his own countryman, "The instinct of an unknown continent burned in him." That is the secret of Columbus' greatness. All the arguments by which he attempted to convince doubters were but afterthoughts of this; all the labors by which he endeavored to make good his hopes were but its consequence. And if we ask of man why so universally he has believed in life to come, the answer leaps not superficially from the mind, but out of the basic intuitions of man's life. We know that something is now ours which ought not to die; the instinct of an unknown continent burns in us. But all hopes, the motives, the horizons that immortality has given man must go, if faith in God departs. In a godless world man dies forever.
One, therefore, who is facing loss of faith may not regard it as a light affair. To be sure, some denials of religion, even a Christian must respect.
But some discard religion from their life's adventure with no such serious understanding of the import of their denial. They are pert disbelievers. They toss faith facilely aside in a light mood. Such frivolous sceptics indict their own intelligence. Whoever discards religious faith should appoint a day of mourning for his soul and put on a sackcloth and ashes. He must take from his life the greatest thought that man the thinker ever had, the finest faith that the sinner ever found, the strongest reliance that man the sufferer ever trusted in, the loftiest vision that man the lover ever saw, and the only hope that man the mortal ever had. So he must deny his faith in God. Before one thus leaves himself bereft of the faith that makes life's adventure most worth while he well may do what Carlyle, under the figure of Teufelsdrockh, says that he did in his time of doubt: "In the silent night-watches, still darker in his heart than over sky and earth, he has cast himself before the All-seeing, and with audible prayers cried vehemently for Light."
In memoriam to his mother:
’Tis human fortune’s happiest height to be
A spirit melodious, lucid, poised, and whole;
Second in order of felicity
to have walk’d with such a soul.