Faith and Humility

Sunday, December 20, 2020
First Aired: 
Sunday, May 6, 2018

What Is It

Some would argue that faith requires that one blindly—rather than rationally— believe. Faith in one ‘true’ religion often entails rejection of all others. Given this, can there ever be humility when it comes to religious faith? How unwavering should the faithful be when it comes to their religious convictions, attitudes, and actions? Should we encourage religious humility, or would it taint the very concept of faith? Can religious faith and intellectual humility ever be reconciled? The Philosophers humbly believe in talking to Joshua Hook from the University of North Texas, co-author of Cultural Humility: Engaging Diverse Identities in Therapy.

Part of a six-part series on Intellectual Humility.

Listening Notes

Ken and Debra begin the show by debating whether there is an inherent conflict between faith and humility. Ken brings up Soren Kierkegaard’s understanding of the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, and how Kierkegaard saw this story as exemplative of the distinction between genuine faith and fake faith. Debra cautions that the standard that Kierkegaard held faith to can be disastrous for other people and their rights.

Guest Joshua Hook, professor of psychology at the University of North Texas, joins the show. He maintains that although humans have an inherent desire to believe in things that they believe to be true, atheists and theists alike can still maintain humility with respect to their own and others’ beliefs. The philosophers and Joshua discuss this topic among other things — including Abraham Lincoln’s convictions around slavery, whether believers ought to become less dogmatic for theists and atheists to get along better, and whether skepticism of every belief that one has and humility are one and the same. Joshua provides a helpful distinction between two kinds of humility: personal and relational humility.

One caller reminds the philosophers that we can view science and religion alike as witnesses to phenomena, just as Jesus is a “witness to humanity” and science is a witness to natural phenomena. Similarly, Joshua emphasizes the importance of getting in the habit of maintaining self-awareness and practicing engaging in conversations with people who have opposing views for atheists and theists alike. Debra asks Joshua if he believes that people can engage in these conversations yet reject humility all the same, and the philosophers conclude the show by discussing other ways in which mutual humility between people of differing persuasions can be achieved.

Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 7:04) → Liza Veale interviews former Evangelical and now atheist Chris Stedman, who works toward facilitating interfaith dialogue between theists and atheists. A member of the LGBTQ community as well, Stedman reflects on how he found support for his identity unexpectedly through a progressive Christian church.

Sixty-Second Philosopher (seek to 45:35) → Ian Shoales wonders if the 2016 election was a backlash to humility and distinguishes between humility and false modesty through the example of Columbo, a fictional TV homicide detective who gets criminals to confess their crimes with his unassuming demeanor.

Comments (6)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, May 4, 2018 -- 11:53 AM

Religions, (or more

Religions, (or more theographically, faiths) tend to adopt the ONE TRUE WAY approach, as a function of how much faith their adherents profess, that is: the larger the aggregate congregation, the greater their level of confidence, or some might say, the greater their dogmatism (or more secularly, pride-of-authorship). Now, then again, we have a relatively new pope who has made some pronouncements which may have given his churchmen and/or women heartburn. Of course, it is only one church. But it has a pretty large and loyal following. The question raised concerning intellectual humility and religious faith is more interesting to me. These two states of consciousness seem to be irreconcilable. They are, as a practical matter, separate domains, with separate realities. And, moreover, they appear factually unrelated to each other, and therefore, in no need of reconciliation. Dr. Hook's book sounds interesting, until one reads the final two words of the title, which may beg the question: Just who among the diverse identities are in therapy, the intellectuals, or the faithful?

I apologize for 'theographically'. It is just that I cannot compare religions to faiths with any level of comfort. Theology begins with belief(s) associated with the existence, and recognition, of a supreme being. Usually these belief systems at first label themselves as faiths. Over time and cultural change, faiths tend to be transformed into religions---and therewith, things get lost in translation. In other words, faith begins within the hearts of a few and is transformed by the intentions of a multitude. These transformations I have seen for myself

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Saturday, December 19, 2020 -- 8:18 PM

Certainly it is possible to

Certainly it is possible to have faith and humility. But not all flavors of faith allow this. Some are non compromising with respect to belief and openly intolerant to other faiths. This was the flavor discussed here for the most part.

I join the caller who felt the discussion too Abrahamic. Then bringing Lincoln in was distracting. Humility can itself be a tenet of faith. Joshua Hook's Lutheran mentors who encouraged him to find his own truth are an example.

The use of the term 'lens' is loaded. Dr. Hook used that multiple times. There is nothing visual about faith or humility in any context. Using models and words like this is careless and unhelpful.

World view is constructed - if we disagree on that well that is a different show. Joshua got a bit into that when he brushed on scripture and culture. Construction itself negates any definite borders between faith and humility.

Science is a faith. It legitimates our world. Too many proponents of science decry religious truth without really offering up their own faith in data and Occam's razor. These "scientists" are the least humble and uncompromising in my experience.

This was a fairly light show... I'm not sure if I got any progress from it. Personal and relational humility are meaningless in a world of social animals like human beings.

I miss Harold... it is good to see his comments on these repeat shows. For years his straight up comments, almost always immediate were personal and searching. RIP Harold.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, February 28, 2021 -- 5:39 AM

Gone, but not forgotten?

Gone, but not forgotten? Thanks for the kind words, Tim. My reading and writing have kept me busy this past year. They have also helped my sanity. I think. Whenever I consider the matters of faith and religion, i remember John Dewey. In one of his works---possibly, How We Think---Dewey said beliefs were 'personal affairs', personal affairs were 'adventures' and adventures were ' shady'. I think he was not far wrong in this assessment. Thing is, beliefs, even faith, can change over time and world wear.
The late Chris Hitchens said religion poisons everything. Well, it can if its' faithful allow that to transpire.. Faithful folks have to take good with bad. That is a hard road, at best. Best to all @ Philosophy Talk and thanks for allowing my participation.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, April 8, 2021 -- 1:04 PM

I suppose that my view on

I suppose that my view on ecclesiastical matters is best expressed as agnostic. Hitchens' position, as mentioned in my previous comment, was, I think, correct in principle. Belief, in a narrow sense, is for people who fear facing reality head on. This parallels nicely with religious doctrine and dogma which preaches the powerlessness of human beings in the sight of an almighty deity. Reality is scary: all those contradictions and unexplainable circumstances. Better to believe and put one's faith in a something which requires only love and devotion. Oh, and a few dollars to keep the faith rolling. Now understand this: i do get the good that religions/faiths may do. Despots are likewise cognizant of this, which is why they have rejected such as 'opiates of the people'. It sounds so sinister. But a fact remains. There is a price to pay for the solace of faithfulness. And that,as a practical matter, is what the Church is counting on.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, April 8, 2021 -- 2:53 PM

I have mentioned the late

I have mentioned the late Christopher Hitchens and John Dewey, in connection with the notion of belief. Both men were skeptics when it came to belief, Dewey, diplomatic; Hitchens, radically atheistic. What a difference time ( and mass/popular culture) make. If you did not think these things were relevant in Dewey's time, please be advised: they have been here far longer. Tribalism, popularized by native American culture, is resurgent, while native Americans, what is left of them, try to assimilate and become more like their exterminators. I won't try to analyse this. It is too hard because of a myriad of complexities. But, this is where we are.I don't care what you believe. That, according to Dewey, is a personal affair... the poison is relative, similar to the current Church position.
Circularity? Yup.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 -- 7:52 AM

Have worked on and mostly

Have worked on and mostly finished an essay/article on truth. The second part of that paper features some 'tenets', postulated as an overall description of what is true versus what is not, an example: opinions may or may not be true;the same may hold for beliefs. What the tenets boil down to is this: in order for a thing to be true, it needs to contain underlying proof(s), not merely the support of those who SAY it is so. There are many dogmas and doctrines to choose from in the world. People largely choose these because they feel right or meet some perceived ethical/moral criteria. This choosing, therefore, falls into a category of preference, something on the order of Davidson's propositional attitudes. But, here's the rub: just because someone (or a group of someones) chooses to believe dogma or doctrine, that does not make it true for everyone not so inclined.

There is a lot of this going on. Always has been. Seems likely, IMHO, there is much more of it now. Could that be a reason for the abundance of dissent and controversy encountered today? I think so.