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The Element of Faith

The Sikh movement was conceived in a spiritual faith and was reared upon the basis of this faith. It is difficult to grasp what faith really is, but one cannot run away from this abstruse problem either, because it is very important to understand, in so far it is possible, in rational terms the dynamics of faith in order to understand the dynamics of the Sikh movement.

1. Faith as Ultimate Concern
Paul Tillich in his book Dynamics of Faith, made an important contribution towards tackling rationally the enigma of faith, and in this chapter, we would take his help for elaborating, at an empirical level, some of the premises we need for the amplification of our main subject.

Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned; the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man’s ultimate concern. Man, like every living being, is concerned about many things, above all about those which condition his very existence, such as food and shelter. But man, in contrast to other living beings, has spiritual concerns — cognitive, aesthetic, social, political. Some of them are urgent, often extremely urgent, and each as well as the vital concerns can claim ultimacy for a human life or the life of a social group. If it claims ultimacy, it demands the total surrender of him who accepts this claim, and it promises total fulfilment even if all other claims have to be subjected to it or rejected in its name. If a national group makes the life and growth of the nation its ultimate concern, it demands that all other concerns — economic well-being, health and life, family, aesthetic and congnitive truth, justice and humanity, be sacrificed.

“But, it is not only the unconditional demand made by that which is one’s ultimate concern, it is also the promise of ultimate fulfilment which is accepted in the act of faith... it is exclusion from such fulfilment which is threatened if the unconditional demand is not obeyed.”1

The faith manifest in the religion of the Old Testament is a glaring example, if only because of the tenacity of purpose and endurance it has revealed in the history of the Jewish people. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5). This is what ultimate concern means.
“Another example, almost a counter-example, yet nevertheless equally revealing, is the ultimate concern with ‘success’ and with social standing and economic power. It is the god of many people in the highly competitive Western culture and it does what every ultimate concern must do; it demands unconditional surrender to its laws even if the price is the sacrifice of genuine human relations, personal conviction, and creative eros.”2

The content of faith given in the two examples differs materially, but in both cases it matters infinitely for the life of the believer. Here we are concerned not with the content of faith, but only with its formal definition.

2. Faith as a Centred Act
“Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the centre of the personal life and includes all its elements... They all are united in the act of faith, but faith is not the sum total of their impacts. It transcends every special impact as well as the totality of them and it has itself a decisive impact on each of them...

“Faith as an act of the total personality is not imaginable without the participation of the unconscious centres in the personality structure. They are always present and decide largely about the content of faith. But, on the other hand, faith is a conscious act and the unconscious elements participate in the creation of faith only if they are taken into the personal centre which transcends each of them...

“Faith as the embracing and centred act of the personality is ‘ecstatic’. It transcends both the drives of the non-rational unconscious and the structures of the rational conscious. It transcends them but does not destroy them. The ecstatic character of faith does not exclude its rational character although it is not identical to it, and it includes non-rational strivings without being identical with them. In the ecstasy of faith, there is an awareness of truth and ethical values; there are also past loves and hates, conflicts and reunions, individual and collective influences. ‘Ecstasy’ means ‘standing outside of oneself’ — without ceasing to be oneself — with all the elements which are united in the personal centre...

“There is certainly affirmation by the will of what concerns one ultimately, but faith is not a creation of the will. In the ecstasy of faith, the will to accept and surrender is an element, but not the cause. And this is also true of feeling. Faith is not an emotional outburst; this is not the meaning of ecstasy. Certainly, emotion is in it, as in every act of man’s spiritual life. But emotion does not produce faith. Faith has a cognitive content and is an act of the will. It is the unity of every element in the centred self. Of course the unity of all elements in the act of faith does not prevent one or the other element from dominating in a special form of faith. It dominates the character of faith but it does not create the act of faith.”

There is a presupposition that fear or something else from which faith is derived is more original and basic than faith. But this presupposition cannot be proved. Faith precedes all attempts to derive it from something else, because these attempts are themselves based on faith.3

3. The Source of Faith
“The reality of man’s ultimate concern reveals something about his being, namely, that he is able to transcend the flux of relative and transitory experiences of his ordinary life. Man’s experiences, feelings, thoughts are conditioned and finite. They not only come and go, but their content is of finite and conditional concern — unless they are elevated to unconditional validity. But this presupposes the general possibility of doing so; it presupposes the element of infinity in man. Man is able to understand in an immediate personal and central act the meaning of the ultimate, the unconditional, the absolute, the infinite. This alone makes faith a human potentiality.

“Human potentialities are powers that drive towards actualization. Man is driven towards faith by his awareness of the infinite to which he belongs, but which he does not own like a possession. This is in abstract terms what concretely appears as the ‘restlessness of the heart’ within the flux of life...

“The unconditional concern, which is faith, is the concern about the unconditional. The infinite passion, as faith has been described, is the passion for the infinite. Or, to use our first term, the ultimate concern is concern about what is experienced as ultimate. In this way, we have turned from the subjective meaning of faith as a centred act of the personality to the objective meaning, to what is meant in the act of faith. It would not help at this point of our analysis to call that which is meant in the act of faith ‘God’ or ‘a god.’ For at this step we ask : What in the idea of God constitutes divinity ? The answer is : it is the element of the unconditional and of ultimacy. This carries the quality of divinity. If this is seen, one can understand why almost everything ‘in heaven and on earth’ has received ultimacy in the history of human religion. But we also can understand that a critical principle was and is at work in man’s religious consciousness, namely, that which is really ultimate over against what claims to be ultimate but is only preliminary, transitory, finite.

“The term ‘ultimate concern’ unites the subjective and the objective side of the act of faith — the fides qua creditur (the faith through which one believes) and the fides quae creditur (the faith which is believed). The first is the classical term for the centred act of the personality, the ultimate concern. The second is the classical term for that to which this act is directed, the ultimate itself, expressed in symbols of the divine. This distinction is very important, but not ultimately so, for the one side cannot be without the other. There is no faith without a content towards which it is directed. There is always something meant in the act of faith. And there is no way of having the content of faith except in the act of faith. All speaking of divine matters which is not done in the state of ultimate concern is meaningless. Because that which is meant in the act of faith cannot be approached in any other way than through an act of faith.

“In terms like ultimate, unconditional, infinite, absolute, the difference between subjectivity and objectivity is overcome. The ultimate of the act of faith and the ultimate that is meant in the act of faith are one and the same. This is symbolically expressed by the mystics when they say that their knowledge of God, is the knowledge God has of himself; and it is expressed by Paul when he says (1Cor. 13) that he will know as he is known, namely, by God. God never can be object without being at the same time subject. Even a successful prayer is, according to Paul (Rom. 8) not possible without God as spirit praying within us. The same experience expressed in abstract language is the disappearance of the ordinary subject-object scheme in the experience of the ultimate, the unconditional. In the act of faith, that which is the source of this act is present beyond the cleavage of subject and object. It is present as both and beyond both.

“This character of faith gives an additional criterion for distinguishing true and false ultimacy. The finite which claims infinity without having it (as, e.g., a notion of success) is not able to transcend the subject-object scheme. It remains an object which the believer looks at as a subject. He can approach it with ordinary knowledge and subject it to ordinary handling... Nationalistic ecstasy can produce a state in which the subject is almost swallowed by the object. But after a period the subject emerges again, disappointed radically and totally, and by looking at the nation in a skeptical and calculating way does injustice even to its justified claims. The more idolatrous a faith, the less it is able to overcome the cleavage between the subject and object. For that is the difference between true and idolatrous faith. In true faith the ultimate concern is a concern about the truly ultimate, while in idolatrous faith preliminary, finite realities are elevated to the rank of ultimacy. The inescapable consequence of an idolatrous faith is ‘existential disappointment’, a disappointment which penetrates into the very existence of man. This is the dynamic of idolatrous faith; that it is faith, and as such, the centered act of a personality; that the centring point is something which is more or less on the periphery; and that, therefore, the act of faith leads to a loss of the centre and to disruption of the personality. The ecstatic character of even an idolatrous faith can hide this consequence only for a certain time. But finally it breaks into the open.”4

4. Faith and Reason
If faith is understood as the state of being ultimately concerned, no conflict between faith and reason need exist. In order to show their actual relationship, namely, the way in which they lie within each other, one must ask first, is the word “reason” used when confronted with faith ? Is it meant in the sense of scientific method, logical strictness, and technical calculating ? Or is the word “reason” used in the sense of the source of meaning, of structure, of norms, and of principles ? “In the first case, reason gives the tools for recognizing and controlling reality, and faith gives the direction in which this control may be exercised. One could call this kind of reason technical reason, providing for means and not for ends. Reason in this sense concerns the daily life of everybody and is the power which determines the technical civilization of our times. In the second case, reason is identical with the humanity of man in contrast to all other beings. It is involved in the search for knowledge, the experience of art, the actualization of moral commands; it makes a centred personal life and participation in community possible. If faith were the opposite of reason, it would tend to dehumanize man. This consequence has been drawn, theoretically and practically, in religious and political authoritarian systems. A faith which destroys reason destroys itself and the humanity of man. For only a man who has the structure of reason is able to be ultimately concerned, to distinguish ultimate and preliminary concerns, to understand the unconditional commands of the ethical imperative, and to be aware of the presence of the holy. All this is valid only if the second meaning of reason is presupposed — reason as the meaningful structure of mind and reality, and not the first meaning — reason as a technical tool.

“Reason is the precondition of faith; faith is the act in which reason reaches ecstatically beyond itself. This is the opposite side of their being within each other. Man’s reason is finite; it moves within finite relations when dealing with the universe and with man himself... But reason is not bound to its own finitude. It is aware of it and, in so doing, rises above it. Man experiences a belonging to the infinite which, however, is neither a part of himself nor something in his power. It must grasp him, and if it does, it is a matter of infinite concern. Man is finite, man’s reason lives in preliminary concerns, but man is also aware of his potential infinity, and this awareness appears as his ultimate concern, as faith. If reason is grasped by an ultimate concern, it is driven beyond itself; but it does not cease to be reason, finite reason. The ecstatic experience of an ultimate concern does not destroy the structure of reason. Ecstasy is fulfilled, not denied, rationally. Reason can be fulfilled only if it is driven beyond the limits of its finitude, and experiences the presence of the ultimate, the holy. Without such an experience, reason exhausts itself and its finite contents. Finally, it becomes filled with irrational or demonic contents and is destroyed by them. The road leads from reason fulfilled in faith, through reason without faith, to reason filled with demonic-destructive faith. The second stage is only a point of transition, since there is no vacuum in the spiritual life, as there is none in nature. Reason is the presupposition of faith, and faith is the fulfilment of reason. Faith as the state of ultimate concern is reason in ecstasy. There is no conflict between the nature of faith and the nature of reason; they are within each other.”5

5. The Truth of Faith and Historical Truth
“Historical truth has a character quite different from that of scientific truth. History reports unique events, not repetitious processes which can be tested again and again. Historical events are not subject to experiment... History describes, explains, and understands. And understanding presupposes participation. This is the difference between historical and scientific truth. In historical truth, the interpreting subject is involved; in scientific truth it is detached. Since the truth of faith means total involvement, historical truth has often been compared with the truth of faith. However, in a genuine historical work, detached and controlled observation is as much used as in the observation of physical or biological processes. Historical truth is first of all factual truth; in this it is distinguished from the poetic truth of epics or from mythical truth of legends. This difference is decisive for the relation of the truth of faith to the truth of history. Faith cannot guarantee factual truth. But faith can and must interpret the meaning of facts from the point of view of man’s ultimate concern. In doing so it transfers historical truth into the dimension of the truth of faith...

“The truth of faith cannot be made dependent on the historical truth of stories and legends in which faith has expressed itself. It is a disastrous distortion of the meaning of faith to identify it with the belief in the historical validity of the Biblical stories. The search for the degree of probability or improbability of a Biblical story has to be made with all the tools of a solid philological and historical method. It is not a matter of faith to decide if the presently used edition of the Moslemic Koran is identical with the original text, although this is the fervent belief of most of the adherents of Mohammed; it is not a matter of faith to decide how much legendary, mythological and historical material is amalgamated in the stories about the birth and the resurrection of Christ... They are questions of historical truth, not of the truth of faith. Faith can say that something of ultimate concern has happened in history because the question of the ultimate in being and meaning is involved. Faith can say that the Old Testament law which is given as the law of Mosses has unconditional validity for those who are grasped by it, no matter how much or how little can be traced to a historical figure of that name. Faith can ascertain its own foundation — the Mosaic law, or Jesus as the Christ, Mohammed the prophet, or Buddha the illuminated. But faith cannot ascertain the historical conditions which made it possible for these men to become matters of ultimate concern for large sections of humanity. Faith includes certitude for its own foundation — for example, an event in history which has transformed history — for the faithful. But faith does not include historical knowledge about the way this event took place. Therefore, faith cannot be shaken by historical research even if its results are critical of the traditions in which the event is reported. This independence of historical truth is one of the most important consequences of the understanding of faith as the state of ultimate concern. It liberates the faithful from a burden they cannot carry after the demands of scholarly honesty have shaped their conscience.”6

6. The Truth of Faith and Philosophical Truth
Philosophy, in its genuine meaning, is carried on by people in whom the passion of an ultimate concern is united with a clear and detached observation of the way ultimate reality manifests itself in the process of the universe. It is this element of ultimate concern behind philosophical ideas which supplies the element of faith in them. Their vision of the universe and of man’s predicament within it unites faith and conceptual work. Philosophy is not only the mother’s womb out of which science and history have come, it is also an ever-present element in actual scientific and historical work. The frame of reference within which the great physicists have seen and are seeing the universe of their inquiries is philosophical, even if their actual inquiries verify it. In no case is it a result of their discoveries. It is always a vision of the totality of being which consciously or unconsciously determines the frame of their thought.

In the same way, the historian is consciously or unconsciously a philosopher. It is quite obvious that every task of the historian beyond the finding of facts is dependent on evaluation of historical factors, especially the nature of man, his freedom, his determination, his development out of nature, etc. It is less obvious but also true that even in the act of finding historical facts philosophical presuppositions are involved. This is especially true in deciding, out of the infinite number of happenings in every infinitely small moment of time, which facts shall be called historically relevant facts. The historian is further forced to give his evaluation of sources and their reliability, a task which is not independent of his interpretation of human nature. Finally, in the moment in which a historical work gives implicit or explicit assertions about the meaning of historical events for human existence, the philosophical presuppositions of history are evident. Where there is philosophy, there is expression of an ultimate concern; there is an element of faith, however hidden it may be by the passion of the historian for pure facts.7

7. Implications and Comments
The exercise in this chapter aims at drawing the attention of some historians, who dismiss the historical validity of faith as an irrational phantom, that there is a rational way of looking at it. Anyhow, the fact that the might of a strong belief, whatever its origin and character, as an irresistable historical factor can in no way be ignored. That the French Revolution defended itself victoriously against a Europe up in arms was due to the fact that it had founded, not a new system of government, but a new religion. Invincible Rome herself had to bow before the armies of nomad shepherds illuminated by the faith of Mohammed. For the same reason, the kings of Europe could not resist the tatterdemallion soldiers of the Convention. Like all apostles, they were ready to immolate themselves, the sole end of propagating their beliefs, which according to their dream, were to renew the world.8

A political or religious belief constitutes an act of faith elaborated in the unconsciousness over which, in spite of all appearances, reason has no hold. The man hypnotised by his faith becomes an apostle, ready to sacrifice his interests, his happiness, and even his life for the triumph of his faith. The absurdity of his belief matters little. The chief characteristic of the mystic temperament consists in the attribution of a mysterious power not only to superior beings, but also to forces which are incarnated in the form of ideas, ideals, formulae, or slogans. The mystic spirit is at the bottom of all the religious and most political beliefs. Grafted on the sentiments and passionate impulses which it directs, mystic logic constitutes the might of the great popular movements. Certitudes of mystic origin possess the marvellous power of entire domination over thought, and can only be affected by time.9 The force of the political and religious beliefs which have moved the world resides precisely in the fact that, being born of affective and mystic elements, they are neither created nor directed by reason. Political or religious beliefs have a common origin and obey the same laws. They are formed not with the aid of reason, but more often contrary to all reason. Buddhism, Islam, the Reformation, Jacobinism, Socialism, etc., seem very different forms of thought. Yet, they have identical affective and mystic bases, and obey a logic that has no affinity with rational logic.10

Also, we must not forget that, although the origin of a revolution may be perfectly rational, the reasons invoked in preparing for it do not influence the crowd until they have been transformed into sentiments. Rational logic can point to the abuses to be destroyed, but to move the multitude, its hopes must be awakened. This can only be effected by the action of the affective and mystic element which gives man the power to act. At the time of the French Revolution for example, rational logic, in the hands of the philosophers, demonstrated the inconveniences of the ancien regime, and excited the desire to change it. Mystic logic inspired belief in the virtues of a society created in all its members according to certain principles (of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). Affective logic unchained the passions confined by the bonds of ages and led to the worst excesses. Whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude.11 Given the silent power of reason over mystic beliefs, it is quite useless to discuss, as is so often done, the rational value of revolutionary or political ideas. Only their influence can interest us.12
Passion supports convictions, but hardly ever creates them. Now, the true Jacobin (i.e., any staunch secular revolutionist) has forcible convictions. What is to sustain them ? Here the mystic elements come into play. The Jacobin is a mystic who has replaced the old divinities by new gods. Imbued with the power of words and formulae (of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity), he attributes to these a mysterious power. So that, although the Jacobin is a great reasoner, this does not mean that he is in the least guided by reason. When he imagines he is being led by reason, it is really his passions and his mysticism that lead him. Like all those who are convinced and hemmed in by the walls of faith, he can never escape therefrom.13 In other words, there is no escape from the element of faith or the mystic and affective logic involved therein, whether it is a religious revolution or a purely secular revolution.

Yet, the Sikh revolutionary movement is sought to be interpreted by some scholars by underplaying, even ignoring or excluding, its very basis — the Sikh faith, its ideology, and the mystic and affective elements involved therein, under the mistaken false notion that in so doing they are strictly adhering to a rational logic. What is needed is not the exclusion of faith and its concomitants, but the demarcation, as done by Paul Tillich, between the sphere of genuine faith, on the one hand, and the spheres of idolatrous faith and irrational belief, on the other.



1. Paul Tillich : Dynamics of Faith, pp. 1-2.
2. Ibid., p. 3.
3. Ibid., pp. 4-8.
4. Ibid., pp. 8-12.
5. Ibid., pp. 74-77.
6. Ibid., pp. 85-89.
7. Ibid., pp. 89-95.
8. Gustave Le Bon : The Psychology of Revolution, p. 18.
9. Ibid., pp. 26-27, 87.
10. Ibid., pp. 28.
11. Ibid., pp. 23-24.
12. Ibid., p. 91.
13. Ibid., pp. 94-95.



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