In the movie Serenity, the preacher Shepherd Book asks the doubter Captain Reynolds:
"Why when I talk about faith, do you always assume I'm talking about God? "
I met a pair of singers recently who pulled a bait-and-switch on me, with the result that for the first time in my life, I have some sense of the positive value of faith. They started their set with songs from their youth on the usual song topics, romance and heartbreak. By the end of the set, their songs were focused on their fundamental trio: love, hope, and faith. After their show, we talked over drinks.
To me, faith had always meant believing a claim that could not be justified through observation and logic. To them, faith means believing that you can make things work, even in the proverbially darkest moments. That's not illogical; people _have_ achieved success even after dwelling at the bottom. Indeed, despair is often illogical, since it often assumes time-invariant conditions. To these singers, their religious figures serve as symbols that help them keep faith rather than literal statements of the nature of the world. Their faith helps them trudge on when their goals _feel_ impossible, which is not the same as being literally, physically impossible. And improbable ain't the same as impossible. They said things that I would have written off as hogwash if I had heard them out of context, but in the context of the conversation I could translate into concepts that I accept. As a trivial example, one of them talked about feeling a person's "energy". What he meant, in my terminology, was the act of interpretting subtle non-verbal information such as body language, summarizing into a general perception of the person's emotional profile, and noting his own subtle emotional response to the profile. It didn't bother him that I would have called it something else - he didn't insist that people literally have an aura. Tomayto tomahto.
They expressed respect and curiosity for science, and they condemned stances on political issues that I believe are religiously motivated, which made it easier for me to open my ears and listen to what they were saying. I talked to them for a long time, and left feeling the high of new friendship. I bought their CD's and listened to it a lot, not because of the music but because hearing their voices re-captured that feeling. It was a rough time in my life, and I needed that pick-me-up. I listened to those CD's enough that it was almost ritualistic. It was comforting. Faith and ritual... from _me_.
I'm still missing something, because I haven't figured out how "hope" and "faith" (as they see it) aren't redundant. But heck, what's a little redundancy among friends?