VI. The Life of Faith

Dynamics of Faith
by Paul Tillich

VI. The Life of Faith

1. Faith and Courage

Everything said about faith in the previous chapters is derived from the experience of actual faith, of faith as a living reality, or in a metaphoric abbreviation, of the life of faith. This experience is the subject of our last chapter. The “dynamics of faith” are present not only in the inner tensions and conflicts of the content of faith, but also present in the life of faith, and of course the one is dependent on the other.

Where there is faith there is tension between participation and separation, between the faithful one and his ultimate concern. We have used the metaphor “being grasped” for describing the state of ultimate concern. And being grasped implies that he who is grasped and that by which he is grasped are, so to speak, at the same place. Without some participation in the object of one’s ultimate concern, it is not possible to be concerned about it. In this sense every act of faith presupposes participation in that toward which it is directed. Without a preceding experience of the ultimate no faith in the ultimate can exist. The mystical type of faith has emphasized this point most strongly. Here lies its truth which no theology of “mere faith” can destroy. Without the manifestation of God in man the question of God and faith in God are not possible. There is no faith without participation!

But faith would cease to be faith without separation—the opposite element. He who has faith is separated from the object of his faith. Otherwise he would possess it. It would be a matter of immediate certainty and not of faith. The “in-spite-of element” of faith would be lacking. But the human situation, its finitude and estrangement, prevents man’s participation in the ultimate without both the separation and the promise of faith. Here the limit of mysticism becomes visible: it neglects the human predicament and the separation of man from the ultimate. There is no faith without separation.

Out of the element of participation follows the certainty of faith; out of the element of separation follows the doubt in faith. And each is essential for the nature of faith. Sometimes certainty conquers doubt, but it cannot eliminate doubt. The conquered of today may become the conqueror of tomorrow. Sometimes doubt conquers faith, but it still contains faith. Otherwise it would be indifference. Neither faith nor doubt can be eliminated, though each of them can be reduced to a minimum, in the life of faith. Since the life of faith is life in the state of ultimate concern and no human being can exist completely without such a concern, we can say: Neither faith nor doubt can be eliminated from man as man.

Faith and doubt have been contrasted in such a way that the quiet certainty of faith has been praised as the complete removal of doubt. There is, indeed, a serenity of the life in faith beyond the disturbing struggles between faith and doubt. To attain such a state is a natural and justified desire of every human being. But even if it is attained—as in people who are called saints and in others who are described as firm in their faith—the element of doubt, though conquered, is not lacking. In the saints it appears, according to holy legend, as a temptation which increases in power with the increase of saintliness. In those who rest on their unshakable faith, pharisaism and fanaticism are the unmistakable symptoms of doubt which has been repressed. Doubt is overcome not by repression but by courage. Courage does not deny that there is doubt, but it takes the doubt into itself as an expression of its own finitude and affirms the content of an ultimate concern. Courage does not need the safety of an unquestionable conviction. It includes the risk without which no creative life is possible. For example, if the content of someone’s ultimate concern is Jesus as the Christ, such faith is not a matter of a doubtless certainty, it is a matter of daring courage with the risk to fail. Even if the confession that Jesus is the Christ is expressed in a strong and positive way, the fact that it is a confession implies courage and risk.

All this is said of living faith, of faith as actual concern, and not of faith as a traditional attitude without tensions, without doubt and without courage. Faith in this sense, which is the attitude of many members of the churches as well as of society at large, is far removed from the dynamic character of faith as described in this book. One could say that such conventional faith is the dead remnant of former experiences of ultimate concern. It is dead but it can become alive. For even nondynamic faith lives in symbols. In these symbols the power of original faith is still embodied. Therefore, one should not underestimate the importance of faith as a traditional attitude. It is not actual, not living faith; it is potential faith which can become actual. This is especially relevant for education. It is not meaningless to communicate to children or immature adults objective symbols of faith and with them expressions of the living faith of former generations. The danger of this method, of course, is that the faith, mediated in education, will remain a traditional attitude and never break through to a state of living faith. However, if this causes people to become hesitant about communicating any of the given symbols and to wait until independent questions about the meaning of life have arisen, it can lead to a powerful life of faith, but it also can lead to emptiness, to cynicism and, in reaction to it, to idolatrous forms of ultimate concern.

Living faith includes the doubt about itself, the courage to take this doubt into itself, and the risk of courage. There is an element of immediate certainty in every faith, which is not subject to doubt, courage and risk—the unconditional concern itself. It is experienced in passion, anxiety, despair, ecstasy. But it is never experienced in isolation from a concrete content. It is experienced in, with and through the concrete content, and only the analytic mind can isolate it theoretically. Such theoretical isolation is the basis of this whole book; it is the way to the definition of faith as ultimate concern. But the life of faith itself does not include such analytic work. Therefore, the doubt about the concrete content of one’s ultimate concern is directed against faith in its totality, and faith as a total act must affirm itself through courage.

The use of the term “courage” in this context (fully explained in my book The Courage to Be) needs some interpretation, especially in its relation to faith. In a short formulation one could say that courage is that element in faith which is related to the risk of faith. One cannot replace faith by courage, but neither can one describe faith without courage. In mystical literature the “vision of God” is described as the stage which transcends the state of faith either after the earthly life or in rare moments within it. In the complete reunion with the divine ground of being, the element of distance is overcome and with it uncertainty, doubt, courage and risk. The finite is taken into the infinite; it is not extinguished, but it is not separated either. This is not the ordinary human situation. To the state of separated finitude belong faith and the courage to risk. The risk of faith is the concrete content of one’s ultimate concern. But it may not be the truly ultimate about which one is concerned. Religiously speaking, there may be an idolatrous element in one’s faith. It may be one’s own wishful thinking which determines the content; it may be the interest of one’s social group which holds us in an obsolete tradition; it may be a piece of reality which is not sufficient to express man’s ultimate concern, as in old and new polytheism; it may be an attempt to use the ultimate for one’s own purposes, as in magic practices and prayers in all religions. It may be the confusion of the bearer of the ultimate with the ultimate itself. This is done in all types of faith and has been, from the first gospel stories on, the permanent danger of Christianity. A protest against such a confusion is found in the Fourth Gospel, which has Jesus say: “He who believes in me does not believe in me but in him who has sent me.” But the classical dogma, the liturgies and the devotional life are not kept free from it. Nevertheless, the Christian can have the courage to affirm his faith in Jesus as the Christ. He is aware of the possibility and even the inevitability of idolatrous deviations, but also of the fact that in the picture of the Christ itself the criterion against its idolatrous abuse is given—the cross.

Out of this criterion comes the message which is the very heart of Christianity and makes possible the courage to affirm faith in the Christ, namely, that in spite of all forces of separation between God and man this is overcome from the side of God. One of these forces of separation is a doubt which tries to prevent the courage to affirm one’s faith. In this situation faith still can be affirmed if the certainty is given that even the failure of the risk of faith cannot separate the concern of one’s daring faith from the ultimate. This is the only absolute certainty of faith which corresponds with the only absolute content of faith, namely, that in relation to the ultimate we are always receiving and never giving. We are never able to bridge the infinite distance between the infinite and the finite from the side of the finite. This alone makes the courage of faith possible. The risk of failure, of error and of idolatrous distortion can be taken, because the failure cannot separate us from what is our ultimate concern.

2. Faith and the Integration of the Personality

The last consideration is decisive for the relation of faith to the problems of man’s life as a personality. If faith is the state of being ultimately concerned, all preliminary concerns are subject to it. The ultimate concern gives depth, direction and unity to all other concerns and, with them, to the whole personality. A personal life which has these qualities is integrated, and the power of a personality’s integration is his faith. It must be repeated at this point that such an assertion would be absurd if faith were what it is in its distorted meaning, the belief in things without evidence. Yet the assertion is not absurd, but evident, if faith is ultimate concern.

Ultimate concern is related to all sides of reality and to all sides of the human personality. The ultimate is one object besides others, and the ground of all others. As the ultimate is the ground of everything that is, so ultimate concern is the integrating center of the personal life. Being without it is being without a center. Such a state, however, can only be approached but never fully reached, because a human being deprived completely of a center would cease to be a human being. For this reason one cannot admit that there is any man without an ultimate concern or without faith.

The center unites all elements of man’s personal life, the bodily, the unconscious, the conscious, the spiritual ones. In the act of faith every nerve of man’s body, every striving of man’s soul, every function of man’s spirit participates. But body, soul, spirit, are not three parts of man. They are dimensions of man’s being, always within each other; for man is a unity and not composed of parts. Faith, therefore, is not a matter of the mind in isolation, or of the soul in contrast to mind and body, or of the body (in the sense of animal faith), but is the centered movement of the whole personality toward something of ultimate meaning and significance.

Ultimate concern is passionate concern; it is a matter of infinite passion. Passion is not real without a bodily basis, even if it is the most spiritual passion. In every act of genuine faith the body participates, because genuine faith is a passionate act. The way in which it participates is manifold. The body can participate both in vital ecstasy and in asceticism leading to spiritual ecstasy. But whether in vital fulfillment or vital restriction, the body participates in the life of faith. The same is true of the unconscious strivings, the so-called instincts of man’s psyche. They determine the choice of symbols and types of faith. Therefore, every community of faith tries to shape the unconscious strivings of its members, especially of the new generations. If the faith of somebody expresses itself in symbols which are adequate to his unconscious strivings, these strivings cease to be chaotic. They do not need repression, because they have received “sublimation” and are united with the conscious activities of the person. Faith also directs man’s conscious life by giving it a central object of “con-centration.” The disrupting trends of man’s consciousness are one of the great problems of all personal life. If a uniting center is absent, the infinite variety of the encountered world, as well as of the inner movements of the human mind, is able to produce or complete disintegration of the personality. There can be no other uniting center than the ultimate concern of the mind. There are various ways in which faith unites man’s mental life and gives it a dominating center. It can be the way of discipline which regulates the daily life; it can be the way of meditation and contemplation; it can be the way of concentration on the ordinary work, or on a special aim or on another human being. In each case, faith is presupposed; none of it could be done without faith. Man’s spiritual function, artistic creation, scientific knowledge, ethical formation and political organization are consciously or unconsciously expressions of an ultimate concern which gives passion and creative eros to them, making them inexhaustible in depth and united in aim.

We have shown how faith determines and unites all elements of the personal life, how and why it is its integrating power. In doing so we have painted a picture of what faith can do. But we have not brought into this picture the forces of disintegration and disease which prevent faith from creating a fully integrated personal life, even in those who represent the power of faith most conspicuously, the saints, the great mystics, the prophetic personalities. Man is integrated only fragmentarily and has elements of disintegration or disease in all dimensions of his being.

One can also say that the integrating power of faith has healing power. This statement, however, needs comment in view of linguistic and actual distortions of the relation of faith and healing. Linguistically (and materially) one must distinguish the integrating power of faith from what has been called “faith healing.” Faith healing, as the term is actually used, is the attempt to heal others or oneself by mental concentration on the healing powers in others or in oneself. There is such healing power in nature and man, and it can be strengthened by mental acts. In a nondepreciating sense one could speak of the use of magic power; and certainly there is healing magic in human relationships as well as in the relation to oneself. It is a daily experience and sometimes one that is astonishing in its intensity and success. But one should not use the word “faith” for it, and one should not confuse it with the integrating power of an ultimate concern.

The integrating power of faith in a concrete situation is dependent on the subjective and objective factors. The subjective factor is the degree to which a person is open for the power of faith, and how strong and passionate is his ultimate concern. Such openness is what religion calls “grace.” It is given and cannot be produced intentionally. The objective factor is the degree to which a faith has conquered its idolatrous elements and is directed toward the really ultimate. Idolatrous faith has a definite dynamic: it can be extremely passionate and exercise a preliminary integrating power. It can heal and unite the personality, including its soul and body. The gods of polytheism have shown healing power, not only in a magic way but also in terms of genuine reintegration. The objects of modern secular idolatry, such as nation and success, have shown healing power, not only by the magic fascination of a leader, a slogan or a promise but also by the fulfillment of otherwise unfulfilled strivings for a meaningful life. But the basis of the integration is too narrow. Idolatrous faith breaks down sooner or later and the disease is worse than before. The one limited element which has been elevated to ultimacy is attacked by other limited elements. The mind is split, even if each of these elements represents a high value. The fulfillment of the unconscious drives does not last; they are repressed or explode chaotically. The concentration of the mind vanishes because the object of concentration has lost its convincing character. Spiritual creativity shows an increasingly shallow and empty character, because no infinite meaning gives depth to it. The passion of faith is transformed into the suffering of unconquered doubt and despair, and in many cases into an escape to neurosis and psychosis. Idolatrous faith has more disintegrating power than indifference, just because it is faith and produces a transitory integration. This is the extreme danger of misguided, idolatrous faith, and the reason why the prophetic Spirit is above all the Spirit which fights against the idolatrous distortion of faith.

The healing power of faith raises the question of its relation to other agencies of healing. We have already referred to an element of magic influence from mind to mind without referring to the medical art, its scientific presuppositions and its technical methods. There is an overlapping of all agencies of healing and none of them should claim exclusive validity. Nevertheless, it is possible conceptually to limit each of them to a special function. Perhaps one can say that the healing power of faith is related to the whole personality, independent of any special disease of body or mind, and effective positively or negatively in every moment of one’s life. It precedes, accompanies and follows all other activities of healing. But it does not suffice alone in the development of the personality. In finitude and estrangement man is not a whole, but is disrupted into different elements. Each of these elements can disintegrate independently of the other elements. Parts of the body can become sick, without producing mental disease; and the mind can become sick without visible bodily failures. In some forms of mental sickness, especially neurosis, and in almost all forms of bodily disease the spiritual life can remain completely healthy and even gain in strength. Therefore, medical art must be used wherever such separated elements of the whole of the personality are disintegrating for external or internal reasons. This is true of mental as well as of bodily medicine. And there is no conflict between them and the healing power of the state of ultimate concern. It is also clear that medical activities, including mental healing, cannot produce a reintegration of the personality as a whole. Only faith can do this. The tension between the two agencies of health would disappear if both sides knew their special functions and their special limits. Then they would not be worried about the third agency, the healing by magic concentration on the powers of healing. They would accept its help while revealing at the same time its great limitations.

There are as many types of integrated personalities as there are types of faith. There is also the type of integration which unites many characteristics of the different types of personal integration. It was this kind of personality which was created by early Christianity, and missed again and again in the history of the Church. Its character cannot be described from the point of view of faith alone; it leads to the questions of faith and love, and of faith and action.

3. Faith, Love and Action

Since the apostle Paul was attacked because of his doctrine that faith in divine forgiveness and not human action makes man acceptable to God, the question of faith in relation to love and action has been asked and answered in many ways. The question and answer mean something quite different if faith is understood as the belief in things without evidence or if faith is understood as the state of being ultimately concerned. In the first case, it is natural to deny any direct dependence of love and action on faith; in the second case, love and action are implied in faith and cannot be separated from it. In spite of all distortions in the interpretation of faith, the latter is the classical doctrine however inadequately it was expressed.

One is ultimately concerned only about something to which one essentially belongs and from which one is existentially separated. There is no faith, we have seen, in the quiet vision of God. But there is infinite concern about the possibility of reaching such quiet vision. It presupposes the reunion of the separated; the drive toward the reunion of the separated is love. The concern of faith is identical with the desire of love: reunion with that to which one belongs and from which one is estranged. In the great commandment of the Old Testament, confirmed by Jesus, the object of ultimate concern, and the object of unconditional love, is God. From this is derived the love of what is God’s, represented by both the neighbor and oneself. Therefore, it is the “fear of God” and the “love of Christ” which, in the whole Biblical literature, determines the behavior toward the other human beings. In Hinduism and Buddhism it is the faith in the ultimate One, from whom every being comes and to which it strives to return, that determines the participation in the other one. The consciousness of ultimate identity in the One makes identification with all beings possible and necessary. This is not the Biblical concept of love, which is person-centered, but it is love in the sense of the desire for reunion with that to which one belongs. In both types of faith, love and action are not commended as something external to faith (as it would be if faith were less than ultimate concern) but are elements of the concern itself. The separation of faith and love is always the consequence of a deterioration of religion. When Judaism became a system of ritual laws, when the Indian religions developed into a magic sacramentalism, when Christianity fell into both distortions and added doctrinal legalism, the question of the relation of faith to love became a stumbling block for people inside and outside these religions, and many turned away to nonreligious ethics.

They tried to escape distorted forms of faith by rejecting faith altogether. But the question is: is there such a thing as love without faith? There is certainly love without the acceptance of doctrines; history has shown that the most terrible crimes against love have been committed in the name of fanatically defended doctrines. Faith as a set of passionately accepted and defended doctrines does not produce acts of love. But faith as the state of being ultimately concerned implies love, namely, the desire and urge toward the reunion of the separated.

The question, however, remains whether or not love is possible without faith. Can a man love who has no ultimate concern? This is the right form of the question. The answer, of course, is that there is no human being without an ultimate concern and, in this sense, without faith. Love is present, even if hidden, in a human being; for every human being is longing for union with the content of his ultimate concern.

We have discussed distortions of the meaning of faith. It is equally necessary, though impossible in our limited framework, to reject misinterpretations of the meaning of love. One of them, however, must be mentioned: the reduction of love to an emotion. As in faith, emotion is connected with the experience of love. But this does not make love itself an emotion. Love is the power in the ground of everything that is, driving it beyond itself toward reunion with the other one and ultimately with the ground itself from which it is separated.

Different types of love have been distinguished, and the Greek eros type of love has been contrasted with the Christian agape type of love. Eros is described as the desire for self-fulfillment by the other being, agape as the will to self-surrender for the sake of the other being. But this alternative does not exist. The so-called “types of love” are actually “qualities of love,” lying within each other and driven into conflict only in their distorted forms. No love is real without a unity of eros and agape. Agape without eros is obedience to a moral law, without warmth, without longing, without reunion. Eros without agape is chaotic desire, denying the validity of the claim of the other one to be acknowledged as an independent self, able to love and to be loved. Love as the unity of eros and agape is an implication of faith. The more love is implied the more faith has conquered its demonic-idolatrous possibilities. An idolatrous faith which gives ultimacy to a preliminary concern stands against all other preliminary concerns and excludes love relations between the representatives of contrasting claims. The fanatic cannot love that against which his fanaticism is directed. And idolatrous faith is by necessity fanatical. It must repress the doubts which characterize the elevation of something preliminary to ultimacy.

The immediate expression of love is action. Theologians have discussed the question of how faith can result in action. The answer is: because it implies love and because the expression of love is action. The mediating link between faith and works is love. When the Reformers, who believed salvation to be dependent on faith alone, criticized the Roman Catholic doctrine that works are necessary for salvation they were right in denying that any human action can produce reunion with God. Only God can reunite the estranged with himself. But the Reformers did not realize, and the Catholics were still only dimly aware of it, that love is an element of faith if faith is understood as ultimate concern. Faith implies love, love lives in works: in this sense faith is actual in works. Where there is ultimate concern there is the passionate desire to actualize the content of one’s concern. “Concern” in its very definition includes the desire for action. The kind of action is, of course, dependent on the type of faith. Faith of the ontological type drives toward elevation above the separation of being from being. Faith of the ethical type drives toward transformation of the estranged reality. In both of them love is working. In the first case, the eros quality of loves drives to union with the beloved in that which is beyond the lover and the beloved. In the second case, the agape quality of love drives to acceptance of the beloved and his transformation into what he potentially is. Mystical love unites by negation of the self. Ethical love transforms by affirmation of the self. The sphere of activities following from mystical love is predominantly ascetic. The sphere of activities following from ethical love is predominantly formative. In both cases, faith determines the kind of love and the kind of action.

These are examples describing a basic polarity in the character of faith. There are many other possible examples. Lutheran faith in personal forgiveness is less conducive to social action than the Calvinistic faith in the honor of God. The humanist faith in the essential rationality of man is more favorable for general education and democracy than the traditionally Christian faith in original sin and the demonic structures of reality. The Protestant faith, in an unmediated, person-to-person encounter with God, produces more independent personalities than the Catholic faith and its ecclesiastical mediation between God and man. Faith as the state of being ultimately concerned implies love and determines action. It is the ultimate power behind both of them.

4. The Community of Faith and Its Expressions

In our description of the nature of faith we have shown that faith is real only in the community of faith, or more precisely, in the communion of a language of faith. The consideration of love and faith has pointed in the same direction: love is an implication of faith, namely, the desire toward reunion of the separated. This makes faith a matter of community. Finally, since faith leads to action and action presupposes community, the state of ultimate concern is actual only within a community of action.

The problems arising from this situation with respect to faith and doubt have been discussed. But the creedal expressions to which this discussion referred are of secondary importance, and there are more fundamental expressions of the ultimate concern in a community of faith. As we have seen before, all expressions of ultimate concern are symbolic, because the ultimate cannot be expressed in nonsymbolic terms. But one must distinguish two basic forms of symbolic expression—the intuitive and the active; in traditional terms—the mythical and the ritual. The community of faith constitutes itself through ritual symbol and interprets itself in mythical symbols. The two are interdependent: what is practiced in the cult is imagined in the myth, and conversely. There is no faith without these two ways of self-expression. Even if nation or success is the content of faith, rites and myths are connected with them. It is well known that totalitarian systems have an elaborated system of ritual activities, and that they have a grasp of imaginative symbols, which, however absurd they may be, express the faith underlying the whole system. The totalitarian community expresses itself in ritual activities and intuitive symbols in a way that has many similarities to the ways an authoritarian religious group expresses itself. However, in all genuine religions there is a protest against the idolatrous elements which are accepted without restriction by political totalitarianism.

The life of faith is life in the community of faith, not only in its communal activities and institutions but also in the inner life of its members. Separation from the activities of the community of faith is not necessarily separation from the community itself. It can be a way (for example, in voluntary seclusion) to intensify the spirit which rules the communal life. Often he who has withdrawn into temporary seclusion returns to the community whose language he still speaks and whose symbols he renews. For there is no life of faith, even in mystical solitude, which is not life in the community of faith. Further, there is no community where there is not a community of faith. There are groups bound together by a mutual interest, favoring a unity as long as the interest lasts. There are groups which have grown up naturally as families and tribes, and will die a natural death when the conditions of their life disappear. Neither of these two groups in itself is a community of faith. Whether a group comes into existence in the natural way or in the way of common interest, it is a transitory group. It must come to an end when the technical or biological conditions of its existence vanish. In a community of faith these conditions are not decisive; the only condition of its continuation is the vitality of its faith. That which is based on an ultimate concern is not exposed to destruction by preliminary concerns and the lack of their fulfillment. The most astonishing proof of this assertion is the history of the Jews. They are, in the history of mankind, the document of the ultimate and unconditional character of faith.

Neither the cultural nor the mythological expressions of faith are meaningful if their symbolic character is not understood. We have tried to show the distorting consequences of literalism, and it often happens that in opposition to literalism, myth and cult are attacked as such and almost removed from a community of faith. The myth is replaced by a philosophy of religion, the cult is replaced by a code of moral demands. It is possible for such a state to last for a while because the original faith is still effective in it. Even the negation of the expressions of faith does not negate the faith itself—at least not in the beginning. This is the reason one can point to a nonreligious morality of a high order and can attempt to deny the interdependence of faith and morals. But there is a limit to this possibility. Without an ultimate concern as its basis every system of morals degenerates into a method of adjustment to social demands, whether they are ultimately justified or not. And the infinite passion which characterizes a genuine faith evaporates and is replaced by a clever calculation which is unable to withstand the passionate attacks of an idolatrous faith. This is a description of what has happened on a large scale in Western civilization. It is concealed only by the fact that in many representatives of humanist faith, moral strength was and is greater than in members of a religiously active community. But this is a transitory stage. There is still faith in these men, ultimate concern about human dignity and personal fulfillment. There is religious substance in them, which, however, can be wasted in the next generation if the faith is not renewed. This is possible only in the community of faith under the continuous impact of its mythical and cultic symbols.

One of the reasons why independent morals are turned against their religious roots is the distorted meaning which symbol and myth have received in the history of religion, including the history of the Christian churches. The ritual symbols of faith have been distorted into magic realities which are effective like physical forces, even if they are not accepted in an act of faith as expressions of one’s ultimate concern. They are loaded with a sacred power which works if man does not resist its working. This superstitious interpretation of the sacramental act arouses the protest of the humanists and drives them toward the ideal of morals without religion. The rejection of sacramental superstition was one of the main points in the Protestant protest. But historical Protestantism removed through its protest not only cultic superstition but also the genuine meaning of ritual, and of the sacramental symbols. In this way Protestantism, against its will, has supported the trend toward independent morals. But faith cannot remain alive without expressions of faith and the personal participation in them. This insight has driven Protestantism to a new evaluation of cult and sacrament in our period. Without symbols in which the holy is experienced as present, the experience of the holy vanishes.

The same is true of the mythological expression of one’s ultimate concern. If the myth is understood literally, philosophy must reject it as absurd. It must demythologize the sacred stories, transform the myth into a philosophy of religion and finally into a philosophy without religion. But the myth, if interpreted as the symbolic expression of ultimate concern, is the fundamental creation of every religious community. It cannot be replaced by philosophy or by an independent code of morals.

Cult and myth keep faith alive. No one is completely without them; for no one is completely without an ultimate concern. Few understand their meaning and their power, although the life of faith is dependent on them. They express the faith of a community and produce personal faith in the members of the community. Without them, without the community in which they are used, faith would disappear and man’s ultimate concerns would go into hiding. Then would come the short hour of independent morals.

5. The Encounter of Faith with Faith

There are many communities of faith, not only in the religious realm but also in secular culture. In our present world most of them are in mutual contact and show predominantly an attitude of tolerance toward each other. But there are some important exceptions; it may well be that more of them will develop under the political and social pressures of our period. Exceptions are above all the secular- political types of faith. These include not only the totalitarian ones but, in reaction to them and in defense of themselves, the democratic ones also. There are also exceptions in the religious realm: the official doctrine of the Roman Church concerning its exclusive possession of the truth; the negative way in which Protestant fundamentalism looks at all other forms of Christianity and religion. Intolerance as a characteristic of faith can easily be understood. If faith is the state of being ultimately concerned, and if every ultimate concern must express itself concretely, the special symbol of the ultimate concern participates in its ultimacy. It participates in its unconditional character, although it is not unconditional itself. This situation which is the source of idolatry is also the source of intolerance. The one expression of the ultimate denies all other expressions. It becomes—almost inevitably— idolatrous and demonic. This has happened to all religions which take the concrete expression of their ultimate concern seriously. It also has happened to Christianity, although the symbol of the Cross stands against the self-elevation of a concrete religion to ultimacy, including Christianity. The advantage of classical mysticism is that it does not take the concrete expression of one’s ultimate concern seriously and, therefore, can trespass the set of concrete symbols on which every religion is based. Such an indifference to the concrete expression of the ultimate is tolerant, but it lacks the power to transform the existential distortions of reality. In Judaism and Christianity reality is transformed in the name of the God of history. The exclusive monotheism of the prophets, the struggle against the limited gods of paganism, the message of universal justice in the Old and of universal grace in the New Testatment—all this made Judaism, Islam and Christianity intolerant of any kind of idolatry. These religions of justice, history and the expectation of the end could not accept the mystical tolerance of India. They are intolerant and can become fanatical and idolatrous. This is the difference between the exclusive monotheism of the prophets and the transcendent monotheism of the mystics.

The question is: Must the encounter of faith with faith lead either to a tolerance without criteria or to an intolerance without self- criticism? If faith is understood as the state of being ultimately concerned, this alternative is overcome. The criterion of every faith is the ultimacy of the ultimate which it tries to express. The self- criticism of every faith is the insight into the relative validity of the concrete symbols in which it appears.

From this the meaning of conversion can be understood. The term “conversion” has connotations which make its use difficult. It can mean the awakening from a state in which an ultimate concern is lacking (or more exactly, hiddden) to an open and conscious awareness of it. If conversion means this, every spiritual experience is an experience of conversion.

Conversion also can mean the change from one set of beliefs to another. Conversion in this sense is of no ultimate concern. It might or it might not happen. It is important only if, in the new belief, the ultimacy of the ultimate concern is better preserved than in the old belief. If this is the case, conversion is of great importance.

A most important case of an encounter of faith with faith in the Western world is the encounter of Christianity with forms of secular belief. For secularism is never without an ultimate concern; therefore, the encounter with it is an encounter of faith with faith. In such an encounter two ways of action are adequate to the situation and two are not. The two ways adequate to the situation are, first, the methodological inquiry into those elements of the conflict which can be approached by inquiry and, second, the witness to those elements of the conflict which drive to conversion. The combination of these two ways is the adequate attitude in the encounter of faith with faith. It acknowledges that an ultimate concern is not a matter of arguments and admits that in the expressions of an ultimate concern there are elements which are subject to discussion on the pure cognitive level. In every struggle about the symbols of faith this double way must be used. This would dissolve fanaticism about the concrete expression of faith and confirm the ultimate concern as a matter of a total personal participation. Conversion is not a matter of prevailing arguments, but it is a matter of personal surrender.

The argumentative side lies on another level. If missions try to bring about the conversion of many from one faith to another, they try to bring about the unity of faith in humanity as a whole. Nobody can be certain that such unity will be reached in the course of human history; nobody can deny that such unity is the desire and hope of mankind in all periods and in all places. But there is no way of reaching this unity except by distinguishing ultimacy itself from that in which ultimacy expresses itself. The way to a universal faith is the old way of the prophets, the way of calling idolatry idolatry and rejecting it for the sake of that which is really ultimate. Such faith may never be able to express itself in one concrete symbol, although it is the hope of every great religion that it will provide the all-embracing symbol in which the faith of man universally will express itself. Such a hope is only justified if a religion remains aware of the conditional and non-ultimate character of its own symbols. Christianity expresses this awareness in the symbol of the “cross of the Christ”—even if the Christian churches neglect the meaning of this symbol by attributing ultimacy to their own particular expression of ultimacy. The radical self-criticism of Christianity makes it most capable of universality—so long as it maintains this self-criticism as a power in its own life.