“People of Faith”

This Week had a round table discussion with “people of faith”. As is usual for these types of gatherings it makes me ask the question what is meant by this term “people of faith” and how it is used? On the panel there are individuals who speak for or from various religious traditions, in this case Christian, Muslim and Jew but if you have any sense at all of these religious communities and the factions I wonder what the point of the labels and the particular configuration is at all. It was clear very quickly that the discussion would fall along the usual political/cultural partisan lines that most discussions in the media fall along. I wondered what the point of supposedly interjecting “faith” into the discussion was at all? Adding a person who would supposedly speak from an atheist or agnostic perspective wouldn’t have changed a thing in the discussion.

It is clear that this category of “faith” is supposed to mean something. Supposedly all of the representatives at the table have something substantive and critical in common that persons would do not profess a “faith” would not have but I’m hard pressed to imagine what difference it would make. This of course is the repeated argument made by individuals without any overt profession to any specific religious tradition and I think their point is quite correct. “Faith” at least in terms of this discussion and many others seems to not make much of a difference about anything.

To me it is also important to ask what those who use the term “people of faith” mean by it. The best that I can tell “people of faith” are supposed to be more tolerant, more loving, more optimistic, more “spiritual” (another shibboleth). As the debate is engaged it seem that the term itself wants to present itself as one that creates common, less sectarian space but instead is simply another naked assertion that doesn’t want to fess up to its assumptions.

The two earlier interviews were with Tim Keller and Franklin Graham. I’ll have more to write specifically about the Franklin Graham interview (most of it not good) but the content of the Franklin Graham speech I think highlights the problem with the “people of faith” language. Christiane Amanpour in that interview wanted to spend time on some elements of evangelical Christianity that this supposed “people of faith” group would not have in common. What good is your supposed category of “people of faith” that is intended to establish some sort of workable “least common denominator” approach when someone like Franklin Graham can’t seem to find his way within the circle? What was clear was that Eboo Patel, Al Sharpton and Steve Roberts had a lot in common not only culturally and politically but I would assert also religiously making the Muslim, Christian, Jew distinctions appear inconsequential. Their implicit solutions for “bringing people together” seemed to have very little to do with any of their particular religious traditions.

Earlier in the year Christiane Amanpour had done a very interesting show on Islam that brought into the discussion a far broader spectrum of voices on the subject. Get enough “people of faith” in the room and this supposed common ground established by “faith” seems to evaporate pretty quickly.

If someone would like to defend the use of the term or find some actual use for it I’d love to hear it.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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