Performative Religion

To throw another idea in the faith vs. works debate:

“Faith is not equivalent to belief or certainty. Faith has more to do with commitment. Faith is fidelity.”

Times and Seasons is a place that respects the faith of Latter-day Saints. As someone who often struggles with the faith of belief, I cling to the faith of fidelity. I want to keep the faith in this church that I love. Some things I don’t know, and some I only hope to believe, but I am committed by covenant and the strength of my faith to act as though the teachings and doctrines of the Church are true.


My thanks to Paul Toscano and David Allred for the excellent articulation of faith as fidelity that they shared at the recent Counterpoint Conference. It’s a concept I’d been struggling to articulate for some time.


15 comments for “Performative Religion

  1. I really liked this. It reminds me of what Kierkegaard said:

    “When I consider nature in order to discover God, I do indeed see his omnipotence and wisdom, but I see much more that disturbs me. The result of all this is objective uncertainty, but precisely here is the place for inwardness because inwardness apprehends the objective uncertainty with the entire passion of infinity.”

    I understand it to mean that uncertainty is necessary for real, passionate, inward faith. We aren’t meant to find proof, but to fearlessly live according what we feel is right.

  2. I think the idea of the covenant is an important one. The kind of faith that is necessary to salvation is faith to the covenant with Christ. Accepting a set of propositions seems less important than living faith to a covenant.

  3. I agree that faith is not so much equivalent to belief but commitment and action. I might add, however, that faith is a commitment to a principle or method of living. For instance I faith in my capacity to help build a godly, just society around me (in my family and in communities that I am a part of), which will in turn hopefully serve for the betterment of larger communities. The church institution may operate as a vehicle towards that end. But it isn’t a sine qua non. I see myself as still able to exercise the same amount of faith towards building a just society without believing in all church doctrine or even belonging to the LDS church. I know I’m unorthodox here, but I think that one does not necessarily need the covenant process performed by the LDS church to make a covenant with God. Even though the LDS church claims that the covenants you make at baptism and in the temple are between you and God, I believe that it is really more of a covenant that you make with the institution, which may or not represent a covenant with God, depending on the attitudes and actions of the covenant maker.

    The covenant you make with God is strictly personal and is between you and God. But no longer belonging to the LDS church or no longer behaving in the way that the church prescribes may not necessarily imply a lack of commitment to God or a breach of the more personal covenant that one may make with God. For instance I think that someone’s personal choice to no longer attend church or start drinking coffee from time to time, while interpreted as breaking the covenant you made with the LDS church, is not in fact a violation of other covenants that you can make with God through your own personal efforts. However, other behaviors such as sexual promiscuity or the expression of hatred towards believing members for their beliefs, would not only be a violation of the covenants you made with the LDS church, but would represent an overall lack of commitment to godliness.

  4. Do you think we might need a new word other than “faith” to describe what we are calling faith? The word “faith” already has an actual definition in the dictionary (i.e. “confidence” and “belief”). Every other definition is describing something other than faith, isn’t it?

  5. Julia,

    I was thinking and typing on the fly, but this is what I mean: faith has a definition in the English language. Just looking at Merriam Webster, it is “allegience or duty”; or “fidelity to one’s promises”; “belief and trust in and loyalty to God”; or “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”; or “something that is believed especially with strong conviction.”

    So to say that “faith is not equivalent to belief” is just incorrect. If you’re describing something that is not equivalent to belief, then you’re not describing faith, since one definition of faith is “belief.”

    This doesn’t mean that describing faith as “fidelity” is wrong either, but if you say “faith is not belief; it’s fidelity,” then you are no longer describing “faith.” You are just describing “fidelity.”

    Another assertion people often make is “faith isn’t belief; it’s an action word and requires acting on your belief.” This just isn’t faith, which already has a definition. If someone wants to make up a word that is an action word that requires doing something, it’s not “faith” (I think the word may be “works”).

  6. I know this is very nonacademic, and maybe it comes from working on a parable for several days, so take it for what it is worth.

    I think that sometimes concepts as big as *faith being active in our lives* gets defined somewhere in the space and movements in-between. In between the big words and the big actions, are the small movements and exhales that come within each day of life. Maybe it is the lack of sound, that still has meaning, that contrasts with the thoughts, ideals and objects that are easily recognized in a dictionary definition.

    *Turns back to the last edit of a new parable.

  7. I believe there is a difference between faith and testimony. The former is the fidelity to duty etc. while the testimony has a “knowing” element.


  8. Glen,

    Is the knowing element required for a testimony. Might claiming to know be a present day cultural thing. I suspect that most of the people who say they know, if they took time to think about it, as Rachel has, would be saying they believed or had faith.

    The temple recommend questions, for example require you to believe/have faith, knowledge is not required.

  9. Adam (6), I think that perhaps what is meant is not that faith cannot mean belief, but rather that is not what God has in mind when He talks about faith. I wonder if that is what Rachel is intending to get at.

    Perhaps an example from my own life would be helpful. Most members of the Church tend to think of agency as the power/ability/right to choose. And I agree that in today’s society, that certainly is one definition of agency. However, I have found no evidence that God and the prophets have this definition in mind when they talk about agency in the scriptures. As far as I can tell, they seem to be talking about something else.

    So, what if God and the prophets have a different definition of faith in mind when they talk about it in the scriptures? Are we trying to understand the scripture using our own definition of faith, rather than trying to understand the scriptures’ definition of faith? If we opened our minds up to the possibility of other definitions of faith, what might we learn?

  10. Snyderman – I do agree that it is very helpful to examine each scriptural word on a microscopic level, but at the same time, I do find that prophets repeatedly have defined agency, in the context of their messages, primarily as the capacity/privilege to choose.

    You’ve made me curious. How do you see agency? Is it tangential to the common understanding or completely different?

    I find that most concepts/words/teachings in the gospel have a duality to them, if they are don’t possess even more dimensions. I think frequently when we ask an ‘or’ question when trying to ascertain the meaning of something in the Gospel, the answer is often ‘all of the above.’

  11. Cameron-
    I wonder if the “or” being turned to “and” in a lot of cases would be more helpful? I think modern life is more comfortable with concrete answers, which “or” questions force us into. I suspect Heavenly Father and Christ aren’t going to ask did you have faith or knowledge, but how did you act on your faith and knowledge? Maybe I am parsing hairs though.

  12. Cameron N (12): I agree that modern prophets and apostles have defined agency as “the capacity/privilege to choose” and that they mean it that way in the context of what they are saying. I don’t know that any of them have ever explicitly stated that agency has the same definition when it is used in the scriptures.

    Personally, I see it as being tangential to modern usage. I think agency, at least as used in the scriptures, means something closer to “being able to see what the options are.”

    A metaphor here might help. Imagine you’re walking down a wooded path and you come to a fork in the path. You can choose Path A or Path B. Now imagine that Path B has been covered up or camouflaged in such a way that you don’t realize that it’s there. Thus, you take Path A every time you come to the fork. In this scenario, you still have the capacity/privilege to choose, you just don’t know that there’s a choice to be made.

    I think a large part of the struggle between God and Satan is found in the covering up or revealing of Path B. God tries to help us become able to see Path B, while Satan tries to do the opposite. When the scriptures say that Satan tried to destroy the agency of man, I don’t think they meant that he tried to take away our capability/privilege to choose. Rather, I think they meant he tried to take away our ability to see the choices.

    If that makes any sense.

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