The Essence of Faith

The following words offered by Paulo Freire are among my favorite:

“I do not feel very comfortable speaking about my faith. At least, I do not feel as comfortable as I do when speaking about my political choice, my utopia, and my pedagogical dreams. I do want to mention, however, the fundamental importance of my faith in my struggle for overcoming an oppressive reality and for building a less ugly society, one that is less evil and more humane.

All arguments in favor of the legitimacy of my struggle for a more people-oriented society have their deepest roots in my faith. It sustains me, motivates me, challenges me, and it has never allowed me to say, ‘Stop, settle down; things are as they are because they cannot be any other way.’

Still young, I read in Miguel de Unamuno that ‘ideas are to be had; beliefs are for one to be in.’ I am in my faith, but it does not immobilize me, being in faith means moving, engaging in different forms of action coherent with that faith. It is to engage in action that reaffirms it and never action that negates it. Negating faith is not being without it, but rather contradicting it through acts. Not having faith is both a possibility and a right of human beings, who cease to be human if they are denied their freedom to believe or not believe. Having faith, believing, is not the problem; the problem is claiming to have it and, at the same time, contradicting it in action.

In that sense, coherence and a taste for it are indispensable in building a balance between what I preach and what I do. To give testimony against one’s proclaimed faith is to work against faith.

Since I was a child, I have never been able to understand how it could be possible to reconcile faith in Christ with discrimination on the basis of race, sex, social class, or national origin. How is it possible to ‘walk’ with Christ, but refer to the popular classes as ‘these stinky people’ or ‘riffraff.’

It is not easy to have faith. Above all, it is not easy due to the demands faith places on whoever experiences it. It demands a stand for freedom, which implies respect for the freedom of others, in an ethical sense, in the sense of humility, coherence, and tolerance.

If vigorous faith can authentically emerge among the abused, it is less likely to blossom among the arrogant. In order for those to be touched by faith, they first need to be emptied of the power that makes them all-powerful. So that, humiliated, they may live true faith, they need to assume no humiliation, even if weak, without losing humility.

For this reason, salvation implies liberation, engagement in a struggle for it. It is as if the fight against exploitation, its motivation, and the refusal of resignation were paths to salvation. The process of salvation cannot be realized without rebelliousness.

It is not easy to have faith.”

Pedagogy of the Heart

Paulo Freire, 1997, p. 104-105


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