Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cardo and Credo

Have you ever set your heart on something so much that it changed your life? Maybe you learned for the first time that compounding interest can make you money - if you could just control your spending. Maybe you learned that home-grown vegetables taste a lot better than grocery store vegetables. Maybe you discovered that turning off the TV and talking with your family is a great thing to do.

Some ideas come into our heads and make such an impression that we are willing to do something about them. It may be that we start to save money, grow a garden, or communicate better. Or it might be something else entirely. Whatever the impression may be it involves a thought, a heart-felt desire, and a planned effort.

This is nothing new, what might come as a surprise is that the heart-felt desire is just another way of saying something that we have been misunderstanding for years - even centuries. In a religious sense this heartfelt desire is what we used to mean by the word faith.

This is easier to see if you know Latin. Take the word cardiologist, for example. Most of us recognize that this is a scientist or a doctor who works on the heart. Cardo, of course, means heart in Latin. It isn’t hard to see the similarity of this word with the Latin credo, which means faith. Our English word creed is also derived from credo. These two words, cardo and credo (heart and faith) come from the same place.

This is clearly a different understanding of faith than a mere passive belief in something. We may have a lot of ideas or rational beliefs about many things. But faith doesn’t happen until we set our hearts on one of them.

This relationship of faith and heartfelt desire is seen in the Book of Heleman (Chapter 3:34 - in the Book of Mormon):

“Nevertheless they did … [wax]… firmer and firmer in their faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto god.”

This understanding of faith may not be one that you have heard about before - and justifiably so. You won’t find it as a definition in any standard dictionary - at least not directly. But the earlier meaning is still there and occasionally comes through in certain words and phrases.

The most obvious are the words faithful and fidelity. These words convey a sense of being true but we use them about people we love. We are faithful to our spouse because of love. We demonstrate fidelity for the same reason. Simply put, faith is a virtue of the heart - not so much a virtue of the mind. If we have faith in someone, we have heartfelt feelings for them. Similarly, a true faith in Christ is not restricted to a simple rational belief in Him. It means that we love Him.

Consider all the references in the Old Testament to God’s jealousy. They often seem a bit odd. After all, jealousy is not a virtue and admitting that a supreme being could be guilty of this human frailty just doesn’t seem right.

But jealousy exists because love exists and the commandment to love God is the same thing as the commandment to have faith in Him. Unfortunately faith has lost much of this meaning. Today most of us think that faith just means believing - and this is doubly misleading. It’s misleading because the meaning of the word belief has itself changed. It also used to refer to setting one’s heart on something. Belief just like faith was all about the heart and not so much the mind.

This is obvious in German where I love you is expressed as Ich liebe dich. Love is liebe and comes from the same place as the lieve in our believe. The relationship is even more obvious in the old English verb belove.

This is significant. It is certainly more important than a mere academic insight. It changes the way we engage in public discourse about faith.

For example, today we often hear about people lacking faith or who don’t believe in God. Some of these people are professed atheists or hesitant agnostics. Their unbelief is a rational decision. Anciently this sort of thing was unthinkable.

Before modern times, God’s existence wasn’t questioned by anybody. What might be questioned was one’s devotion to Him. The first commandment is not to believe that God exists. It is to put no other gods before Him. In the New Testament, the Apostle James (in James 2:19) admits that it isn’t all that big of a deal to just acknowledge the existence of god. After all, even the devils acknowledge Him and tremble.

One of the most significant effects that atheism has had in recent times is to move the focus of faith from devotion to rational discourse. It has not only clouded our own religious lives, it has compromised our understanding of religious history.

Take the Reformation as an example, and the way we have interpreted it today. Viewed with a cardo and credo perspective, things are not the way we often make them out to be. The Reformation’s interpretation of faith in the New Testament is particularly informative.

Paul clearly taught that we are saved by faith. But he was also keen to point out the importance of living one’s faith. That this faith is grounded in cardo is quite clear in the Gospel of John where the bulk of the references to pisteuo (meaning faith or belief) are found. In fact there are almost as many references to pisteuo in John as in the three synoptic gospels combined.

And the way John uses the word faith is important too. Very often it is used as a verb and is focused on a person. John wanted us to have faith in Jesus Christ. It’s no mere coincidence that John is also the New Testament author keenest on love and the Holy Ghost. It is essentially impossible to read John without capturing a sense that faith in Christ is no faith at all if it excludes a heartfelt determination to follow Him.

Now fast-forward several hundred years to Medieval Europe. Martin Luther insists on sola fide (on faith alone) as the way of salvation. He sees parallels between the hypocrisy of Pharisaic rules and strict Catholicism and sees an unbridgeable gulf between this formalism and simple faith in Christ. But faith in 16th Century Europe is still grounded, at least in part, in cardo. There is an element of credo too and this nuance needs to be appreciated in our histories more than it has been.

Salvation through faith alone is one thing if we mean that salvation comes to those who rationally acknowledge Jesus to have been the Son of God. It is a very different thing altogether when it means that salvation comes to those who love God with all their heart, might, mind and strength. The former can be practically anybody - including insincere speculators. The later are true heirs of salvation. For this group there is no difference between faith and the first commandment.

But now fast-forward to the 21st Century. Our understanding of faith is almost always far removed from any sense of cardo. Those who profess faith very often feel obligated to justify their lack of knowledge in the next breath - as if faith and knowledge were somehow incompatible.

Here it is worth noticing the important distinction between knowing someone (for example the Spanish conocer) and knowing something (Spanish saber). Knowing things is the hallmark of our technological world. It is a world of facts. Ironically it is also a world of constantly changing certainties and perspectives. This is not the kind of knowledge on which one places a foundational faith.

Knowing people and human motivation, however, is different, especially as it involves an understanding of human nature and the reality of good and evil. Such knowledge can be existential. This is the kind of knowledge that one can rely on if, in fact, the person relied upon is faithful - is trustworthy. This is a knowledge that is based in faith.

Suppose, for example, a new corporate executive requires one of her VP’s to close a deal in Las Vegas. She sends the man with the most experience but also realizes that the surroundings may be a problem if he gets distracted. In the end she sends him off with a faith that borders on anxious worry. This is how we understand faith today.

Now consider the woman living several blocks away – the wife of the chosen VP. She has lived with her husband for 30 years. They have experienced the ups and downs of life together. They have raised a family and enjoy nothing more than spending time together with their children and grandchildren. They are very devoted to each other and consistently strengthen their relationship with daily conversations, nightly pillow talk, and weekly dates. This woman sends her husband off to Las Vegas with a kiss and a smile and doesn’t even think to question his loyalty. She has a faith in him that is based on existential knowledge.

Not too many people have this kind of faith in God. This is a great loss. It was the way our forefathers understood faith. This was the “faith of our Fathers.” Today we live in a world where more people believe in the stock market than they do in God. People are willing to gamble on uncertainty while living in a world of trivial facts. This is the farthest thing from a world of faith - a world of cardo and credo.

In the world of long ago many people changed their lives because of Who they believed in - because of faith. It is long past due for us to set our hearts upon Him again. There is nothing more important for us to know.


Smith, Wilford Cantwell. 1979. Faith and Belief. Princeton University Press. 347 pp.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cost and Irony of Discouragement

You have heard the aphorism that "time is money." And in a highly competitive world that places monetary values on almost everything, this makes a certain amount of sense. It obviously makes sense if you are getting paid by the hour. It also makes sense - although a bit more indirectly - if you don't. Such being our perception of the world, it behooves us to consider one of the major enemies of time management. I refer to the problem of discouragement.

Not every hour of our day is maximally productive. I am best in the morning; and since study is important to me, I like to spend part of each morning studying. I am quite a bit less productive in the evening. This can change, however, if I happen to be discouraged. On really bad days, I might get almost nothing accomplished. The cost of this unproductive discouragement can be significant. But I would like to make the argument that the cost is greater than we might imagine if our calculations are merely monetary calculations. The real cost of discouragement has little to do with money and everything to do with the lack of fulfillment in our lives.

Discouragement can come from many places. Often it comes from the behavior of others. Sometimes it comes from failing to accomplish what we have our heart set on. Sometimes it comes because of poor health. Sometimes we are justified in being disappointed. Other times we are not. Some people are chronically discouraged. Others pass into and out of discouragement. Some people are discouraged so often that they become physically ill. However it is manifest, discouragement is worth reckoning with. It is much too costly to ignore - especially considering the value of the lives that it diminishes.

Several years ago while I was working as a part time Spanish teacher to pay my way through college, I had a chance conversation with my boss. He was also a student and had been studying business management - if my memory serves me correctly. One day he made the comment to me that the major cause of disappointment was unfulfilled expectations. This surprised me for a couple of reasons. The first thing was that I hadn't initially realized this young man was so thoughtful. The second reason was that it shifted the responsibility of discouragement from others to me. Our conversation wasn't really about me - it was about some of our young students. But the simple statement has stayed with me all these years as something that is both obvious and yet often overlooked. We get discouraged because things don't go the way we want them to. This is inevitable. But in the end, we have the ability to find fulfillment.

For Buddhists, all of this is much too obvious. The central tenets of their faith revolve around the unhappiness that comes from wanting things. For them the only relief from this unhappiness is to stop desiring things altogether. I am not in a position to be overly critical of this belief, since I haven't read enough about what they mean by it. I agree with their understanding that desires do cause us grief. I do think, however, that there is a way to find happiness - even enduring happiness - without giving away our desires.

Consider a lonely mother desiring to be reconciled with her wayward son. She may be partly responsible for their estrangement and may or may not be able to make amends. Either way, her desire is not a bad thing. In fact it remains a virtue even if her unhappiness is great and her life would be better if she could just stop worrying about the boy. In fact one can make the argument that a denial of this desire would lessen the mother's humanity. It is not a natural thing for us to not have desires.

And yet it is precisely these desires - or rather the thwarting of these desires - that cause us discouragement. And this discouragement is one of the greatest drags that keep us from becoming what we otherwise have the potential to become.

One of the immediate - and very common - signs of discouragement is to give up. Young people are particularly prone to this mistake. A typical example would be a young man discovering that he has a knack for art. He then spends every one of his high school electives taking art classes. His teachers encourage him because he is their star student. Other teachers, parents and friends also praise his work. Then he enrolls in an art class at college and no longer is the favored student. Other young artists do better work than he does - or so it appears to him. After the first semester, he decides on a different major and never picks up a paintbrush again. He has succumbed to the false notion that if he can't be the best, he might as well be nothing at all.

And so what happens to this young man is that he ends up in a profession that he is only partially interested in. As he gets older he struggles with the tedium of his life and wonders why there is no passion. If he is lucky, he might open a box from the attic one day, discover his painting supplies and try again. Maybe then he can overcome the misconception of his youth.

Is there a way that the grieving mother or the young artist could have prevented - or perhaps overcome - their discouragement? I think the answer is a distinct maybe. The discouragement that comes from a denial of love can be outside of our control. If the son never does make reconciliation, his mother will always grieve. She may apologize for any wrongs she may have done and do everything else to bring him back and yet still fail. For her the best answer may only be patience and to continue in love for others.

For the young artist, his discouragement is self-imposed. He made comparative success the basis for his happiness instead of the artistic involvement with beauty. His discouragement can be overcome by recognizing his mistake and by painting again because he has a gift. In the process, he may find himself again. And in this there is a bit of irony. As he becomes truer to his own nature - overcoming the competitive (even commercial) distraction of his youth - he will inevitably become a better employee. He will in all likelihood make his employer more competitive and more money.

But this misses the point for sure. Failure hurts, just as illness does or loss of friendships does. There is no way to have desires and avoid discouragement. Buddha was right. But desire has another side as well - a human side. It is the side of joy and fulfillment that comes from becoming who we are and who we are meant to be. And the key verb here is "to become". We'll never be the perfect beings we hope to be here in mortality. We will be much less. But failing to pursue the love of others and our own individual gifts - however imperfectly we may succeed - is a sure recipe for inner conflict and even greater discouragement.

A key lesson in all of this is to accept discouragement as we struggle to find the right things to desire. Remarkably as we do this, while being true to God, our desires will become more pure. They will become more capable of an enduring fulfillment. They will also become truer to our own natures - because God rejoices in our individuality and He seeks our happiness. So wherever we may be on this mortal road of discouragement, the best advice is to accept the pain and then move on. We were meant to want things. And we were meant to have joy.