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Are Faith and Knowledge Mutually Exclusive?

Generally knowledge is acquired through experience. Often it results from our having perceived a pattern: every day, at predictable times, the sun rises and sets. Therefore, I know that the sun rises and sets on a daily basis. I also know, either from close observation or from the observations of others, that there is a gradual shift of the point on the horizon at which it rises or sets, and that this shift from one extreme to the other and back takes a year to complete. Generally knowledge is related to the past and is founded on past experience.

But even a single event, a single experience, can give us knowledge. The sun rose this morning; I saw it; there is such a thing as sunrise. An angel appeared to me; I saw it; I know that angels exist.

Faith, on the other hand, is related to a soul mood of trust. We have faith in, trust in something. In the case of the sunrise, I watch the sun rise every day. I have faith that it will rise tomorrow. Based on my past experience and the resulting knowledge of the pattern, I trust that the sun will rise tomorrow. Faith or trust is related to our attitude toward the future.

Faith is an attitude of soul. It is often preceded by the word “blind”. This implies that the faith, the trust, may be unfounded or unwarranted. This is indeed a possible soul attitude, to trust the untrustworthy, despite the knowledge to the contrary that one’s experience ought to have provided. In these times, though, often the opposite is the case: we have a blind (or blinding) distrust, a lack of faith in others, in a divine world and in our own experiences. We distrust the future, despite a discernible pattern. An angel appears, but we do not trust our own perception because of our distrust in the reality of a single, singular experience.

Are faith and knowledge mutually exclusive? It depends on how we use them. Faith as a soul attitude of trust can allow us to perceive things of which we may have been previously unaware. It can keep us open to the not-so-obvious. Once someone tells us that, say, rose petals arrange themselves in a five-point star pattern, we can begin to see this pattern in other flowers and begin to distinguish them from the three and six-petalled ones. Then, in turn, success at gaining knowledge based on experience can support and increase our faith, our trust in our own experience and in what we perceive.

2 replies
  1. Joel A. Wendt
    Joel A. Wendt says:

    This being a CC “blog”(?), it is perhaps interesting that R. Steiner never used the term knowledge in the above fashion. Knowledge requires the union of percept and concept. While Faith is preferable to “belief “, in the sense of trust, faith does not give knowledge. For modern details on the anthroposophical understanding of the problem of knowledge, read my “Cowboy Bebop – and the physics* of thought as a moral art”

    • Cynthia Hindes
      Cynthia Hindes says:

      I agree of course that knowledge requires the union of percept and concept. It is the percept of light rising above the horizon, on a regular basis, that has allowed us to form the concept ‘sunrise’. My point was that faith as a soul mood of trust (not belief) allows us to perhaps expand our awareness of new percepts, and thus is a kind of pre-condition for acquiring some kinds of new knowledge. I cannot know what I cannot (or refuse to) perceive.


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