Tillich on Secular Faith

May 28, 2010

Modern humanism, especially since the eighteenth century, rests on a Christian foundation and includes the dominant emphasis on the “ought to be,” as elaborated by the Jewish prophets. Consequently, it shows from the beginnings strong progressive and utopian elements. It starts with the criticism of the feudal order and its sacramental foundations. It demands justice; first from the peasants, then for the bourgeois society, then for the proletarian masses. The faith of the fighters for the enlightenment since the eighteenth century is a humanist faith of the moral type. They fought for freedom from sacramentally consecrated bondage and for justice for every human being. Their faith was humanist faith, expressing itself in secular more than in religious terms. It was faith and not rational calculation, although they believe in the superior power of a reason united with justice and truth. The dynamics of their humanist faith changed the face of the earth , first in the West, then also in the East. It is this humanist faith of the moral type which was taken over by the revolutionary movements of the proletarian masses in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries . Its dynamic is visible very day in our present period. As for every faith, the utopian form of the humanist faith is a state of ultimate concern. This gives it its tremendous power for good and evil. In view of this (and the preceding) analysis of humanist faith, it is almost ridiculous to speak of the loss of faith in the Western secular world. It has a secular faith, and this has pushed the different forms of religion into a defensive position; but it is faith and not “unbelief.” It is a state of ultimate concern and total devotion to this concern.

Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper, 1957), 68-69.

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