What is the opposite of faith?

by Kim on October 8, 2011

What is the opposite of faith?

A lot of people would say doubt. But that won’t do. There is, for sure, a kind of doubt that is entirely negative, which puts faith in jeopardy. But I suspect the main kind of doubt with which we are familiar is the kind that asks questions – and that won’t be fobbed off with unconvincing answers. This kind of doubt – Socratic doubt – is essential to a robust faith. A faith that isn’t interrogative isn’t worth having.

Perhaps, then, we could say that the opposite of faith is certainty. And if we understand certainty on the model of, say, mathematics, that is (certainly!) true. But there are other models on which we might draw. Friendship, for example. I think most of us would want to say that the faith I have in my best friend – my soul-mate – is certain. Here faith is kin to “trust” – which happens to be the predominant theological meaning of faith. Jesus calls us his friends (John 15:15). The martyrs are our mentors when it comes to the certainty of faith: the dubious don’t confess Christ at the stake.

I suppose I must mention a third possibility, namely, that the opposite of faith is reason, because the so-called New Atheists continue to swagger on that faith is irrational, that it is belief without evidence. Which in one sense is true, because God is not a member of the world who offers himself for observation. But in another sense it is patently false, at least for Christianity, which is dependent on the testimonies of witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As for rationality, Karl Barth was once asked how reason fits into his theology. “I use it,” he replied. So does any sensible Christian.

I want to propose a fourth alternative for the opposite of faith. It’s one you don’t usually hear: cowardice. Conversely, on this reading, faith is courage. My text: Mark 4:35ff. A storm suddenly overwhelms the boat in which Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus naps, his friends freak. They wake him, and he tells the wind and waves to be still. Then he turns on the twelve (as The Message translates): “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”

There is a lot of fear around in the church today. Fundamentalists are afraid of science. Traditionalists are afraid of change. Those who came to faith during the fag end of Christendom are anxious about secularism or alarmed about Islam. And not only local congregations but also national Churches are panicking about their very survival.

Jaroslav Pelikan said that if Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters; and that if Christ is risen – then nothing else matters. But Christ is risen. Christ reigns. Nothing can separate us from his love. That’s why we needn’t and shouldn’t be afraid. Keep the faith!

{ 1 trackback }

Quote of the Day | eChurch Blog
10.09.11 at 9:19 am

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }


Stuart 10.08.11 at 3:28 pm

Gosh, this is absolutely inspired!


tortoise 10.08.11 at 6:14 pm


And I’m sure, per your last paragraph, that Chris will be glad to hear that he reigns. ;-)


Tony Buglass 10.08.11 at 6:55 pm

It all depends what you mean by faith. If you mean “the faith” (as in “defend the faith”) the opposite is atheism or unbelief. If you mean faith as in “live by faith” (ie trusting in the God we cannot see), then the opposite is sin (ie trusting in self) or idolatry (ie trusting in something else in the place of God). I like the thoughts in this post - I would go so far as to say that fundamentalism is a form of idolatry: it puts the the Bible (as interpreted) in the place of God, to the extent tat those who do not share the dogmatic beliefs of the fundamentalist are rejected as unbelievers. At its worst, it becomes sectarian pharisaism - witness the debates between various groups of fundamentalists about “Love Wins”, and the fact that fundies can be premillennialist, amillennialist, or postmillennialist. If it were that clear, there wouldn’t be all those different possible interpretations. Or is it just that the Holy Spirit is as confused as the rest of us? Or God is having a laugh? Or (most likely) that Screwtape was right?


Pam 10.09.11 at 6:42 am

My understanding of “cowardice” would be someone contemptibly lacking in courage. This didn’t apply to the disciples in the boat, I think. A storm overwhelming the boat would provoke fear but not set off a bout of “cowardice”.
Agree with the final paragraph though.


Lauren Noyes 10.10.11 at 4:01 pm

Thank you - well put.


Ibukun Abioye 02.21.12 at 10:42 am

The word of God says, for God has not given us the spirit of fear,but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1 vs 7. Fear is evil spirit that devil used to torment people,if care is not taken ,corwadice or fear will not allow many people to achieve anything in life,because anything you want to do,something will be telling you that it would not work,but when you use faith, that thing will work.


Dave Severy 07.27.12 at 4:52 am

The opposite of faith is DOUBT. In the Greek New Testament there is but one root word for faith, belief and trust : “pistis.” Belief is opposed by unbelief, faith by doubt and trust by mistrust.

Fear is a Bible Word which expands in two direction: 1) positive fear is reverent awe; 2) negative fear id cowardice. The fear of the Lord is good, to be cowardly toward God is not good.


Homer 05.19.13 at 2:30 pm

Read James 2:14-26. It speaks very clearly about the subject. The opposite of faith is inaction. It profits no one if your faith is sedentary. This is not implying that our work brings about favor or blessing, or that our work brings righteousness or salvation (I think any Christian work their weight in salt knows this). But a believer who says “I have faith” and does nothing to act upon that faith is as effective as a person who claims to have the world’s greatest, most powerful vacuum, but never turns it on to demonstrate.


enorton 07.17.13 at 3:05 pm

I think other people have already shown thru their scriptural quotes that the opposite of faith isn’t cowardice, the opposite of faith is fear.


Desmond Dzakpasu 08.19.13 at 11:38 am



Jo 06.25.16 at 12:50 am

Then would faith be called “guessing” if the opposite is certainty.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>