3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

3MT : Truthinesss and Faithiness

There is a difference between Truth and truthiness. There is a difference between Faith and faithiness. Can you see it in your own life?

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Stephen Colbert is a genius. This might not mean much to those of you who live outside the United States. It is hard to measure the genius of a man of whom you’ve never heard. Anyway, trust me on this: I know it in my gut.

Colbert is the host of a satirical television show broadcast on the cable channel Comedy Central in the US, first broadcast in October 2005. He plays an arrogant right-wing host, confusingly also called “Stephen Colbert”, and on the first show he introduced to the world a new word, one which has been called “the summarizing concept of our age”1. The American Dialect Society gave a useful definition of this new word, truthiness, when awarding it “Word of the Year” status. Truthiness is:

the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true2.

Or, as Colbert himself put it:

I’m not a fan of facts. You see, the facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are3.

You can immediately see what a useful idea truthiness is when applied to politics: we invaded Iraq because we felt Saddam to be a danger to the rest of the world, even if the evidence for WMDs was missing; we are sure that a national identity card system will make us all feel safer; £100 billion isn’t really a lot of money to secure Britain’s status as a banking nation.

But what about religion? Is there an equivalent concept? Of course there is. It’s faithiness.

Faithiness is knowing that being a Christian is doing Christian things— “she never went to church, but she was a real Christian to her neighbours”. Faithiness is bargaining with God— “if I pray to You in this particular way, You will, of course, give me what I want”. Faithiness knows that the Summary of the Law was written by Burger King— “have it your way”. Faithiness is when you know what Jesus would do— just what you’d do.

This being the modern world, faithiness even has its own group on Facebook, where Dan Schultz, the coiner of this particular neologism gives us a definition:

Faithiness – (n) 1. Act or quality of valuing appearance of faith more than actual faith.
2. Massive oversimplification of religious belief, theology, etc., in order to create bland, inoffensive or superficial faith.

Faithiness. There is a lot of it about. Still. Even in a world and culture where it isn’t a social requirement to go to Church, to profess a belief in God, to practice spiritual disciplines, to conform to religious practice. Even in such a world there is a large amount of faithiness in the behaviour of all the faithful. The problem is, faith, proper faith, “actual faith”, requires us to strip away, or rather be stripped, of all the props and camouflages and fetishes and taboos of faithiness, until, in the words of the great Jewish Zen Master (yes, another one!)

…even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

  1. source: Adam Sternbergh, ‘Stephen Colbert Has America by the Ballots’ New York Magazine, 8 October 2006. Available online here. []
  2. American Dialect Society, MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois. Press release, 6 January 2006. []
  3. source: Sternbergh, ‘America by the Ballots’. []

5 Comments

  1. As a fan of Stephen Colbert, I think this posting and your coining of the term “faithiness” is brilliant! I just might have to give this posting a plug on my blog.

  2. Justin Lewis-Anthony

    8 March, 2008 at 8:57 am

    How kind of you Bryan. I am very happy to take the credit for doing something well, but I should emphasise that I didn’t invent “faithiness”. As far as I can tell that was Dan Schultz, founder of the Street Prophets. However, the power of the word is that it describes something that was already out there, and for which we only had various circumlocutory ways of talking about it. “Faithiness”! A word whose time has come!

  3. Dick Reynoldson

    17 January, 2009 at 4:49 am

    Isn’t religion the ultimate in truthiness?

  4. Justin Lewis-Anthony

    17 January, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Which is no more than an assertion, and not an argument (and assertions are the building blocks of truthiness of every kind)

  5. I was actually posing a question. If religious belief depends mainly on what I presume is a deeply held feeling of faith, and if truthiness may be defined as a gut feeling of conviction, unsupported by, or in spite of, relevant facts or logic, then isn’t the thought process involved basically the same?

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