1. What is it?
By definition, faith is the belief in something for which no proof is possible exists. This is often the belief in a divine entity, higher power or god.
Faith in literature usually involves religious faith. This can be finding, doubting or preaching about god.
2. How is it made?
|Character is either born into religion, or outside of it.||Event makes character consider the nature of faith.|
|Use of religious symbolism and practices.||Contrast between having and not having faith.|
|Contrast between personal faith and the expectations of religious institutions such as the church.||May be a side character rather than the principle one.|
3. Examples in literature
Know Your Book
by Philip Larkin
Title: Church Going
Author: Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
Published: 1955 (in The Less Deceived)
Genre: Poetry; contemplative
Synopsis: A cyclist enters an old church, a building he does not truly understand but feels has a vague and moving spirituality. He recognises churches are physically no more than stone that will fall apart, and wonders what happens to a religious building when it stops being used. Ultimately, however, he decides that the world needs churches, because the lure of the spiritual will always exist within humans.
Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting seats and stone
and little books; sprawlings of flowers cut
For Sunday brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense musty unignorable silence
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,
Move forward run my hand around the font.
From where I stand the roof looks almost new –
Cleaned or restored? someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern I peruse a few
hectoring large-scale verses and pronounce
‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do
And always end much at a loss like this
Wondering what to look for; wondering too
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show
Their parchment plate and pyx in locked cases
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or after dark will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games in riddles seemingly at random;
But superstition like belief must die
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky.
A shape less recognisable each week
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber randy for antique
Or Christmas-addict counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth
And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built
This special shell? For though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet
Are recognised and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious
And gravitating with it to this ground
Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in
If only that so many dead lie round.
|Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension|
1. How does the poet arrive at the church?
2. What remains after ‘disbelief is gone’?
3. How does the poet feel about the idea of churches at the end of the poem?
4. What is the rhyme structure of Church Going?
5. How does punctuation affect the pace of the poem?
6. What imagery and descriptions are used in the first two stanzas to describe how the church looks?
7. Are there any examples of consonance or assonance within the poem?
8. The poet’s attitude towards churches at the start of the poem might be described as cynical. What evidence exists in the text to support this description?
9. Compare the poet’s attitude towards the church in the first two stanzas with the last stanza. How has it changed? How has the poet’s way of discussing the church changed?
10. How is the physicality of the church treated in comparison to the spiritual idea it represents?
11. In what way does the poet link superstition to the concept of a church?
12. What is the poet referring to when he says ‘I wonder who / Will be the last, the very last, to seek / This place for what it was’?
13. What, overall, do you think Larkin’s attitude to faith is within the poem Church Going?
14. How do you feel when you go into a religious building? Does it feel different from other buildings? If so, why do you think this is?
15. Do you think there is a difference between outward displays of faith – as represented by the church in this poem – and internal personal faith (as seen in the poet’s thoughts)?
16. Do you think faith and reverence requires a belief in a deity? Can faith be separate from religious aspects?
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
Know Your Book
by James Hogg
Title: The Private Memoirs and Written Confessions of a Justified Sinner: by Himself: With a detail of curious traditionary facts and other evidence by the editor
Author: James Hogg (1770-1835)
Genre: Fiction; novel; satire; philosophical novel; Gothic novel
Plot: George and Robert are half-brothers. George is older, more popular, and raised by a Calvinist minister to believe he is pre-destined to be saved by God. Robert, meanwhile, is bitter. One day George is murdered. The book then switches to Robert’s narrative, and his friendship with the mysterious Gil-Martin. Evidently the devil, Gil-Martin pushes Robert towards revenge against hypocritical sinners. As the devil begins to run his life, and assume his form, Robert starts to lose his mind.
Setting: Edinburgh; late 17th century
Characters: Robert (narrator of 2nd half); Gil-Martin; George
The worst thing of all was what hitherto I had never felt, and, as yet, durst not confess to myself, that the presence of my illustrious and devoted friend was becoming irksome to me. When I was by myself, I breathed freer, and my step was lighter; but, when he approached, a pang went to my heart, and, in his company, I moved and acted as if under a load that I could hardly endure. What a state to be in! And yet to shake him off was impossible—we were incorporated together—identified with one another, as it were, and the power was not in me to separate myself from him. I still knew nothing who he was, further than that he was a potentate of some foreign land, bent on establishing some pure and genuine doctrines of Christianity, hitherto only half understood, and less than half exercised. Of this I could have no doubts after all that he had said, done and suffered in the cause. But, alongst with this, I was also certain that he was possessed of some supernatural power, of the source of which I was wholly ignorant. That a man could be a Christian and at the same time a powerful necromancer, appeared inconsistent, and adverse to every principle taught in our Church and from this I was led to believe that he inherited his powers from on high, for I could not doubt either of the soundness of his principles or that he accomplished things impossible to account for. Thus was I sojourning in the midst of a chaos of confusion. I looked back on my by-past life with pain, as one looks back on a perilous journey, in which he has attained his end, without gaining any advantage either to himself or others; and I looked forward, as on a darksome waste, full of repulsive and terrific shapes, pitfalls, and precipices, to which there was no definite bourn, and from which I turned with disgust. With my riches, my unhappiness was increased tenfold; and here, with another great acquisition of property, for which I had pleaed, and which I had gained in a dream, my miseries and difficulties were increasing. My principal feeling, about this time, was an insatiable longing for something that I cannot describe or denominate properly, unless I say it was for utter oblivion that I longed. I desired to sleep; but it was for a deeper and longer sleep than that in which the senses were nightly steeped. I longed to be at rest and quiet, and close my eyes on the past and the future alike, as far as this frail life was concerned. But what had been formerly and finally settled in the councils above, I presumed not to call in question.
|1. The narrator describes the friendship as|
b) mutually beneficial
|2. Despite the narrator’s unease about the situation, he continues to believe his friend is|
b) doing God’s work
c) of superior intelligence
|3. As well as being connected to his friendship, the narrator’s feelings are talked about in conjunction with|
a) increased personal and financial gain
b) deteriorating family relationships
c) suspicion from local religious leaders
d) surrounding social upheaval
e) failing health
|4. Overall, the moral of the passage could be seen as|
a) a good friend never questions another’s motives
b) unquestioning faith leaves one open to manipulation
c) religion is the cause of all problems
d) faith will see people through times of difficulty
e) it is easy to lose hope when friendship dies
|5. Although both Church Going and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner discuss faith, the narrator in the latter is|
a) born again
b) better educated
e) religiously indoctrinated