In response to this situation, Koopman calls for a working faith that grows out of a realization of the contingency and fragility of the world. This faith is not traditionally religious; it is not founded on the idea of an ever-present and all-powerful creator, nor would it be backed by powerful institutions. Instead, it is the sort of faith that grows out of a strenuous confrontation with the facts of change and uncertainty--a faith that is a working hope that change and fragility, as frightening and dangerous as they might be, might with some effort be turned towards the good. Koopman finds this sort of faith in the ethical writings of William James, and I find it there myself.
Another place where philosophers might look for a model for this sort of faith is the working attitude of the distance runner. As a friend and I ran down the road last night, we talked about how training always requires a delicate balance between one's ideal plans and the contingencies that life throws at you. It is easy enough to chart out a course to a certain goal. The difficulty is not conceiving an ideal; we all know what it takes to become a better runner, just as it is likely that we know how to become a better person. The difficulty comes in the interaction with the contingencies that life throws at you. The difficulty is in the execution of the ideal, and it is here that we see in action the flexible melioristic faith, the sort of working hope, that Koopman and James are talking about.
The runner has to dream big in order to achieve. We all have a picture of the runner we could be if everything went right. This picture is, of course, a pure figment of imagination. Its function is to provide a range of working possibility, a sort of center of gravity that keeps us in orbit, pushes us out the door. We make steady progress towards that ideal. Along the way, in the execution, we learn what keeps us back and make efforts to transform ourselves. Slowly, over the course of time, we refashion our habits against the rough edges of the obstacles we encounter. We eat differently. We sleep differently. We try different sorts of workouts. Our bodies change, cell by cell. Capillaries bloom. Muscles grow lean and striated. The creases of long effort work their way onto our faces. Our tendons become steely cords. Our minds learn the rhythm of a hard pace, our mouths the tangy flavor of lactic acid. Incrementally, intangibly, with multiple setbacks along the way, through frustration and effort, we edge closer to that picture of the runner we want to be.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a first-rate philosopher of democratic faith.
It is this slow process of self-transformation through ongoing effort towards an ideal that James means to denote by the simple word "faith." This is the only thing faith has ever meant for actual people living on and in the world. This, it seems to me, is a vision of faith worth believing in, a faith worth working for. Running has value beyond itself because it shows this faith in action; it shows that this human form of faith is possible. Philosophers can find it alive and well in the working attitude of the distance runner.
We runners can learn from philosophers how to dream bigger dreams. We can learn to inculcate this sort of faith beyond our sport, in our communities, in our friendships, in our wider ethical selves. Such a faith will be necessary to continue working towards the worlds that we desire. And, just as importantly in a pluralistic and democratic culture, such a faith will be necessary to do the work to understand and live with those who have faith in different worlds. This is the work of a strenuous democratic faith--the ongoing reconstruction of our minds, our habits, our communities, our selves--to be able to live together, with our differences, without violence and indignity, hopefully, perhaps, someday.