November 4th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: Why I changed from 'Faith' to 'Being'

Editor's Note:Krista Tippett created and hosts the public radio program and podcast "Krista Tippett On Being"/onBeing.org, produced by American Public Media, and is the author of Einstein's God.

By Krista Tippett, Special to CNN

Since I left print journalism to study theology two decades ago, I’ve thought a great deal about the limits and possibilities of words - especially when we try to navigate the spiritual territory of human life.

And when I started a public radio program on religion, ethics and meaning seven years ago, I was also quite aware that I was inviting people to put words around something as intimate as anything we try to talk about, and as ultimately ineffable.

Nevertheless, to paraphrase St. Augustine, we speak in order not to remain silent. We are fin de siècle, turn of century, people - charged with revisiting basic definitions of life, death, and meaning; we are restructuring our families, institutions, and economies. Our common life needs all the edifying vocabulary and virtues we can muster.

There’s an obvious irony here.

Religious voices have been some of the most toxic in global life in recent decades. Bombs explode in the name of Islam. Christian rhetoric fuels culture wars. There is a chasm between these expressions of religion and the lived virtue their texts and traditions demand.

One of the things that drew me to the new name of my radio program, On Being, is that it has profound philosophical and theological roots - and at the same time, it is profoundly hospitable. Hospitality is one of the great overarching virtues of all our traditions, more immediately achievable than peace, forgiveness, or compassion.

And I’ve been pleased and at times surprised by the open-hearted, open-minded correspondence I’ve had with Christian leaders -  including theological conservatives - about losing the show’s former name, Speaking of Faith.

They struggle personally with the fact that “faith” does not carry the complex resonance it has in lives of devotion when it is transplanted to the public square. A Pentecostal leader wrote to me of his regret that the word “faith” has become “neuralgic” - a source of recurrent pain - in American life.

Evangelical leaders have told me about the “embarrassment” they experience among the young in their communities - young evangelicals have used this very word with me too - about the way “faith” became a blunt instrument in American politics in recent years, flattened out into positions and debates, a primary source of animosity.

There is grief behind these sentiments too, a sadness that a term so rich in meaning for so many should become an obstacle to exploring that very meaning. I understand that sadness and share it.

When we launched our radio program in 2003, I insisted against resistance that public radio had to claim an explicit stake in the “faith” discussion, demonstrating that this part of life too could be discussed with intelligence alongside politics, culture and economics. That conviction remains at the heart of my project.

But my cumulative conversation has evolved to cover religious ideas and questions less in a distinct compartment in society, and more as they infuse all of our pursuits and disciplines.

American culture’s encounter with the ethical and spiritual challenges of our time has unfolded along similar lines. There is a convergence of searching questions, strong identities, and communal commitments that long for discussion and shared action not only across religious boundaries but across boundaries of belief and non-belief.

“Faith” has its place in that, but it is too limiting a word even to describe the Christian contribution to it.

And letting go of a word, after all, doesn’t mean letting go of its content. It frees and compels us, rather, to find fresh, vivid language to communicate the deepest sense of our convictions.

A turning point for me around this decision to change our name was a day I spent last spring at Harvard Divinity School. In a discussion about the future of “progressive Christianity,” it became necessary to name the fact that the word “progressive” itself is at once vague and fraught in public discourse, not an adequate vessel for the contribution its passionate adherents want to make.

So, too, words like “peace” and “justice” have taken on political connotations and political divisiveness. They are not effective shorthand or inviting rallying cries. Yet across boundaries of belief and non-belief, so many of us long to pursue the substance those words were coined to signify.

Being is the word I’m throwing into the mix. What does it mean to be human? And how do we want to live?

These are fundamental, animating questions behind the human religious and spiritual impulse. Our great traditions are vast repositories of thinking and prayer, text and ritual, and conversation across generations about them.

But these questions are not exclusive to religious people. Atheists and agnostics are among the most ethically engaged people in our culture now, some of the most vigorous spiritual seekers.

On Being, as a conversation starter, holds out hope, for me, of a bolder demonstration that the extreme choices between nihilistic atheist and unthinking religious don’t fit most of us. Perhaps, in our search for the new vocabulary to express who we are becoming, we will reintroduce our deepest longings and virtues to each other and to the world.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Krista Tippett.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Opinion • Radio

soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Infankefe

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    February 20, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  2. Scott


    I have listened to the radio programs from the beginning and even bought your book. I enjoyed the shows immensely. However, I notice that I haven't listened once since the name change. I didn't realize that it put me off, but I guess it did! I just can't get motivated to listen to a show 'on being'. Perhaps just 'faith' would have been a better fit. Nonetheless, I would surmise that the name change has cost you listenership, but you have those facts, not me. I wish you success in your future journeys of faith. You have a great gift.

    February 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  3. Virginia

    I so appreciate this program but find that I feel a twinge of disappointment in the name change. The show itself continues to help me sort through my current struggles with my own aging (or maturing) childhood faith. It is helping me be at peace with my need to even search for more meaning and more answers. However, back on Nov. 4th, a poster named Jeff commented on the difference in connotation the two words, faith and being, had for him. While I don't perceive "being" as passive as he does, I appreciate his description of the connotation of "faith." I think that's why I am a bit disappointed about the change. That being said, this show is helping me A LOT with my own faith.

    January 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  4. Sandra Stanley

    Ontology; isn't that what 'being' means; or doesn't 'being' mean 'onotology'? I recently read one depiction of thought evolution as: belief, then faith, then direct experience. Could it be that faith has led to direct experience which indicates 'being'? In my life, recognize this progression; and in my life, I love being...Ahhh...San

    January 7, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  5. Wisdom for life

    Big enough for faith and doubt

    November 18, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
  6. Brandy Bucktook

    their message

    November 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  7. Brandy Bucktook

    Faith isn't a thing it's a verb and has to be acted upon. Maybe your discontent with the word is the discontent of Faith in your life. You must 1st plant a seed of Faith in your heart. "Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a sed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves–It must needs be that thisis a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. Alma 32; 28-29. Your faith is waivering because the seed of Faith you have planted has not increased or enlightened your mind. If you like what you have just read, I would ask you to meet with Mormon Missionaries and here there message.

    November 11, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  8. NM

    please check out http://www.islamicsolutions.com/world-day-of-god-2010/

    November 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  9. Iqbal khan


    November 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  10. MicheleG

    An excellent and eloquent essay. "A life unexamined is a life not worth living." A garbled paraphrase but one I agree with. Doing my own search into the apparent disjunct between faith and reason. All too often when people hear the word "faith" they also hear "stop thinking." See http://www.poynter.org for an excellent journalistic source for how to use words that are not "loaded" in order to write with true clarity.

    November 6, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  11. Iqbal khan

    A very informatve book," What Jesus Really Say" and other lectures and articles for free download check....


    November 5, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
  12. Iqbal khan

    A very informative book, "What jesus Really Say" can be Downloaded free, also many other lectures and articles, check.....


    November 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  13. brad

    Aside from all questions about the origins of humanity – creation vs. whatever – I think that God's most fundamental command is to "be", to accept our existence. We don't always do it. In frustation, we'll ask "is life worth it?" or usually "what is the purpose of my life?" This acceptance seems more basic than faith itself. For my own part, after decades of reflection, I'm convinced that I *am* the purpose of my life. I exist because the divine Author or Artist willed me to. And I have to *be* as a human person, not simply a bunch of neurons and bone.

    November 5, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  14. Earthman

    Yes Teephphah, as a matter of fact I do have many steeds and a mammoth jack named Moses with many hybrid offspring here at my bloodline refuge. Along with green houses, springs, and isolation.... my own reality.... distinctly different from the synthetic culture.

    November 4, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
    • Teephphah

      Ah! Touché. Well played Earthman. Well played indeed.

      November 5, 2010 at 9:40 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.