What is most refreshing and attractive about this book is that it takes a wide perspective on its topic. It maintains that everyone has faith in something, whether it's in oneself, nature, humanity, one's tribe or one's God. Faith should not be identified with religion, morality, belief, or feeling. Rather, it is a relationship with a source of meaning, a center of value, something or someone that makes one's life worth living. We normally get these ideals from our social context, and then as we mature, we might adopt these values for ourselves or perhaps adopt other values. The way to identify one's faith is by asking the question, "What am I willing to die for?" Or by asking, who do I "do unto" when following the golden rule?
In general, symbols and rituals are not identified with a certain faith or religion. Rather they are elements used throughout society, and can have different meanings for different people. A flag, for example, is a symbol of patriotism, but for some it can be what they would die for, for others it symbolizes a value, but is not the ultimate or "irreducible" value of one's life. From care for the flag to the words and gestures of the Catholic Mass, rituals are ways of expressing and practicing faith, whatever that faith might be.
A question people often ask is how they can know whether their faith is justified, or how it can be shown to be reasonable and warranted. Even secular humanists and scientists agree that there is a certain mystery about how to identify their ultimate value and whether that value can be trusted. Because there are so many unknowns, and because the very definition of faith includes the idea that it involves a constant seeking for truth, Tilley gives three criteria for justifying one's faith. First, it has to show the world in a revealing way, in other words, it has to shine a light on the world in a particular way, perhaps through a parable or a kind of map. Second, the content of what this revelation exposes must be consistent with other facts. It must reveal what is actually going on. Its claims must have some plausibility. Third, our faith must enable us to be true to ourselves. It is a relationship, not a proposition. Faith is a topic that is surrounded by vague ideas and uncritical definitions. Tilley does a superb job of clarifying it, saying what it isn't, and giving examples of some ideas that are often confused with faith, such as morality, belief, feeling and religion. By taking this wider perspective, that is, talking about faith from a world perspective, rather than a narrowly religious one, he can bring in authors like Paul Tillich, David Foster Wallace, St. Augustine, William James, Cardinal Newman, Mother Teresa and Ghandi, as well as fiction writers like Jane Austin. He can do all of this without the reader having to look up any words in the dictionary because they are all explained in the context of the essays.
The book will guide adults of any age to think through their own faith. It is clearly and interestingly written, with examples taken from contemporary life. What might be jolting for some is the appendix, which analyzes projection theories. Tilley argues against those who say that God or gods are not real, that they are only projections of our imagination. He answers that everything we know is a projection of our minds. We cannot know things as they are in themselves. We can only know what our minds perceive. This section is more challenging, probably meant for more advanced philosophical thinkers.