I don't mean faith with a capital F, here, but faith as in steadfast adherence to a cause whose promised benefits have not yet been realized. Such as: gangly teens becoming responsible adults, acorns growing into oak trees, or that my client's check actually represents funds which my bank can collect--and that my bank will be solvent!--and even world peace or an end to poverty and disease.
Historically, religion has been the primary source of lasting social change because believers are willing to alter behavior and attitudes in order to be 'good.' The result shapes not only individuals, but also, ultimately, the community around them. Which is one of the reasons I am a follower of Bahá'u'lláh.
The Bahá'í Faith is an independent religion which claims to be only the latest in an age-old chain of guidance from a single Creator. Its basic teachings say there is only one God and one human race whose members are the sons and daughters of a single human family, planet wide. Its followers believe they have laws and a blueprints for a social structure that are exactly what is needed for this day and age--their purpose is to unify the entire human race.
Just as the teachings of Moses formed the tribe, Jesus the city/state, and Mohammad the nation, Bahá'ís are working to form one world, and usher in the Golden Age that all previous chapters in God's religion have promised. It is a very great leap of faith when news media provide endless crises, disasters, wars and rumors of wars, plus warn constantly of fearful things to come.
Let's take one specific issue facing the human species in the foreseeable future: food. How is faith going to deal with feeding the masses? There exist--right now--several proven methods for reversing desertification and creating sustainable agriculture that could feed many more than 7 billion people without further destabilizing those conditions necessary for human life. None of those systems have been adopted and funded by any but a handful of dedicated individuals. And they are finding it a very uphill road to convince their neighbors to try something new.
Why? Because change requires enormous energy and hope, let alone adopting a course of action that might fly in the face of accepted practices. It is difficult, indeed, to go against tradition and orthodoxy, whether familial, religious, political, or scientific! Faith in a result which isn't visible yet, and might not even come to fruition in my lifetime, is a big deal. Reform movements come and go quickly, but only religion has ever succeeded in passing that kind of commitment across generations.
A major challenge of building sustainable agriculture is that it can't be done unilaterally; it requires community action. People will have to learn to work together, to share responsibilities and hold certain assets in common. That will require individual honesty, trustworthiness, and a level of altruism and commitment to the betterment of the whole that are difficult to maintain without faith in a greater Good.
Faith, when placed in the right Good, is a powerful tool for change. It can foster personal spiritual development (i.e., virtues), alter long held traditions and attachment to ignorant or outmoded customs, convert strangers into friends, support new behaviors and snowball through the population.
It has happened in the past. It will happen in the future. It is happening right now, little by little, day by day.
(For links to what is happening in sustainable agriculture, check the forum associated with this site.)
"As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Baha'i Scriptures, p. 504