Paying Attention to the Sky has posted an essay by Roger Scruton
As a person of vastly inferior intellect to Dr. Scruton, and as an ally to many of his causes, I wish to offer not so much a critique as my own perspective on the matter.
Two starting quotations:
"Husserl insists, the perspectival givenness of physical objects does not merely reflect our finite intellect or the physical makeup of our sensory apparatus. It is, on the contrary, rooted in the things themselves. As Husserl writes, even God, as the ideal of absolute knowledge, would have to experience physical objects in the same perspectival manner. Otherwise it would no longer be physical objects that he was experiencing." - Dan Zahavi "Husserl's Phenomenology" p 34
"A man must do his own believing as he must do his own dying" - Martin Luther as translated by Jaroslav Pelikan in "Luther and the Dawn of the Modern Era" p.5 (Pelikan goes on to attack the interpretation of this phrase that I will use)
Faith is an immensely personal thing. It is intensely uncool in academic settings to be a fan of the individual, as that is perceived even by those on the left as being crassly modern. Obviously, hyper-individualism has been problematic, but after seeing its excesses and those of the hyper-conformists (confessionalistas?) as I'd call them, I have to say I prefer St. Augustine to Pope Boniface VIII.
This is because, in my experience, when push comes to shove, at the root of all Western Christendom, lies the Confessions of St. Augustine. Perhaps the most individualistic propagation of theology ever, that spawned western introspection and was itself a reflection of Socrates' own struggles with his beliefs philosophy.
There was a phrase of medieval soteriology which went as follows: in fine salvus consistet - meaning One's salvation consists in the end (meaning the last moment of one's life).
Graham Greene's novels "The Heart of the Matter", and "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh exemplify this in Catholic thought. In both cases it is the individual in the last moment who decides their salvation or damnation. I don't think there are funerals (even in the harshest Rad-Trad Catholic churches) for those knowingly outside a state of grace, or who had excommunicated themselves (perhaps divorcees), where you'd hear a pious theologian tell the bereaved that because their loved one was outside the visible bonds of the Church they were burning in Hell (and this was to be known with dogmatic certainty). Divorcees, after all, now receive Catholic funderals, and canon law allows priests to say masses for "anyone, living or dead" (Canon 901).
In "Brighton Rock" Graham Greene has a murderer constantly singing the Agnus Dei to himself in the car, and continually repeating to himself that 'between the horse and the stirrup' - in that last moment of death - there can be true repentance. Greene himself wrote that perhaps no one loses his faith, it merely appears under another mask. And similarly, Greene placed into the mouth of the priest at the end of "Brighton Rock" a great speech about Charles Peguy who is tacitly acknowledged as a saint though he never received any of the sacraments of the Church. Simone Weil is another figure Catholics particularly admire who was in the same boat.
All of this in the end, is because whether they want to admit it or not, all Christians know that faith is a matter of the heart. The elect after all, are "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). It's not visible or precisely measurable by human terms. In Catholicism interior contrition (true sorrow for sins) alone can save a person without any of the sacraments. In Protestantism interior saving faith alone (trust in Christ's meritorious death on the cross) can save a person, without any visible confession of it. As much as churches like to categorize faith by Confirmations, Confessions, and outward signs, it is all meaningless (as they admit) without the personal, the individual, and the interior. This is perhaps best displayed in Robert Bolt's classic work "A Man For All Seasons" about Sir/St. Thomas More who refused the act of Supremacy based on his personal religious convictions.
While churches, confessions, creeds, and confirmations all aim to give human guages to that invisible divine faith, they must always be remembered as provisional rather than definitive. St. Joan of Arc after all was condemned as a heretic and burnt at the stake only to later by canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint. As my father's friend liked to say "the heart has no dipstick".
If one wishes to guard against individuality I much prefer the way Luther proposed, when he wrote that:
"This is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive."
By resting in the promises of God, one avoids the proud arrogance of individualism, but places oneself in relation to the one individual who ties everything together. As Peter Kreeft liked to say, Christ is the center of Catholicism, and Christ is the center of Protestantism, and ecumenism must work outward from this unity. The Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, liked to say that the crucifix is the focal point of every Catholic church for a reason. To quote Chesterton: the cross is the crux of the matter.
In Christ we find unity, and become a part of the True Israel. Elijah could not break bread with the rest of Israel when he was off in the wilderness, but God fed him by ravens. Let us not be too hasty in our professions of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, to forget that as with Elijah, many scraps fall from the table of the feast of Abraham. Shame on us, if we reduce the invisible to the visible communion.
Thus faith can remain even in the hardest of hearts. Faith can do this because it is a resilient thing. It moves mountains. It has toppled empires. The righteous shall live by faith, even faith, as small as a mustard seed, and even the faith in the confession "I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief".