On the notion of faith
Faith. What a slippery word. What does it mean? Depends who you ask, and under what circumstances you ask them. I’m going to try to nail it down anyhow.
The word “faith” can be used innocuously, as a synonym of “trust.” “I have faith my friends won’t let me down” means essentially the same thing as “I trust my friends won’t let me down.”
But it has another meaning, a meaning unique to the word “faith.” “I have faith in Allah!” or “I have faith in Jesus!” or “I have faith in God!” for instance are a bit different, and, when pressed into a corner on questions of the existence of their various gods, theists, I have found, will often say something like, “well, it is a matter of faith.” As if this removes it from the sphere of rational inquiry, as if this is some sort of “get out of jail free” card they can play when their beliefs are shown to be unjustified.
So, in that sense,the best definition of faith I’ve been able to come up with is this:
To “have faith” is to believe something to a degree of certainty which exceeds what is warranted by the available evidence.
The (the? one version of the) Bible tells us that “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
If you convince yourself to be more certain about something than the evidence warrants, less doubtful than you really should be given the information you have, who are you fooling except yourself? Faith is inherently dishonest. It is dishonest because it involves lying to yourself about how certain you ought to be.
Some may object, saying, “We all use faith.” Supposing for a moment that this is true, that we all use faith. This does not make faith a good thing, or acceptable, or honest, or a virtue. At least I recognize faith for what it is, a vice, and strive to minimize it and eliminate it from my reasoning. I don’t try to convince others that faith is some sort of virtue, and that lack of faith is some sort of failing. Succumbing to the fear and peer pressure brought to bear and allowing yourself to be convinced that faith is a virtue without ever thinking to ask why you should suppose faith to be a virtue, that is the failing. Lack of faith, arrived at by examining faith, and how it relates to truth claims, and by evaluating its efficacy, is the virtue. Faith is the con man’s greatest invention. Faith is the con man’s way of getting you to think that the very act of believing something makes you virtuous, special, and a good person, so that you will desire to believe. You are subtly made to convince yourself to believe something, without examining that something itself; instead you are distracted from the details of that something and made to focus your energies on the act of believing that something — belief is all important — never mind the details of what you’re believing — that is hidden by simple words, “the Bible”, “the Word of God”, etc. — but that particular something is something which will tend to make you act in ways which tend to transfer money from your pockets into the pockets of the con man. Although, the con in most cases is so old that for the most part, by now, even the con men, many generations removed from the original con men, have bought into the notion of faith themselves, and are only naively aping an ancient con, knowing not what they do through no real fault of their own, except perhaps excessive gullibility.
But, back to the accusation — yes, accusation — that “we all use faith.” If a person tries to justify his own use of faith by pointing out the use of faith by others, this indicates to me that this person, deep down, knows that there is something wrong with faith. For instance, creationists often accuse people who think the best explanation of the complexity and diversity of life is the theory of evolution of using faith to arrive at this conclusion. And this is a conclusion with which they, the creationists, vehemently disagree. So, if according to the creationists, evolutionary scientists are using faith to arrive at what they deem to be erroneous conclusions, what is the point these creationists are trying to make? That faith doesn’t work? That faith not a good way to arrive at a conclusion? Okay. For once I agree with the creationists.
Now, suppose it is argued that faith really is a good way to arrive at a conclusion, you just have to have the “right” faith. Well, what a person has faith in is fairly arbitrary, almost invariably an accident of birth. People overwhelmingly adopt the religion of their parents, and employ faith to believe the same particular unjustifiable things which their parents believed. (“Unjustifiable,” because if those beliefs were justifiable, faith would not be required. People tend to believe that 1+1=2 regardless of their religious upbringing, and faith doesn’t enter into it.) So, supposing that it is argued that faith is a good way of arriving at a conclusion, how does faith stack up?
Well, pretty badly. In the very best case scenario for faith, we could assume that the conclusion arrived at by faith by the most people on earth should be the correct one. That is, the best case scenario for faith is the one in which the most people get the “correct” answer by means of faith. Presumably, there is just one correct answer. The Muslim who believes all Christians end up in hell, but no Muslims do, and the Christian who believes all Muslims end up in hell, but no Christians, and the Buddhist, who thinks nobody ends up in hell (or heaven) cannot all be correct. So if we try to find the largest group of people who believe (more or less) the same thing by means of faith, we find that this group is the “Christians”, with about one third of the world’s population subscribing to that religion. (I am ignoring Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox (to name the 3 main) different branches of Christianity here.) So, in the very best case scenario for faith, it gets the wrong answer 2 out of 3 times. Even in the best case possible, faith is not a good way of figuring out what’s true and what’s not. Faith is wrong most of the time even in the very best case for faith.
Equivocation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told things like: “You have faith the sun will come up,” or “you have faith the chair you’re sitting on will hold you up,” or “Love requires faith.” By my definition of faith, the available evidence for these things is plenty to warrant the level of certainty to which I believe these things. So I don’t use faith to think these things are true, since, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe these things to a degree of certainty which exceeds what’s warranted by the available evidence. So no faith. Also, acting on less than complete information is not faith. I don’t have to be 100% certain of any piece of information to be able to take action on that information. I don’t know that my house will burn down, in fact, I think it probably won’t. Yet I have insurance which covers my house in case it burns down accidentally. Does that mean I have faith that my house will burn down? No. That’s not faith. That’s taking action on incomplete information.
Here’s another thing. Being asked to “have faith” is an insult. That’s right, an insult. You are typically presented with an absurd proposition (usually when you are a child, and aren’t old enough to know enough to sort bullshit out) and told that good people believe this, and bad people don’t believe it, and that you’d better believe it, or else, when you die, you will be, oh, I don’t know, maybe tortured in burning flames for all eternity. When (if you are brave) you ask for evidence that such outlandish claims are true, you’re told you shouldn’t ask for evidence, but just have faith, perhaps even told it’s wicked to ask such things, and that the magic book has all the answers, but is beyond your understanding, and not to be questioned, or perhaps not told, but made aware by a look, a demeanor, a tone of voice, that such questions are unwelcome. Well, that is insulting. I mean, Just how dumb do you think I am? You’d have to be retarded (or a child — “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”) to accept such absurd claims without any evidence. Yet this is what many believe, and expect others to find “reasonable.” It is not reasonable. It is retarded. I’m not going to mince words here. It really is dumb enough to warrant being called “retarded,” at considerable risk of insulting the intelligence of the mentally retarded. It is an insult, and Jesus was an arrogant, delusional dickhead, much akin to David Koresh, supposing he existed at all.
So, in my estimation, faith is not a virtue, far from it. Faith is inherently, inescapably dishonest, unacceptable, and an insult to humanity. Faith is the conscious rejection of reason in favor of nonsense. And, after quite a few years of looking into it (an excessive amount of time, really) I cannot but conclude that if you think that faith is a good idea, you are not an ethical, nor very bright* person, in my judgment as you consider lying to yourself about how certain you should be about certain topics to be a good idea.
*I add “nor very bright” because if you disagree, and think that faith is a good idea, then you must argue that believing arbitrary things to a degree of certainty exceeding that warranted by the available evidence is somehow a good way of arriving at truth. If you argue that, then sorry, you leave me no choice but to conclude you are a moron, and over the years, thousands of Christian arguing their case have only succeeded in showing me how terrible their arguments really are, and how silly the whole thing is. *sigh* Grow up. The Bible’s a crock. Read it, why don’t you, and see for yourself.
And so ends my first anti-religious screed on this blog. 🙂