|Preach to the choir|
|Crux of the matter|
|Speak of the devil|
|An act of faith|
“”Faith is believing what you know ain't so.
|—Mark Twain |
“”Faith is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking.
“”Faith means intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.
|—philosopher Walter Kaufmann|
"Faith" has several different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. In consequence, religious apologists can make use of equivocation as they switch between different meanings to defend their positions.
In broad terms, faith is just complete trust or confidence in someone or something. This can apply to many things, from romantic and business relationships to religious belief.
In a nonreligious context, to have faith in something is to believe that some idea is true. A person may have faith because of evidence for said idea or regardless of the evidence about said belief. If faith is taken to mean "without proof", many things are taken on faith — because strong, formal proof is really only applicable to mathematics, and nobody has the time, energy, capital, resources, or inclination to perform extensive research on absolutely everything.
In a religious context, to have faith is to believe that a god or a set of gods exist(s) and/or that the doctrines of a religion are correct. Again, a person may have faith because of evidence for said idea or regardless of the evidence about said belief.
Sometimes "have a little faith" is essentially saying "don't be so pessimistic", which may or may not be justified depending on the situation. "Faith in oneself", for example, could be defined as having a rational trust in one's abilities, without unjustifiably assuming they are useless. The key point is justification: when we exhort someone to "have faith in yourself", we do it because we believe there is good evidence they can trust, not in spite of there being none.
“”Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
“”If your retina ended up in the same state regardless of what light entered it, you would be blind. Some belief systems, in a rather obvious trick to reinforce themselves, say that certain beliefs are only really worthwhile if you believe them unconditionally - no matter what you see, no matter what you think. Your brain is supposed to end up in the same state regardless. Hence the phrase, "blind faith". If what you believe doesn't depend on what you see, you've been blinded as effectively as by poking out your eyeballs.
"Blind faith" is a pejorative term that describes an assertion with insufficient evidence. Often, there is no difference between "faith" and "blind faith". Because faith is based upon a hope or trust that something is true despite a lack of evidence or proof, the use of "blind" is redundant, as it doesn't actually change this definition, but instead tries to bring to the fore all the negative connotations of someone believing regardless of what they can see and experience. Because of this, faith becomes absolute, uncritical, and unchanging, and therefore the opposite of open minded. In the end, blind faith means that one is, well, blind.
- Blind faith is jumping from a building when someone tells you it's on fire, but you don't check to see if there's anyone down there to rescue you. Or if there's a window where you are jumping. Or if the building's even on fire to begin with.
- Blind faith is the sort of thing people who think a smile and a firm handshake qualifies as due diligence promote as a virtue.
- Blind faith is kissing Karl's ass because two weird guys told you that Hank wanted you to.
“”Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.
Informed faith involves accepting the probable truth of statements that are based on information one does not have full access to, in situations where one does have access to a reasonable amount of supporting evidence.
In areas of science, informed faith often means trusting that researchers have built on the same systems of experimentation and exploration that one has explored personally. Additionally, the correct functioning of technological systems that depend on certain explanations can provide the layperson with an underpinning for informed faith.
Faith: absolute, strong, conditional, weak, and relative
Religious fundamentalists may hold the ideal of an absolute, blind, all-conquering faith — at least in whatever they see as their own fundamentals. But in practice, aspiring faith-practitioners recognize grades of faithiness — one's faith should be strong, but for waverers, we have techniques of strengthening faith (pray, read more (approved) scripture, hang out with the elect crowd). Fundies can almost relate to the deluded heretic or to the militant atheist, whom they can interpret as having a firm faith, even if that faith advocates the wrong doctrine. But most annoying of all in a faith-oriented worldview is the weak-kneed fence-sitting agnostic, who may accept some ideas provisionally if they seem to work out in practice, but evidently yet lacks the human moral fiber to commit wholeheartedly to any One True Faith.
One way of defining "faith" is the propensity in some people, particularly religious people, to believe what they want to be true, actually is true. Which is another way of saying that some people decide what they believe first, then look for evidence and argument to support the belief first obtained. Faith can be said to be the opposite of the scientific method, in that sense.
As a virtue
“”And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
|—1 Corinthians 13:13[note 1]|
“”Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.
|—Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22|
The word "faith" carries many positive implications of trust and loyalty, but in normal life, it's not taken to be an unbeatable virtue. Every (fully mature, mentally healthy) person has a limit to their trust and their loyalty. We warn children against untrustworthy people precisely because they don't know when it's appropriate to trust/have faith and when not to. We don't encourage them to believe that jumping out of trees or off of rooftops wearing Superman costumes is a good idea. Praising unquestioning faith — or unquestioning loyalty — in anything is objectively dangerous. Even in a traditionalist, hidebound society, normally the only entities who are upheld as deserving unquestioning loyalty are the highest authority figures and prestige institutions, not just ordinary people. And even in those cases, it's not in any sense justifiable. (As a common saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.) The problem is that people who claim that faith is a virtue in itself always want to make exceptions for things that it's not okay to have faith in — a Christian fundy is unlikely to praise devotion to Osama bin Laden, for example.
Faith as a stopgap
Sometimes, when a religious believer has their beliefs questioned so intensely that they, too, have doubt, they turn to faith. For example, creationists often abuse the fact that most believers have faith:
“”You know, if you're going to believe simply because of the evidence, then I have to tell you, you're not really a Christian. Our faith has to be stronger than that. Our faith has to be in the God that we KNOW exists. So if someone asks us a question that we cannot answer, we say, "I don't know, but you know, God is greater than that, I trust him, I know that he has the answer. I'll see maybe if I can find the answer sometime, but even if I never find out the answer to that question until my dieing day, nevertheless, I'll trust in the God that I know exists, and whom I love."
|—Creation Bytes!: Help, I'm losing my faith!|
This makes faith into a stopgap measure — something to plug the holes in your beliefs, until you can find an adequate substitute. While this isn't necessarily problematic in the very short run (sometimes people haven't fully researched an issue, and genuinely will find support for their beliefs), the problem with this line of reasoning is that it doesn't rely on evidence. It essentially says, "I'm going to wait here, without changing my viewpoint, until something that supports my viewpoint comes along". This is almost the definition of confirmation bias!
In particular, this is a problem for creationism, because creationism would require such a drastic turnaround of what science says.
“”Christian creationists, for example, think the literal reading of Genesis is non-negotiable. There is no way to see it as a qualification of or exception to a particular rule, nor can it be (they say) understood as a feature of the culture of the middle east that serves a purpose that can be served by other means. Their only choice, and the only choice for those in the same situation, is to maintain that current science is wrong. This is not as crazy as it might sound, because as we know, science continues to progress by means of finding out new things, about which we were wrong before. At one time, the luminiferous ether was a part of current physics, and phlogiston was part of current chemistry. Perhaps we can be confident that our understanding of religious doctrine is sound, but that if we hold out for future science, we will be vindicated. Scientific revolutions happen; the current understanding is frequently replaced by something completely new. The trouble with this strategy is that in many cases, it is simply extremely implausible. True, scientific revolutions happen, and correct mistakes in accepted science. But they never completely overturn the current understanding. The mass of evidence that supported the previous view is not overturned, just organized in a new way. To extend the example of Biblical creationism, it is reasonable to hope that evolutionary theory will refine and ramify, but is not reasonable to hope that we will return to a pre-Darwinian understanding. The facts about fossil dating and genetic transmission of characteristics must be a part of any future biology, and so there is no room for either a 6000-year-old earth, or for completely unrelated, independently-created species. We may give up on the big bang, but we will never go back to the crystal spheres with the earth at the center of the universe. So if a religious doctrine seems to require a pre-modern understanding of some part of the universe, it is not a reasonable strategy to wait for new scientific discoveries to vindicate the pre-modern view.
|—Mark Owen Webb|
Perhaps another kind of faith
Faith as expressed by the Romans in the term fides does not have connotations of "faith"/"steadfast belief" as we know today. Rather, Latin fides translates best to "duty", "loyalty", "faithfulness", or "fidelity". Greek and Roman pagans honored (not actually worshipped) their gods as a duty to which they were bound as a people. Romans and Greeks kept shrines to minor deities in their homes as a duty and as a way of honoring their ancestors. By honoring a deity, they were paying honor to their ancestors, and society saw this as a duty. The patricians and aristocracy may have offered sacrifice or pinches of incense to the deities on feast-days — not as in a practice of a religion, but by the practice of a cult (cultus = culture, heritage, society), thus fulfilling a duty to which the class was bound. The only group which had "religion" as such was the military.
Faith within the context of history
Popular simplifications of history may see an "Age of Faith" as a priest-ridden and superstitious "Dark Age" where the Church rules with an iron fist. This simplification is especially popular among diehard antitheists, especially on Reddit, who seem to treat actively hating religion as a sacred duty,[note 3] rather than merely taking a skeptical stance towards religious claims (which is what sensible atheists do).
- That's right. The Bible says that love (specifically, charity, in its original meaning) is greater than faith.
- Ironically, forgiveness is another thing that the Bible repeatedly stresses the importance of. This is further proof that "cafeteria religion" (read: picking and choosing what actually works as a set of moral best practices and isn't horribly outdated or flat-out insane) is the only viable form of religion.
- The irony of describing hatred of religion as a "sacred duty" is fully intentional. "Reddit atheists" are not known for their intelligence or moral character.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar
- Walter Kaufmann Quotes
- Webb, Mark Owen. "HIZMET, RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, AND SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION." Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais 31.90 (2016): 9-16.
- See the Wikipedia article on Dark Ages (historiography).