Faith. Faith . . . as magic a word as can be found in the supernaturalist vocabulary. Now, I don’t mean faith that a chair will not collapse, that a friend will really pay you back, that the Air Traffic Controller is competent, or that the sun will come up tomorrow. C’mon, nobody is faithless; everyone has faith; faith is a necessary component of life. The issue is not faith versus non-faith (we have no choice), but the object of faith (e.g., flu vaccine vs. Joseph Smith), the criteria needed to establish and maintain faith (e.g., hopeful guesswork vs. controlled experiment), and the amendabilty of faith for modification (e.g., intransigence vs. correction).
Althouth all types of faith are ripe for study, faith in this posting s not the sort routinely subjected to disinterested testing, but the special religious sort wherein refusal to apply unbiased testing is the norm. Curiously, social merit attaches even to professing this type of faith. Clearly, compared with less emotionally and socially charged types of faith, this one is exceptional. This is religious faith, so unique that I’ll use capitalization to differentiate it from the rest: Faith. (I’ll ignore astrologists, shamans, psychics, and other faith-based proponents, even though their approaches to life are virtually identical to those of religious Faith. Because they are of such insignificant effect in the advanced world, I’ll exclude them here from consideration.)
There’s a remarkable curiosity with regard to Faith and its social merit. Faith is not said just to be a good thing, it is a commendable thing and even a mark of a good person. That’s a heavy load to assign merely to whether a person is convinced of a claim of truth. A man or woman of Faith. Walk in Faith. Live one’s Faith. Those terms purportedly denote good things; they are badges of moral value. No such
sociolinguistic support system is necessary for other types of faith. You may deny having faith that the Cubs will win the World Series next year, but your standing in the community won’t suffer for it. To question Faith, however, is a near heretical thing…a capital crime in our culture only a few centuries back, and in some cultures still today. Wow. All that fuss simply because someone doesn’t find an argument convincing?
It is often argued that the only substantiation needed for “true” Faith is evidence in the heart, proof felt as a “moral certainty.” We’d all be outraged if anyone were to be convicted in court on such flimsy (read: meaningless) verification. Yet non-evidenced belief is so necessary in the religious counterfeit of the pursuit of truth, that we actually make a virtue of it! (George is a good man—he attaches his fidelity and his life to extraordinary propositions that proudly deny any supportive evidence!) Perhaps unusual endorsements are needed to prop up Faith because by its very nature it comes unsupported by credible substantiation. “We live by Faith, not by sight” (NIV 2nd Corinthians 5); “Faith is being … certain of what we do not see” (NIV Hebrews 11). “It is righteousness to believe” and “certainty is attained by the heart’s assurance” (Quran, Surat 23). Each Christian child is warned against being a “doubting Thomas.” Moreover, these cautions and verbal contortions are not the only supports; we even have a special, chilling word, blasphemy, to stand guard at the acceptable limits of questioning Faith.
In other words, Faith in the most important features of all creation has to stand on less evidence than we require to prove one toothpaste is better than another.
Yet, as if we haven’t learned anything about how easily we can fool ourselves in the last few millennia since our current religions began, we rely on obscure and ancient texts, emotional feelings, and patent fabrications to support questions that go to the heart of the human condition. Even as recent and directly experienced events to which eyewitnesses are called upon to attest in court are famously faulty. Why, when we’ve learned so much about “expectation bias” and our insistent need if not to find, then invent, patterns in ambiguous data do we act as if we’ve learned nothing? (I don’t even want to ask how much agreement you and your spouse have about who said what in your most recent argument.) The test that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence makes perfect sense to us unless the claims are religious ones. Are we mad?
Multicultural mixing of the modern world has led to different Faiths finding themselves living in close quarters. Their acolytes don’t
like each other all that much, but since all their Faiths are similarly suspect, they find common cause in criticizing Faithlessness. So it is that in the United States, at any rate, professing any Faith is far better than no Faith at all. We have a virtual, nationwide religion: faith in Faith!
Ah, but religionists faced with illogic of their creeds, can fall back on religion’s moral authority. The human race is so cruel and dangerous that even if Faith is folly, at least it civilizes the raging beast within us. After all, what would we do without the absoluteness of a received—that is to say, divinely authored—moral code? Even if it is attributable to a nonexistent God, Faith-based morality saves us from the horrors of relativism, the terrible state of having to accept responsibility to work out on our own the ways in which we should behave toward each other.
This is a strange argument, since if the source of morals is not supernatural, then all our moral codes must have been invented by us anyway! The problem in not recognizing that we work out morality on our own is that religions’ effect sabotages development of sensible human ethics, as only a short review of the pseudo morality that religions have infected us with down through the millennia attests.
First, let me say that the utilitarian argument that religion at least gives us morality—should it be shown true—has nothing to do with confirming Faith. It merely claims that if a divine force weren’t there, we’d have to invent it. But second, the “should it be shown true” proviso is of seminal importance: Research into whether individuals of Faith are more kind, honest, or helpful than people of no Faith does not support religion’s claims. Similar statistics are found when comparing whole populations of Faithful versus unFaithful. In other words, religion, despite its claim to be the source of morality, fails miserably.
There is more to be said about the effects of religious Faith on humans’ treatment of each other and their ability to absorb new discoveries about our world, but that I’ll leave for a later posting. Suffice it to say now that the familiar and loudly hyped religious claim to seek, love, serve, and defend The Truth is so much poppycock; pure drivel. Religious Faith is in no way about truth, but about a tenacious, unyielding, socially—sometimes legally—enforced way to deny and avoid it.