Saturday, May 21, 2011


What is faith? Don't worry, this is not going to be a screed against religion, nor am I going to dwell on this rapture nonesense, but the goings on of late have me wondering about faith. Believers tout it as the ultimate virtue, as if it were something you can acquire, but I don't have it, and I doubt, at this point, that I ever will. I have beliefs, to be sure. I believe in the physical laws of the universe. I believe in the properties of matter and energy that allowed life to form on this little ball of rock and gasses. I believe in the established behaviors of my friends and family, and I believe in my ability to predict, with a modicum of accuracy, most of my reactions to a given situation. But after nearly half a century of looking for evidence of the 'supernatural', and coming up empty, I find I don't have faith. I am a devotee of science, of fact, of provable, or at least plausible outcomes. I used to believe in the possibility of many things. I used to believe in the possibility of a large creature, hitherto unknown to modern science, that lived in a lake in Scotland. I cannot say it isn't there, but as the evidence has consistently remained absent, and as my understanding of the eco-system of Loch Ness has increased, I believe that the existence of a large, air-breathing creature of unknown taxonomy in the lake is highly unlikely. I cannot say that there is no Sasquatch, but again as the hard evidence has remained unattained, and the Bigfoot supporters put forth more and more impossible reasons for said lack of evidence, my belief in an undiscovered North American primate has dwindled. Likewise with ghosts, UFOs, ESP, and with anything religious. I have known many religious people who are filled with faith. I have known many 'religious' charlatans who claim to have faith, but use that claim as a tool for control, and not as a guide for righteousness. Sadly the latter have far outweighed the former in my experience. So, to me, faith seems more about blind obedience to authority rather than a virtuous belief in a benevolent deity. And while I can be as blinded by a charismatic leader as the next person, I like to think that eventually as the balance of evidence leans one way or the other, my opinion of said leader and his or her ideas will either wax or wane.
So where am I going with this? I'd like to say to those of you out there that have faith, good for you, but please understand that just because it comes naturally to you, it is not a universal constant. I have as much difficulty believing in an invisible entity that has provided no actual proof of its existence beyond the word of a few hundred zealots thousands of years ago as I do believing that aliens would travel billions of light years to this little backwater planet way out on the galactic rim just to buzz some rurals and steal some cow anuses. But, and here is the important bit, I won't ever say that your God does not exist, nor will I hold your faith against you so long as you understand my need for evidence and don't hold that against me.

Hope you're having a groovy rapture.


Tracy said...

I would like to argue, at least loosely, that you do have faith. :) I don't feel like faith is blind obedience to authority, and in it's purest sense, it's not really virtuous belief in a benevolent deity, either. In it's truest sense, I think faith is more of a confidence in what has not been proven or disproven. So, in the sense that, for example, you say you can somewhat predict your outcome to a situation, you have confidence in your reaction, therefore you have "faith." I think sometimes faith can be just faith. It doesn't have to be of a religious nature. In fact, I would say a healthy religious faith would need to start with faith in the common. I think the lack of "logical" faith (if there is such a thing) is where the fanatics come from. They thrust their belief, trust, confidence, onto whatever is suggested. Personally, my faith comes from the many trials I have faced in which my belief system has held true. Because these outcomes have been as I have been "promised," my faith grows stronger, and I am able to trust in "larger" things. In any case, no matter my beliefs, I know it is up to each to decide their own path and follow what is natural to them. I have much respect for your tolerance, sir. If everyone shared your view that an individual's path was their own, and refrained from passing judgement, this little piece of rock would be a much better place. :)

EBv2010 said...

Let me have at it.
My approach is that I put a certain value to any proposition, which depends on its impact and the solidity of the evidence or on how reasonable the underlying premise is. If someone tells me he has seen a tree in a park in, say, Sydney, I will assume this to be true. It is very likely there was a tree and if it wasn't there, the impact is very low. If the person adds other factors in (for example: it was levitating), I might want more evidence for that.
The value is always provisional and might change at any given time. Let's turn to religion because there you find far-reaching examples. I will not call out any particular religion although it might seem so. I can't avoid that. Let me assure you, however, that I am commenting on my own outlook, not that of others.
Heaven and hell: the existence and its consequences are such that I need very, very solid evidence. I pretty much need a guided tour of the facilities. As it has not been presented to me in any such way, I put no value to their existence. I use a generic definition of heaven and hell: if you've been good, you go to heaven where everything is perfect; if not, you go to hell to be tormented forever. For this example, this definition will do.
A deity in the sense of the Abrahamic religions: not enough evidence. This is the same as the first example but I want to look at another aspect: I cannot prove there is no God. My reply: I don't need to. I did not put forward the statement that there is one, I don't need to disprove. Also, I don't say there is no God. I say that I see no good evidence of God's existence on the level needed. You could translate that as 'there is no God'. The correct way is 'provisionally, there is no God'. This is different from agnosticism.

On a lighter note, if God does turn out to exist, I have a counter-argument to stay out of hell: I have an autistic disorder known as aspergers. You need to be very literal with me. If you prove your existence by books that are such that almost everyone has a different interpretation (be it on purpose or caused by the inherent difficulties in communication between 2 different species - and let's agree/assume God and humans do not belong to the same species) or occurences that leaves people wondering likewise, you cannot hope to convince me.

Jason Hawk said...

I'll say it for you, Rick ol' buddy. There's no god. And "tolerance" for religion can't stretch very far because historically adherents have tried (and are trying) to force barbaric, amoral norms on society. They discriminate against homosexuals, they demean women and a woman's right to choose, they try to control mores, and they attempt to stifle scientific advancement. Lately, Christians have been arguing with me that they only believe the "good" parts of the Bible that promote universal love. But even the most cursory reading of core religious texts shows those passages are few and far between. And casual conversations with the religious right -- especially in America -- will reveal they care far more about cultural division and restriction of secular freedom than they care about loving their enemies and praying for those who disagree with them. Religion is a cancer that feeds on fear, hate, insecurity, and the desire to be "chosen" by a higher power.