1.2 Faith As A Virtue

Back to 1.1 Faith Defined

1.2.1 In its most common application, faith is used to accept the existence of god. "That god exists" is a philosophic proposition. Given the transcendental nature of such a being, god is (by definition) incapable of ever being empirically proven to be true or false. Specific models of god with specific properties held to be true by various denominations can be shown to be logically flawed or inconsistent but the concept of a god in general cannot be disproven. There are many supporting facts, logical arguments, and reasonable propositions to support both sides but, in the end, the best possibility one has is to build a strong case.

1.2.2 This realization is incompatible with the absolute certainty required by most religions. Faith is more than a strong belief in something, it is (so the faithful claim) a supernatural source of true knowledge and, in some cases, communion. Believers do not say they "believe in god" but instead they say, "I know God exists." Therefore "faith", as a supernatural communion, is necessary to explain theist’s alleged "knowledge" of god.

1.2.3 This outlook, however, yields some unfortunate logical consequences. One of these is that there is no concrete way to determine what, exactly, one should have faith in. Some people in the world may believe that the moon is sacred and watches over them and their families while others believe in a holy spirit, or werewolves, or Greek gods, or sacrificing to a volcano-god etc. When looked at objectively, there is no more reason to have faith in one thing over another if none of them can be proven empirically.

1.2.4 It is not sufficient to accept a belief (much less a belief system) simply because it was the one you grew up with or that your parents had. Given the vast array of beliefs in the world and the vast number of people teaching those beliefs to their children, this factor seems to have no bearing on the truthfulness of such beliefs, regardless of the good intentions and strong convictions of parents. Feelings, emotions, dreams, and visions are also not enough since people of all beliefs all over the world and throughout history have claimed to have such experiences and have claimed that these supported their views. It is also not enough that these belief systems "work", or that they provide stability, or that they "feel" good or right. The primary goal, first and foremost, should be to find truth, in whatever humble way we may attempt to do so, despite how it makes us "feel".

1.2.5 Another problem with faith is that it is static. That is, it does not take into account the imperfection of humanity. True revelation would be a two way street. Even if a perfect source were delivering information to human beings, humans are limited by their imperfection in their ability to understand and receive such knowledge. Faith allows for no examination of new information, no reconsideration of ideologies in the light of new evidence, no possibility that we can be wrong. For example, the Christian Bible is an intruiging collection of writings from various cultures on a multitude of issues. It chronicles man’s philosophic and ethical evolution over a long period of time. However, the worst page of the Bible is its back cover. The day these writings were collected, bound, and sealed - proclaimed perfect and complete, was the day the Bible died. Much of Christianity has always held that faith must be absolute, unwavering, and uncompromising. This is why so many people leading in some of the greatest advances of civilization, both religious and secular, have been called a heretic. Given the history of obvious mistakes by religious people of all faiths throughout history, this rigid nature of faith seems to me to be especially foolish and irresponsible.

1.2.6 And finally, faith is not within our control. We could no more choose to believe something other than what we do believe any more than we could choose to believe that the moon is made out of cheese. Many theists say that a person must ask to be given faith by god - but this would require both a previouus belief in that god and a belief in the necessity of the faith! Beliefs come about in people because of experience. As they gain information, people weigh the facts and the overall impression is what they believe to be true. There must be, at least the appearance of, convincing argument and concrete reasons to make a person believe something. It would be incredibly foolish to believe whatever happened to pass our way, or to believe out of peer pressure, or to believe because of our feelings. Many religious extremists who are terrorists have feelings that lead them to believe that it is a good thing to blow up bus loads of children. Many of their convictions run so deep that they are willing to destroy themselves in the process. I could surely never choose to believe that the moon is cheese to that degree and neither could he simply choose not to believe that what he does is right. This one point alone is what makes the concept of eternal judgment based on belief or faith dubious at best.

1.2.7 There is an argument that we should believe in god because we should have faith in those who love us - obviously circular reasoning. This is also another form of confusing faith with confidence (see 1.1.3). Lack of confidence in god implies a judgment as to his character (based on previous experience) while lack faith that he exists makes no implications or judgments concerning the trustworthiness or character of such a god. Having faith that someone will "come through" for you is irrelevant if such a person is non-existent. I could say "we should all believe in the tooth fairy because she gave us all that money" but if one doubts that the money came from the tooth fairy, then the reason for believing is also in doubt. I must first believe in god before I can believe that he loves me.

1.2.8 After careful consideration, it seems to me that faith is not only an improper and terribly unjust means by which to determine who lives in paradise and who lives in torment, but it appears that faith is not even a virtue. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that faith (being belief as fact without proof) is a vice. A vice which has brought all manner of intolerance, ignorance, violence, and wars on humanity. In the end, it is much more likely that the concept of faith was invented by theologians to convince people to continue in the religion, despite the inability to prove their assertions to an ever-doubting public.

Continue to 1.3 Positive Skepticism