Why Faith?

A few weeks ago, John Loftus (the esteemed founder and moderator of this blogsite) and I had a disagreement about my use of the concept of “belief.” John challenged my understanding of belief, and after some study and reflection, I came to agree that he was right....

We all experience “belief” – it certainly is not unique to Christianity. Indeed, even after careful, reasonable consideration, “belief” is about the best most of us can muster when it comes to just about anything, including scientific theory or postulate.

What I came to understand is that my problem was – and is – with “faith.” Faith is what is unique to Christianity - even more so than in other religious systems, for Christianity boldly declares “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and “we are saved by grace, through faith…and that not of ourselves, lest any one should boast”. Faith is the willing suspension of disbelief, or the willing choice to believe in the face of either a lack of supporting evidence or contrary evidence.

After spending a few months at this and other sites that challenge Christian faith, I have concluded (or at least arrived at a “soft” conclusion) that faith is not the end result of reason, or philosophical consideration, or logical process. I am amused and somewhat mystified by some of the cold, analytical arguments made here – by both atheists and Christians – about issues like chemical origins of species, cosmological and quantum theory applications to origins, yada yada. As intellectually stimulating and informative as these debates are, they don’t seem to go very far in dislodging or debunking Christians, or disguising the passion that most atheists/agnostics feel about challenging the faithful and the faith.

Why is that? Because (and admittedly it has been dealt with by other posters on this site) faith is not about reason. Reason may inform faith, or challenge it. But faith is something other. Christians claim that faith itself is a “gift of God”, which, for those Christians who tend towards the theory of election, puts the lie to the concept of free will. In other words, you can only be saved by faith, and faith is a gift of God given to the elect or chosen…therefore, you are screwed if you are not elect and free will is not a concept that applies to you. You may have chosen to sin but you cannot choose to be saved. The Wesleyan Christians believe in “prevenient grace”, which basically claims that when Jesus died, a gift of grace was given to the human race, so that all would be able to have a faith that could lead to salvation and enabling all to choose it if they want.

But ultimately, why faith? (Calvinists probably don’t have much to say to this, but…) Why choose to willingly suspend disbelief, or choose to believe in the face of lack of supporting evidence or contrary evidence? I do not accept that most Christians choose faith because they have studied all the philosophical, historical, and scientific data and dispassionately conclude that this is the best reality offered. In fact, reading the vehemence and passion of their response on this site, I can conclude that they choose faith for some other reason, one much closer to the heart, to the sense of self and significance.

In 25 years of Christian faith and service (which was in the evangelical tradition), I saw that most people got “saved” because of an emotional need that drove them to choose faith. I experienced that in my own life. Once that experience occurred, reason was subject to faith and served faith. Faith was my defining border. I see that in today’s so-called Christian scholars…they use science, history, philosophy, etc., to support definitions and beliefs and postulations that are either formed by or controlled by faith. But faith represents a border beyond which most of them dare not go.

Again, why? Because – I postulate – they have experienced “salvation.” In other words, “I once was lost and now am found.” They have experienced a subjective phenomenon that cannot be measured except by their own loyalty to the experience and the claimed results. How do you define “lost”? Unhappy? Confused? Suicidal? Addicted? Faith is chosen as a way out of lostness, and then one is “found” – happy, clarity of thought, glad to be alive, free from addiction, whatever. Of course, those results aren’t exclusive to salvation…they can occur as the result of psychotherapy, or your favorite team winning the World Series. But Christians claim it is “faith”, and the promise of God given as a reward for faith. They have pleased God, and now they experience the promise of God to those who believe in Him and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Again, why faith? Why make that choice? What are the reasons? I don’t accept that faith is the result of a deliberate reasoning process. In fact, for most who begin a deliberate reasoning process, the end result is loss of faith…i.e., a lack of willingness to suspend disbelief, and choosing not to believe in the face of lack of or contrary evidence.

There may be Christians out there who are Christian without choice (??? – can such a thing really exist?). But I will say that all who are Christian (certainly in the evangelical tradition, which is the target of our debunking activity) made a choice to be. They chose faith, even in the face of overwhelming arguments and evidence against it. Why did you do it?