November 3, 2018

My Faith Made Me Do It

Camaro SS
Faith is surprisingly difficult to define. In a religious context, I think we can agree that it refers to one's confidence in a belief for which there is no evidence. Thus, when someone refers to his or her faith, we generally interpret this as reflecting a body of religious dogma in which the speaker believes without evidence. If one had evidence to support one's belief, faith would cease to be necessary. It would not even be meaningful to describe a belief supported by evidence as "faith." Evidence would render faith obsolete.

I have never understood how people can use faith as justification for their actions without sounding at least somewhat crazy. Suppose a friend tells me that he just bought a 1999 Chevy Camaro. I might express surprise, noting that Consumer Reports rated this particular model (and virtually everything else made by Chevy at the time) rather poorly. If my friend were to respond, "Well, my faith leads me to believe the car will be perfect," I would expect most of us to think that this was at least somewhat odd.

Religious faith serves as a shield capable of deflecting almost any evidence which contradicts a theist's beliefs. It reminds me of the phrase, "My mind's made up, so don't confuse me with the facts." When people resort to faith to explain or justify their actions, they are really seeking to end the argument. Unfortunately, this is usually effective because people are rarely comfortable criticizing someone's religious faith. For some strange reason, raising questions about someone's religious beliefs is perceived as rude or intolerant.

"I can see why some people would think that the death penalty is cruel, but my faith leads me to support it." What? Now we are in a situation where blind acceptance of religious dogma for which there is ample contradictory evidence somehow provides justification for another set of beliefs. And the argument ends because we are too polite to go after the faith statement. "My faith leads me to vote Republican." The second one runs out of rational arguments or finds oneself losing an argument, one resorts to one's faith. The creationists are ultimately forced to resort to faith. The terrorists must eventually use faith to explain and attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

It is time to overcome our reluctance to criticize these faith claims. They cannot remain off limits because their consequences are too great and have the potential to impact us all (e.g., 9/11, destroying our science education, etc.).

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2005. It was revised in 2018.