Faith Allows Them to Maintain Belief by Suspending Critical Thinking

Passion cross Good Friday

"Faith," in a religious context, does not refer to an abstract sense of hope or confidence. It refers to a particular sort of belief, a belief in something not supported by evidence. That's not to say there can't be any evidence whatsoever, but there isn't enough to support the belief.

If there was adequate evidence to support a belief, faith would be unnecessary. When asked to explain their belief, those who had it would resort to evidence. Faith is what one does when one wants to maintain a belief without enough evidence.

Believing something without enough evidence to justify it is irrational. But saying that faith is irrational is a far cry from condemning those affected by it. They aren't unintelligent, mentally ill, or whatever else some atheists might claim. There are degrees of faith, and most do not rise to the level of delusional intensity. Faith may be better understood as the suspension of critical thinking.

Contrast moderate and fundamentalist Christians. Faith seems to be much more flexible among the moderates. It isn't that they believe any less, but their beliefs are less rigid. Isn't flexibility of this sort usually considered a sign of good psychological health?

Moderate Christians can compartmentalize. They set aside certain aspects of their life to suspend critical thinking. They don't do so across the board. And even where they do so, they do so by varying degrees. Some even experience doubt, uncertainty, and the like, even when it comes to matters of faith. This seems healthy.

Many atheists become frustrated with the selective application of faith. Some Christians laugh in my face when I fail to support my claim that my neighbor's garden gnome comes to life. "Where's your evidence?" They refuse to apply the same standards to their god belief. Why demand evidence in one case but not the other?

Those of us who value reason do so because we know it works. Most religious believers agree with this and apply reason to most areas of their life. It would be great if they were more consistent in their application. Of course, that would make it harder for them to believe what they want to believe.

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