There are a number of clichés I just can’t handle. This is especially true in the realm of religion, on both ends of the spectrum, fundie and “new atheist”. Today I’m griping about the “New Atheists’ definition of faith“.
Faith is merely belief without evidence; a process of active non-thinking.
That definition is nonsense. Religious people do not believe the things they believe without any evidence. There is scripture, there are millions of believers in the present and the past, there is personal experience, there are observations made throughout life that confirm the religious worldview… If that is the definition of faith, then no-one has it — that kind of “faith” doesn’t exist.
Of course not much of this “evidence” is empirically solid. Scripture was written by fallible human hands. Millions of people believing something is evidence of the strength and persistence of the idea believed in, not that it is empirically provable fact. Personal experience and observations made through life is inherently flawed by the observer’s various biases. None of this evidence for religious faith is actually scientifically acceptable as evidence, but it is still evidence. Psychologically.
That does indeed turn this into a semantic argument, what do we call evidence and what don’t we call evidence? I mean, what’s the difference between “belief based on invalid evidence” and “belief without evidence” anyway? A lot, in fact. When we’re talking about humans, about practical living, rather than some academic and abstract idea toyed with in an ivory tower. There is so much more to “faith” than that reductionist-rationalist definition suggests.
My biggest gripe with that definition is probably that I feel it shuts down the important conversations we should be having, that it incorrectly pigeon-holes those with religious faith, that it promotes a lack of understanding on the inter-personal level.
Up next: So that’s what faith is not, to my mind. Next post I’ll touch on what faith is. To my mind.
Incidentally, I missed this blog’s third birthday yesterday. I think it’s old enough to start shunning birthdays, to let them pass without much fanfare. Besides, I didn’t have much to write right now that was birthday-worthy.