In Your Face!
Faith is an inherently unreasonable thing. It requires belief without direct evidence or cause. It also isn't necessarily good. It can be productive (charitable compassionate Christians), or destructive (Heaven's Gate, etc). Given this, how does one come to it? Why should one believe in spirituality? What compelled you? Why does it seem *true* to you? As a closet atheist with several Christian friends, I'm curious.
Greetings, Joe, and thank you for your honest question. I appreciate honest doubt over "blind faith" anytime. The heading on your e-mail is "What is the source of faith?" and above, you raised other questions related to faith/spirituality matters. Each point you raised will be addressed, albeit in somewhat an abbreviated form for the "IYF" forum.
Perhaps one working definition of faith would be helpful in opening up this discussion, although many definitions could be cited. The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology has an entry on "faith." It defines it as "Belief, trust, and loyalty to a person or thing. Christians find their security and hope in God in the Holy Spirit through love and obedience as expressed in lives of discipleship and service," page 236. The second sentence may be unintelligible to non-Christians, but religious believers of any persuasion could agree with the first sentence.
You first stated that faith is an inherently unreasonable thing. The New Dictionary of Theology acknowledges such an understanding of faith, as held among contemporary critics of religion. It states, "Faith is a word that has a poor press in the 20th century. Many regard it as an expression of an uncritical spirit inappropriate to men and women 'come of age.' By contrast, the Scriptures seem to regard faith as a stepping forward, not into darkness but into the light which God has given," page 246. In other words, faith (trust, belief, whatever it's known as), has an object rooted in the observable, not the blind and unreasonable. You said that "faith is an inherently unreasonable thing." This may indeed be true, depending on the object of the faith. Belief and trust (faith) in invisible gremlins living in the rings of Saturn is ostensibly unreasonable, since there is no objective, empirical basis for accepting such a thing. However, belief and trust in a possible creator (whatever its name or form) as a first cause of the natural order of the universe need not be unreasonable. Among the cacophony of people debating the proof of God's existence is Dr. Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org), and Dr. William Lane Craig who debated atheist Massimo Pigliucci (interesting conversation, check it out at www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/debates.html).
However, faith and belief in some things may be incremental. For example, some people after considering arguments for an intelligent design may "convert" from atheism to agnosticism, and then at least consider that it's "possible" that some intelligent being or beings brought order out of chaos. However, I'm sure you would agree that this is a far cry from accepting the existence of angels, demons, and virgin births. Nevertheless, moving from total nonbelief to a possibility of belief is a conversion to faith!
Faith, depending on the context, need not "require belief without direct evidence or cause." Obviously, many religious groups discourage critical thinking and DO want their adherents to accept certain tenets without question. However, the New Testament form of Christianity (NOT the organized church that later acquired power through the Middle Ages, and demanded blind obedience to preserve that power) didn't ask one to put one's brains on the shelf. Rather, the Gospel accounts (ironically, UNLIKE the Old Testament) take pains to convince the readers that Jesus was God's son (for example, the author of both the Gospel According to Luke and Acts of the Apostles, appeals to "eyewitnesses" and "infallible proofs" in the openings of his books). See Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:3. On the other hand, the Old Testament didn't attempt to prove an unseen God's existence, but rather assumed it. The Hebrew Bible, or Christian Old Testament (same set of documents) were not "propaganda" texts to nonbelieving outsiders, but history for it's people. The New Testament documents were both "propaganda" texts to evangelize the then-known world, and texts of comfort for those who already comprised the Christian community. Even in New Testament times, long before the scientific method and modern legal rules of evidence, the ancient world expected a modicum of proof for claims. Granted, not everyone in the first century believed the New Testament accounts of Jesus and the early church's message about him. However, the early church was under pressure to prove its basic claims about the life of Jesus. Christians believed that Jesus was God's son, and that he rose from the dead. Since resurrections are not empirically repeatable, it's reasonable for many to assume that they "do not happen." Therefore, since the Christian church asserted that one Jesus of Nazareth DID in fact rise, they had to provide some reasons to an unbelieving world of that time. Either it happened, or it didn't. The early church leader Paul in his letter known as I Corinthians chapter 15 provides a litany of occurrences that assert that Jesus was seen after his death. For some who converted from the various Roman religions of the day, this belief in the resurrection of Jesus led them to a belief in the Jewish/Hebrew God. This is how some came to faith in the God of the biblical accounts.
You raised an interesting question: "Given this, how does one come to it?" I do not see how the term "given this" relates to the question "how does one come to it?" but I will try to address these points directly. I assume your phrase "Given this" refers to the contrast between productive faith (e.g., charitable compassionate Christians) and destructive faith (Heaven's Gate, etc.). This contrast for me is VERY important in answering the issue of why I personally possess faith, but more on that in a minute.
"How does one come to it?" Well, I believe that one comes to faith when or if one has an encounter with God, assuming that it exists. Positive, strong arguments for God's existence (such as the attempts of Thomas Aquinas and Augustine to combine faith and reason) may be quite compelling, but few people are "argued" into belief. In the quest to find a legitimate basis to have faith in "something" out there, you may find that you have come to faith when you've looked into life's mysteries. A cold rationalism apart from a supernatural cause, is inadequate to explain "why" and "what" purposes life serves. This is a variation of Aquinas' argument known as "teleology," i.e., life seems to serve a goal, and if it does, suggests design. If life serves no meaningful goal apart from a designer, then life as such is truly unreasonable and nonsensical. Reason, Aquinas taught, was NOT antithetical to faith, but intertwined with faith. In his opinion, Aquinas asserted that faith used reason and reason cannot succeed in finding truth without faith. However, reason cannot produce faith; faith is produced by God itself. "Faith involves will and reason doesn't coerce the will." One may dissent from believing in God or something else, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe. In answer to your header question, "What is the source of faith?" I would respond that the source of faith would be God itself IF he gives it. The intellectual Paul, in his New Testament letter to the Roman Christians, stated "...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" in chapter 10 verse 17. Paul, in his intellect, believed that God was not only the source of life, but even of faith itself. Certainly, from a theistic worldview, this would make sense that such a God would be the fountainhead of life and source of faith, and even of imagination, which is responsible for widely varying beliefs! Objects of faith (belief in Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, etc.) are multitudinous, while faith itself is a tool for arriving at such beliefs.
Faith, as you indicated, can be productive or destructive. Similarly, water can quench thirst or it can drown. In your example, you have shown what is known among Christian apologists as "gradations of the good." If there is no divine lawgiver or morality giver who set up an order of "right" and "wrong," then such concepts as morality are mere human innovations. When I took philosophy in the university, I raised this very point, and it has scary implications. In fact, this very point is what compelled me to embrace and maintain faith in God, to answer your other question. Apart from a moral lawgiver of right and wrong, who is to say that something is "productive" such as charitable compassionate Christians, or something like a dangerous cult is destructive and bad? If anything, Joe, Darwinian Survival of the Fittest concepts communicate the idea to me that being charitable or compassionate is not beneficial to ME. If I were a true atheist who embraced Darwin's view, I would be consistent and carry Survival of the Fittest to its logical conclusion. I should rape, pillage, and plunder as long as it meets my need for instant gratification. Who is to say that such hedonism is wrong? The consensus of humanity saying that I'm wrong for such actions isn't convincing; all people's opinions are no greater than my own since they are fellow accidents from amino acids. Since we all die anyway, I would have a greater incentive to eat, drink, and be merry, for we die like the grass without purpose, meaning, and hope. (Incidentally, I'm not denying that Survival of the Fittest and natural selection are true to a point). This is one answer why the God of the biblical account who gave rules of right and wrong seems *true* to me. If such moral rules of right and wrong are only the product of evolving human ethics apart from a divine eternal lawgiver, then they are subject to great change, and as a fellow human being, I can ignore such moral rules to suit myself, and I have nothing to fear when I die, such as some judgment in a future supernatural resurrection since I'll cease to exist anyway! This, Joe, is one of several factors that compelled me. Apart from an eternal moral lawgiver who said "thou shalt not murder," how could I condemn Hitler for following the drive to "improve" the human race as Survival of the Fittest and natural selection dictate? Why should the aggressive, dominant male not steal his neighbor's wife if he can do it? He's following nature's drive to spread his genes at the expense of a weaker, less dominant male who isn't fit to survive anyway. Nothing is right, nothing is wrong. That is scary, and that is one compelling reason to believe in a God who demands justice, and the defense of the weak. Apart from an instilled sense of morality (apart from human legislators), a sense of justice makes no sense since life is meaningless and temporary anyway.
Why should one believe in spirituality? Spirituality is a vague, rather uneasily defined term which encompasses a sense of the divine, supernatural, or even more defined religious beliefs. Perhaps one should believe in spirituality because: 1. Humans have an ostensible need to explore the possibility that answers to "the meaning of life" questions lie outside oneself; 2. One MAY find compelling evidence to at least suggest that something "greater" than oneself might exist, and perhaps this is a worthwhile pursuit; 3. One perhaps should dispense with the whole exercise and just await death after a meaningless life in pursuit of instant gratification and self-indulgence. However, in Blaise Pascal's wager, if belief in God is mistaken, then the believer has not really lost anything. Once he/she is dead, it's over. After all, what is there to regret over the "good times" that one missed out on when he/she was alive when the dead are unconscious? Neither the atheist nor theist come out ahead. Both end up in the same place-rotting without hope of return. On the other hand, if the faith believer is right about eternal retribution and God's existence, then he/she comes out ahead and the atheist has everything to lose. For me, this is compelling.
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