Faith, Reason and a Drunken Pilot
Traditional notions of Christian ‘faith’, i.e., a ‘hope for things unseen’ as in Hebrews 11:1 or John 20:27-29 is a very different thing to what is often claimed in modern Christian apologetics. The tendency these days is to redefine faith to equate with rationality; i.e., as a ‘reasoned’ approach to belief. It’s a view rarely found before the 20th century and is one that suggests that we all have faith of some kind (in our spouse, medicine, science etc), it being simply a measure of confidence. This is demonstrably disingenuous and the apologist seems not to appreciate that they are effectively denigrating their own new-fangled concept of faith. If we all have faith and faith is a good thing how come Christian apologists never seem to applaud the atheist for having faith in the scientific method or any findings they happen not to agree with (or even a spouse). Yet when I board an airplane, for example, apologists will readily claim I have faith (i.e., some measure of confidence) in a number of things, such as the skill of the aircraft’s design team, the regularity of the airline’s maintenance schedule, the sobriety of the pilot, the attentiveness of the air traffic controllers etc.
OK, for the sake of argument let’s accept their definition of faith.
Given good evidence that led them to suspect that any one of those variables was less than optimal any rational person would act accordingly, for example, by rearranging the flight, boycotting the airline or finding some alternative means of travel. If Christian apologists really stood by their modern definition of faith as reasonable belief they too would do the same; when good evidence was presented contrary to their beliefs they would rearrange their beliefs, change their model of religion, boycott certain teachings and, in a spirit of sincerity, they would encourage others with doubts to do the same. But they rarely do this, primarily because they would see it as a test of their faith, which implies that they don’t really buy into their own modern definition.
Another problem with equating faith and rationality is that it seems to imply that people with a diminished ability to reason cannot therefore have faith. Again, this is disingenuous. Recently, in Florida, a pastor gave a sermon outlining the Old Testament tale of Abraham and Isaac. Immediately afterward, a young mother re-enacted the scene with her 2-year old daughter. Any reasonable person can guess what happened. The plane crashed in a ball of flames. The mother had plenty of faith but lacked sufficient reason to understand the gravity of what she was doing. So much for her faith being a reasoned approach to belief. And the pastor’s written response to the sermon and its aftermath?:
“There are no answers and no explanations…..the only thing we have is to….turn to our God who surely cries with us.”
So it’s right back on the plane with the drunken pilot. Now that’s faith. And it’s certainly not something everyone has.