Every now and then it is valuable to recap. In the comments section of another post this morning I was asked for a definition of faith. For a couple of years I wrote a long series of posts called “Disambiguating Faith” in which I meticulously distinguished the vice of faith that makes it problematic in religions from numerous many good things with which it is confusingly equivocated.
In a post last summer, the last I have thus far written in the series, I wrote about how faith poisons religion. In that post, I began talking about the positive things people associate with religion and understandably feel attached to it for. Then I proceeded to sum up, with links, my account of faith as developed throughout the Disambiguating Faith series, in order to lay the groundwork for explaining how faith, in specific, poisons the good things religions offer:
Faith, of the distinctively problematic religious kind which I think we should be criticizing, is deliberately committing to propositions, authorities, traditions, and groups beyond what is rationally warranted.
Faith is deliberately believing a proposition more strongly than evidence warrants (either when you think that the proposition is not strongly supported by evidence or is even undermined by the best evidence). Faith is the willful treatment of one’s most cherished notions as though they were impervious to evidence. Faith is hostility to genuine, open-ended doubting. Faith is an improper way of using the will and emotions in reasoning which allows them to subvert reason rather than properly aid it. And faith involves willfully putting your subjective desires ahead of objectivity and perversely calling this the real route to truth.
Because of these things, faith is unethical, not virtuous. It is a kind of rationalization, not a form of rationality. In fact it is worse than simple rationalization, it is a deliberate commitment to rationalize. Still worse, this form of rationalization is inculcated in children in such a way as to train them from a young age to deliberately embrace and reinforce precisely the cognitive biases that one must learn to overcome in order to be an effective critical thinker. In this way, training in faith itself (regardless of the actual content inculcated) is an active miseducation, which undermines the work of genuine education.
Faith often also entails loyalty to a group or trust in an authoritative source beyond what is merited. Faith is a way that an individual signals a willingness to subordinate him or herself completely to a group by forfeiting even her ability to think for herself.
Faith in the distinctively religious sense should not be allowed to be confused with rationally justified confidence, proper trust, proper loyalty, holding probable beliefs which nonetheless have some uncertainty, educated guessing, gut feelings, epiphanies, brainstorming, hypothesizing, counter-intuitive reasoning, trusting one’s subconsciously formed intuitions, nor having beliefs that are simply based on wrong or weak arguments. We shouldn’t let people equivocate that because many of these things are useful and are also sloppily called faith in our language, that therefore faith in the relevant religious sense which I have been explicating is a good thing.
Having given a quick summation of what faith is, let me turn to address directly how faith ruins religion.
For more on faith, read any or all posts in my “Disambiguating Faith” series (listed below) which strike you as interesting or whose titles indicate they might answer your own questions, concerns, or objections having read the post above. It is unnecessary to read all the posts below to understand any given one. They are written to each stand on their own but also contribute to a long sustained argument if read all together.