I just read a post discussing the definition of “faith” at Camels with Hammers, and I realized something. By his definition, I don’t think I ever really had “faith.” Or if I did, not very much of it. Let me explain. Dictionary.com defines faith as “belief that is not based on proof.” Dan adds more detail, defining faith as follows:
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.
The thing is, I held the tenets of evangelical belief because I believed they were backed up with real, tangible evidence. Scholar Karen Armstrong has argued that religious fundamentalists apply apply “logos” (reason) to “mythos” (faith) rather than seeing the two as separate and distinct ways of finding truth. While I obviously don’t agree with everything Armstrong says, I think she does have a point. If religion were something that fundamentalists and evangelicals were content to hold to based on “faith” (i.e., there isn’t proof for this but you just have to believe), why would we have books like The Case for Christ or Evidence that Demands a Verdict?
Instead, I was raised to be an evidentialist. I was taught to follow the evidence, to pursue truth wherever it led. I was taught to never be afraid of questions, to never fear truth. Of course, I was taught all this with the assumption that all evidence and all questions lead to evangelical Christianity, but I was taught it nonetheless. As a consequence, I didn’t believe anything “just because.”
I believed in the Bible because I believed that the Bible contained no contradictions or errors, contained numerous fulfilled prophesies, and had been shown to be reliable by all historical and archaeological evidence available. I believed I could trust the Bible based on evidence, not on faith.
I believed in Young Earth Creationism because I believed that all the scientific evidence pointed to it. I read and read the resources offered by Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. I read about the huge flaws in evolution and the evidence for creation and a global flood. I believed it because I had evidence, not on faith.
I believed prayer worked because we heard and read so many stories of prayer working. My own family occasionally saw answered prayers, sometimes in dramatic ways. I believed in prayer not simply on faith, but because I had seen it work, and heard stories of it working, and had read books about it working.
I believed in Jesus not simply because I had a personal relationship with him but also because I believed that historical evidence pointed conclusively not only to his existence but also to his resurrection from the dead. In fact, Christ’s resurrection was one of the things I considered irrefutable proof of Christianity. Proof – evidence – not simply faith.
I never believed anything I didn’t think there was evidence for. Technically, I suppose this means I didn’t have “faith.”
And so, when I got outside of the bubble in which I was raised and started reading things outside of evangelical Christianity, I did so with an open mind. I was not afraid of evidence. I was not afraid of questions. I’d been taught not to be.
And then I found that the Bible does contain contradictions and errors; that scientific evidence actually overwhelmingly supports evolution and contradicts Young Earth Creationism; that prayer was actually way more subjective than I’d thought; and that there is actually no historical evidence for the resurrection or even for much of Jesus’ life. I was flabbergasted.
If I’d believed only based on “faith,” perhaps this wouldn’t have bothered me. I suppose technically speaking faith armors religion against evidence. I tried turning away from my evidence-based approach to religion to a more faith-based approach during my years as a progressive Christian. I got to the point where I was willing to admit that there was no proof for my beliefs, but that I held them anyway. However, I simply couldn’t do it. Evidence, reason, and facts mattered too much to me, and I simply couldn’t abandon my evidentialist approach.
And so I wonder. Do evangelicals in general hold their beliefs based on perceived evidence (and in their evangelical bubble where Ken Ham and Lee Strobel are respected and trusted as authorities, this is totally possible), or was I an aberration? Similarly, do progressive Christians generally believe based on “faith,” or does some contingent of them also hold their beliefs based on perceived evidence? In sum, to what extent to religious individuals of all stripes genuinely believed based on “faith,” i.e. believing with no evidence, and to what extend to they actually believed based on the perception that real, tangible evidence supports their beliefs?