“It only strengthens my faith”

There is a slightly irritating genre of religious writing in which a faithful person takes a superficial look at some infidel literature and emerges loudly proclaiming that the experience strengthened their faith. Michael Coren’s “Their Disbelief Is My Strength,” for example. Indeed, a particularly smug and clueless example.

There’s nothing wrong with the basic idea. If you take a serious look at arguments opposed to your own convictions, work through them, and find out why they are unpersuasive, your original views should damn well end up being strengthened. But the popular religious “it only strengthens my faith” theme doesn’t seem to be about intellectual issues at all. My impression is that of pious people going into their task with the determination that the whole thing is going to be a faith-strengthening exercise. The stronger the challenge they face, in fact, the greater the tooth-gritting required to reaffirm the faith. And hence the greater virtue. The outcome (reinvigorated faith) is never in doubt; the object is just to give faith a good workout.

I’d be tempted so say that people are strange, but this sort of faith-based behavior seems to be normal. I have to keep reminding myself that doubt and nonbelief are the strange behaviors for humans.

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