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Sep 01 2013

The “benefits” of faith

You have to have faith, or so I’m told. People who don’t have faith are somehow deficient, missing out on all that life has to offer, and maybe even morally suspect.

Why is that? What’s so great about faith? What do you get from being faithful that you don’t get from being skeptical? There are a lot of answers to those questions, but the most accurate ones aren’t as flattering as the PR might have you believe.

Suppose someone tells you something that might not be true. So you look into it. You find out other people also believe it, but you don’t stop there. You go back to the verifiable facts behind what people believe, and decide whether or not to believe based on whether or not you can verify the alleged facts behind the belief. In a way, that’s a kind of faith, because you’re trusting in the principle that truth is consistent with itself. But most people don’t call that faith, they call that skepticism, because you don’t believe things unless they are consistent with real-world factual truth—and you check!

Faith, on the other hand, is when you take the non-skeptical approach to believing what people tell you. You decide what to believe based on how many people believe it, and how persuasive they are, rather than on the objective facts. This reliance on conviction rather than facts is what distinguishes faith from skepticism.

And even when you do look at the evidence, you make no distinction between verifiable evidence on the one hand, and mere fantasy, intuition, superstition, and hearsay on the other. When you hear contradictory evidence, it doesn’t make you doubt what people say, it makes you think up ways their claims could still be true. And when you’re done defending these claims, you feel like you’ve accomplished something by not letting external, real-world circumstances dictate your beliefs.

This kind of faith enhances your ability to believe things that people tell you even when these things have no connection whatsoever to reality. It strengthens your ability to believe what people tell you even when they say things that flatly contradict verifiable facts. It equips you to believe whatever people tell you even when they contradict themselves.

In a word, faith empowers you to be more gullible.

This is the virtue of religious faith. It takes ordinary, embarrassing gullibility, and elevates it to the status of virtue. People who would otherwise feel bad at how easily others take advantage of them can now gloat over the superiority of their spiritual insight. They’re not just gullible, they have faith.

And you gotta have faith. Everyone says so. You believe what people tell you, right?

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I commonly see “faith” conflated with other words like “trust” and “hope”, so if you don’t have faith, you must be an unhappy, paranoid kook with no integrity.

  2. 2
    busterggi

    Faith allows you to hate & discriminate, sometimes kill, people who disagree with your beliefs be they religious, political or pretty much anything. For the faithful believer its a get out of jail for eternity card.

  3. 3
    fulcrumx

    I think is is probably far too generous to assume that people actually do have faith in or believe in the things they say the believe in. looking at their own actions related to those subjects, we see they do not appear to be consistent with what the claim their ‘faith’ requires them to do or what it will procure for them. I think their conduct is far more indicative of them wanting to be heard saying a thing that is obviously far fetched in order to secure as much attention as possible for themselves and to conform to the group norms of a bunch of people who have the same cynical devotion to credulity as a badge of honor and requirement of membership. I think we should call them out more often as being dishonest and cynical and demonstrating guilty knowledge that what they say is false.

  4. 4
    Otto Tellick

    I’m really glad to be finding new content on your blog again – thanks for coming back, Deacon.

    The terms “faith” and “skepticism” might be like “clockwise” and “counter-clockwise” – they can retain some semblance of consistent semantics despite being applied in directly opposite ways, depending on one’s point of view (which way you happen to be facing). People who are inclined to be gullible on a given subject might well be “skeptical” about taking an evidence-based approach to that subject, especially if the evidence is sparse and difficult to comprehend – they might find it more sensible to take someone else’s word for it and not consider the evidence at all, given the “unreliability” of the evidence.

    This brings to mind one of the more memorable Twilight Zone episodes – “The Old Man in the Cave” (season 5, episode 7 – freely available now at hulu.com): What if you could present factual, evidence-based knowledge as if it were divine revelation? How well would that work? (Not very well, naturally.)

  5. 5
    Ex Patriot

    There is a quote from Mark Twain that fits this very well “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” as far as religion goes nothing more need be said

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