Recently, my mom asked if I would explain my concept of faith to her. Keep in mind that I was raised under the umbrella of a rather myopic and dogmatic brand of Christianity otherwise known as Baptist (with a healthy dose of evangelism tossed in). Like any kid who spends a lot of time in church, I believed the rhetoric without any hesitation. Kids are, among other things, stupid little creatures who will believe just about anything if it comes from a figure of authority. This is a completely predictable phenomenon given what we know about cognitive development.
I carried my untested and unrefuted belief around with me until I was capable of asking and answering the tough questions, as well as accepting that some things are unknowable. It’s important to recognize the difference between a belief and faith. A belief in something can be rooted in justification (empiricism); the Greeks referred to these things as justified true beliefs. I may not be able to deconstruct a belief to it’s basic component parts, and yet I can provide compelling evidence that the belief is true (so far as any “truth” can be proven). A belief can also be rooted in utter bullshit, and cannot be justified. We all have beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world we live in that cannot withstand careful scrutiny. For example, I believe that US citizens live in an aristocratic democracy, not a democratic free republic (in simple terms, the former means that little Billy cannot grow up to be the president and the latter means that he can). There are all kinds of holes in my belief and still I adhere to it in spite of well constructed arguments that refute it. A belief often says more about the person who has it than it does about the content/context of the belief.
Faith is simply an unjustified belief that can be neither proved nor disproved. Religion is faith based. Materialism (otherwise known as atheism) is also faith based. There is no empirical evidence that suggests that a Creator exists, nor is there any empirical evidence that suggests said Creator does not exist. To have faith in a god alone, or to have faith in nature alone is, by definition, a faith based exercise. No one knows, no one can substantiate, no one can point to something that might be considered a justified true belief, no one can provide compelling empirical evidence, so we faithfully adhere to an idea that we already know cannot withstand any scrutiny at all. What’s interesting about faith, as opposed to a belief, is that it says more about the nature of faith than it does about the person who owns it. Richard Dawkins, along with most hardcore academics, strongly adheres to his faith in materialism. I strongly adhere to my faith in God. The main difference between us is not about materialism or God; it’s about the vehemence (think frothing at the mouth), or insistence with which we defend our faith. Dawkins and his crew get really hostile when challenged about their faith. I don’t feel an ounce of hostility when my faith is challenged (although, to be fair, there are a lot of religious people who go completely bug fuck when their faith is challenged). Thus, the issue is not about any particular person, the issue is faith as a standalone and elusive position one chooses of their own volition. It exists, people will talk about it, no one seems to argue the concept of faith, and yet nobody can provide an ironclad operational definition of the phenomenon we call faith. I think that it’s worth mentioning that a faith untested is not faith at all, it’s simply a stupid and horrifyingly ignorant unjustified belief.
So, mom, I have a battle tested faith in God as the creator, the arbiter of what we will come to know as truth, and as my steadfast and not always wanted companion. I talk to God multiple times every day. God never answers or responds to my comments, questions, appreciation, or observations. I’m cool with the arrangement we have, although I find it really difficult to not throat punch the dipshits who reference a Holy response as an incident (I prayed long and hard for _______________ and then this thing happened, so I know Baby Jesus is real). I talk to my creator just as I would any friend, which means I will say, “Seriously? That’s some fucked up shit, and thanks for putting me on the receiving end of it. I get that You have a grand plan and all, I’m merely pointing out that You could have easily handed this one to someone else.” I like my faith, which allows me to like God in a way I don’t think many people do, or could understand. I’ve stood at the abyss and nearly fell into it on more than one occasion. The abyss didn’t look back, it just sat there dark and waiting. I know that one day I’ll get sucked into it, and that’s fine. Until then, I’ll try to be the closest iteration of myself that breeches the wall of authenticity and adheres the the 11th Commandment (the one given to the apostles at the last supper) as much as I can given my enormous and breathtaking fallibility.
So what does faith mean to me? I’ve already paid multiple visits to Hell. I will not be spending any time there when I’m dead (although I’ll probably be neighbors with people I thought were dicks on this mortal plain). He does have a sense of humor–one look at an armadillo or a kangaroo should suffice as evidence for that statement.