Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Apologetic Vs. Actual Christian Faith

In his latest post at Debunking Christianity, John Loftus has pointed out the deluded nature of Christian apologists' definitions of religious faith, such as this one given by David Marshall:
holding firmly to and acting on what you have good reason to believe is true, in the face of difficulties - David Marshall and Tim McGrew, in True Reason
Or as apologist J. Warner Wallace says:
Conviction is the result of certainty, and certainty is the result of evidential confidence. We are called to be convinced by mastering the evidence that supports what we believe. The Christians life is not one of "wishful thinking" or "hope in the unreasonable". It is a life of certainty, grounded in the evidence. - Wallace
Loftus rightly notes that these definitions are disingenuous, because they try to make their faith sound reasonable, when in fact the objective evidence that would justify their belief is severely lacking.  It is only due to religious delusion that they could possibly think the evidence merits their beliefs.  But apologists must defend belief in the face of all critiques, and don't necessarily use honest tactics in pursuit of that goal.  You often hear them claiming that atheists just don't understand what faith means from the Christian perspective.  But if that's true, they might as well admit that most Christians don't understand faith, either.  It seems to me that apologists have their own special definitions, involving evidence, reason, and justified belief, that aren't shared by ordinary Christians.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard ordinary Christians tell me that nothing could possibly shake their faith.  No science, no historical facts, no evidence of any kind.  Their faith is not based on evidence, and they are honest enough to admit that, despite what the apologists say.  Their faith is much closer in meaning to the ordinary dictionary definition that we all understand.  Faith is held firmly, regardless of any evidence to the contrary, and that's exactly the way ordinary Christians see it.  This is consistent with the biblical definition of faith:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1
The bible tells Christians that faith isn't based on visible evidence, but is the reason for belief in things that can't be seen.  Of course, there is a little more to it than that.  Churches and religious authorities teach that faith is a necessary element of Christian belief.  And they understand that reason is the enemy of faith.  As Martin Luther put it:
Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. - Martin Luther
Unlike the apologists, those who are in the business of leading the flock have to be concerned about a definition of faith that could lead to the destruction of that faith.  They know perfectly well that their sheep won't remain in the flock for long if reason and evidence intrude on their faith.

And this is reflected in the Catholic Catechism, as well.  Part One, Section One, Chapter Three of the Catechism instructs Catholics in how they should understand faith.  And it makes no mention of evidence, nor does it explicitly identify reason as being dangerous, but it very clearly places faith above reason.  It is worthwhile reading this brief chapter to see how it contrasts with apologetic definitions of faith.  Here are some excerpts that I find interesting:
- By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. (143)

- To obey ... in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God (144)

- Abraham thus fulfills the definition of faith ... Because he was "strong in his faith". (146)
- The Old Testament is rich in witnesses to this faith. (147)

- Faith is ... free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. (150)

- One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in his Spirit. (152)

- God ... opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth' (153)

- What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason (156)

- Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge ... (157)

- Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. (159)

- without faith it is impossible to please [God] (161)

- Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision (163)

- Now, however, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (164)
The salient feature of faith as explained in the Catechism is that it is a willful submission of the intellect to belief, and it is clearly not characterized by visible (objective) evidence or reason.  But this submission of the intellect is required for admission to heaven (the beatific vision).  It can't be swayed, and even science can't dispute it (provided, of course that science is conducted in a manner that is consistent with the tenets of Cristian belief).   

Does this sound like the kind of faith that apologists espouse?  Hardly.  Any apologetic definition of faith that claims evidence and reason are involved in religious belief is really just a lie.  Christians don't actually go by those definitions in real life.  Like John Loftus says, if that were the case, they wouldn't need to call it faith.  But faith as described in the Catechism is more the kind of faith practiced by real, ordinary Christians.


  1. But what if the whole thing went askew at some point? Then 'real ordinary Christians' - even if there are such people, which is dubious - have got it wrong, no?

    Further, what if that happened quite early? It could have occurred as early as the fourth century. What if, therefore, the very institution you cite as authority was first conceived and Intended by Constatine and his cronies as a vehicle of accommodation and usurpation to appropriate the emerging Xian trend into the Roman Empire? (Empires have, after all, learned to do that over the centuries, until today, it's nearly impossible to have a revolutionary idea whose symbols aren't on sale on Amazon by morning as neoliberal capitalism has become so skillful at such appropriations. And that strategy is much more efficient than having to oppressively kill and/or jail and/or torture a lot of people, right?)

    Some modern theologians (as opposed to "apologists" which not the same thing) think along these lines: that the early essence of Xianity was obscured by historical drift at some point or other. (Including Tillich in the article I linked you, btw, in which he claims the (Augustinian) concept of faith and reason as inseparable went askew around the time of Aquinas....)

    A good book on this kinda socio-religio topic is "God & Power" by the theologian Catherine Keller.

    1. Here is an article about Augustine on the topic of faith and reason. This is from a Christian perspective, by the way. Note that it invokes Feser and Gilson to take the apologeitc view, softening the views of Augustine to conform more closely with their apologetic standards.

      An excerpt:
      The contrast between reading Scripture before and after faith is one Augustine returned to often, for it demonstrated how reason, for all of its goodness and worth, can only comprehend a certain circumscribed amount. While reason is a wonderful and even powerful tool, it is a natural tool providing limited results.