Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, “It is a matter of faith, and above reason.”
– John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
What is faith? Ask 10 people, and you’ll likely get 10 answers. However, one commonly held notion that nearly always emerges from someone’s description of faith is that faith picks up where the evidence leaves off. Faith takes us somewhere that the evidence itself does not warrant.
I used to play a game when I was much younger in which one child was blindfolded, spun in a circle, then released to try to catch one of the other participants in the game. More often than not, the player caught was the one most directly in front of the blindfolded child when this visually impaired child was released.
Let me introduce an analogy based on this game.
- The blindfolded child = A young seeker of truth
- The blindfold = The methodology of faith
- The child’s covered eyes = The obstructed capacity to reason to a warranted conclusion
- The orientation of the child upon release = The child’s home culture
- The child caught = The arbitrary religion the seeking child “chooses”, usually base on orientation.
Little Tommy or Little Ali, spun into a particular family and culture by fate, is told that he must choose with less than his full, non-blinded reasoning capabilities, the religion that is most within his reach. He is then told that to make the choice blindfolded is the only appropriate and noble way to play the game.
Children, more often than not, “choose” the faith of their parents. Their parents will tell them that there is but one correct faith out of the many possible, and that they, though the grace of the god associated with that faith, have been privileged to find the “Truth”. The child is not encouraged to explore other religions, nor are they encouraged to learn and employ critical thinking in respect to the religion of their parents. By the time they reach adulthood, the vested interests they have in that particular religion and its elaborate social matrix make the rejection of that religion extremely difficult. This is clearly evidenced in every culture in the world.
Were the child not blindfolded, they may select a religion outside their orientation after sizing up the options. Or they may decide that none of the options are worth chasing. Yet this blindfold of faith is applauded as a noble and virtuous way to choose. For those who have played the game themselves, removing the blindfold would somehow adulterate the game. And were a child to refuse to play due to the blindfold, this also would be anathema. The game must be played and a choice must be made.
One significant way in which this analogy fails is that, at the end of the children’s game, the blindfold comes off. In the context of real life, those who attempt to remove the blindfold, and to critically assess the assumptions of the religion, are at minimum discouraged from doing so, and in many cases severely warned about flirting with apostasy. And all this while they are not given any good reason why this blindfold of faith has any virtue.
Many of the religions that employ this blindfold of faith also have a device of fear that can be invoked. Apostasy is often said to have the consequence of eternal damnation. This is yet one more unsubstantiated assumption that cannot be examined while wearing the blindfold of faith. So the blindfolded child with any degree of intellectual curiosity and integrity fearfully refrains from removing the blindfold lest the monster of damnation really exists.
There is no virtue in faith. Faith is not noble. Faith is in opposition to rational thought. Hell is employed as a deterrent to abandoning faith since faith is a deterrent to the critical thinking that may destroy the concept of hell and faith. And here you can visualize the vicious circle of faith-based reasoning in which most of the world operates. It stifles curiosity and discredits an intellectual integrity that questions assumptions such as the notion of a god, the existence of sin, and the need for redemption. Herein lies its threat to families and cultures who wish to preserve the game of life in the marginal way they’ve always played it.
What is on the other side of faith’s blindfold? Monsters? Occasionally. But the sighted are much better equipped to deal with real threats in this much fuller life. The blinded have a greater capacity, perhaps, to conjure up from their imaginations visions of dancing sugar plums, 70 beckoning virgins, and golden crowns that a particular god has promised them. There is much pleasure in these visions. However, those who have had their blindfolds of faith removed have the depth of the entire world to examine and explore, and this pleasure comes with the added advantage of intellectual integrity.
Have the courage to be “faithless”. Add to your world view only those notions that are supported by critically assessed evidence. Resist world views derived from wishful thinking or fear-mongering. If you don’t have sufficient reason to believe something, don’t. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” And come night, when you’re exhausted from a great day exploring life without a blindfold, intellectual integrity is the softest pillow.
“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith…. We need believing people.”
Hitler in a speech made during negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of 1933