Faith: not wanting to know what is true -- Friedrich Nietzsche
When I was young and foolish, my favorite comic book character was Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, a blind catholic vigilante. Now that I am old and foolish I have become what my younger self would have despised the most: a non-blind (in more ways than one), atheist, liberal... I am Loren: Man without Faith
Why is this held up as a virtue by so many people?
I sit back, sometimes, in a deeply philosophical type pose, and wonder. How did this come about, what were we thinking and why don't I think that way anymore? When I say "that way" I'm referring to faith of a religious variety. The form that steps outside the realm of standard everyday decision making and into other worldly speculation and then claims these metaphysical musings as absolute truth.
Granted we all exercise faith in varying degrees whenever we undertake a task, of that there is no doubt. It is a crucial ingredient in a crude form of empiricism that drives our actions. We make a hypothesis based on our beliefs and desires: "Girls are awesome." We test our hypothesis: "She's a terrifying monster that feeds only on the hearts of men." Sometimes things don't work out as well as we might have anticipated. No matter the result of our various experiments we can be assured of a reliable feedback loop, which will either verify, or falsify our original postulate; carry us closer to, or further from our initial goal. In the end, there is a simple way of knowing if our faith is well founded.
Contrariwise, generally religious faith for the zealot requires no such feedback loop to sustain itself. Answers to a heart felt prayer are left open to the discretion and perhaps imagination of the penitent soul who offered up the supplication. A reply may take the form of a person, a tingly sensation in the bosom, a silhouette of Jesus in a taco. There is no clear indicator as to whether or not a prayer has been definitively answered by some god-like being, only interpretations.
Sometimes people receive what they feel is an affirmative answer. Perhaps they prayed to pass an exam, studied and then passed. A miracle? It should be noted that those who study for exams greatly increase their chances of passing them. Sometimes I want it to be sunny outside and often the weather will oblige. Am I then to conclude that weather patterns are subject to my whims (even though there are times that the two do not correspond)? Or is it more sensible to conclude that the laws of nature are simply going about their usual business and that cloud formations and my desires only intermittently correlate by chance, and not by some supernatural trick of wishful thinking? We shall leave aside, for now, claims of truly miraculous answers to prayer.
On the other hand, you could pray for years for a particular result and be disappointed. Was this due to lack of faith? Was the answer no? Was the answer some kind of obscure communication that was somehow overlooked? Again, it is hard to tell. The person of faith will say if you are perceptive, open to God, you will know when the answers have come whatever they be. Why settle for this method which offers results that have the appearance of being capriciously and arbitrarily dealt out (if you believe in a god), when there is a more direct and useful course: Trying to do things yourself. When asked how it is that one "knows" that an answer has been given you may hear "the spirit told me" (translation: I feel like I got an answer). Dig a little deeper for the basis of this knowledge, question how feeling good about something guarantees truth, and you may well discover that this person has faith that they know.
This is were I become confused. In many instances in religious speech "faith" and "knowledge" are used interchangeably forming a nice foundation for circular arguments. When a person says they know that god lives, particularly in the mormon tradition, they are making a truth claim about the state of the world: There are such things as gods, they are corporeal, they/it exist(s) etc. The grounds for the veracity of this statement is that they feel it is true, therefore it must be true, independent of ever having seen or not seen said being. "Ah so you think god is real because you feel good about that prospect? Well that's more akin to faith isn't? You haven't quite verified it yet?" No, not think: know. Faith is knowing. This is a shocking form of epistemology to be sure. You can't really explain peoples experiences away, they belong to them after all and are invulnerable to intellectual scrutiny, but is it too much to ask that if we're going to communicate that we at least speak the same language first?