Lucy Leiderman’s article on faith (Faith is innate – not a decision - National Post - Holy Post - March 11, 2011) proposes a very odd notion of its substance; although hardly one unknown in modern religious circles. For, Lucy deems it to be some specialized faculty or gnosis; which the atheist are innately deprived
However, I would suggest that all people have faith; even the most obdurate of atheists. The atheist’s atheism often finds its foundation on a faith; that of a materialist axiom. Faith is absolute necessary in order to operate in the world. One cannot possibly ruminate through all evidence and reason before the use of modern devices or even in applying the basis laws of physics. Otherwise, mankind would be in perpetual state of studying; and not living.
If many atheists discount the existence of God, their reasons cite lack of evidence. However, their definition of evidence often requires a selective class of proof; only the material. Only that which can be sensed or measured can be deemed objectively real. There are eliminative materialists that would even classify consciousness and subjective experience (qualia), history and the conceptual as mere delusions. However, materialism is an axiom of philosophy. And an axiom is but a secular equivalent of an Article of Faith. This axiom, this presupposition is supposedly self-evident truth. One in which one should be able to disabuse. (Do our ancestors not exist because we have no material record of them? Or that material evidence cannot be crosschecked against their identity?) Thus, atheism’s foundation is oft built on faith. The only difference between the secular and the religious is the object of their faith.
Lucy’s definition of faith can be blamed on the spirit of Kirkegaardianism; the 19th Century religious philosopher, whose meandering of thought posited that a fact or assertion is true only if an individual can subjectively appropriate it; through the senses, reason, feelings or some ‘special faculty or gnosis’. This definition of truth invariably leads to relativism and ultimately and logically philosophical nihilism (‘there is no genuine truth’). In religious circles; especially among the more charismatic; it lends itself to well-documented pastoral problems; as when this specialized instinct disappears in the ‘dark night of the soul’ or when faith’s journey is cold and senseless.
So what is faith? In this, I see no difference between religious and common conceptions of it. Is it not to believe an assertion, promise, injunction and/or advice to the extent that one conducts one’s life on the basis of its truth, virtue and benefit? One drives a car ultimately on faith. One turns the steering wheel clockwise and counterclockwise, in the (almost unconscious) belief that the design and workmanship will ensure the vehicle will turn right and left. And one cannot honestly believe in Christ, for example, if one does not live in accordance with His statements, promises, the virtue of His commands and principles; anymore than a Communist state can be declared faithful to its namesake if wide scale private enterprise is practiced. In this way, faith in a person or principle is not a one-time decision; but rather a pattern of decision making on the basis of that person or principle.
Lucy’s definition (“I simply believe in faith”) corresponds to an existentialist form of faith. As opposed to a classic existentialist premise that one makes their own reality or purpose, existentialist faith is one that makes things occur through believing they will. The Prosperity Gospel comes to mind. Those who fail to receive are condemned for not having believed hard enough.