The faith-based myth

Myth understandings: an irregular column by David Shanahan

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There is a growing tendency to replace the word “religion” with “faith-based”, especially when it comes to official statements and descriptions. In part, this is simply a reflection of the motivations, purposes and foundations of the churches, groups and organisations being discussed. However, it does have a somewhat pejorative aspect to it: the underlying attitude that things that are faith-based are not as credible as, for example, “science-based”. This, in turn, perpetuates the idea that faith is something unscientific, unreliable, not subject to examination. Blind faith, as it has often been called.

This is assuming too much. The fact is that we all live, to one degree or another, based on faith. Because faith, as used by Christians, does not mean believing in something in the absence of proof, or just because someone says so, or to accept without question. Faith means trusting in something, or someone that you know is reliable. It says in Hebrews that: “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” [Hebrews 11.1]. Note those two words: “assurance” and “confidence”; they are only possible when you have reason to believe.

The thing is, we all live by that kind of faith. You may not know much about aerodynamics, but that doesn’t stop you getting on a plane and trusting the physics and the pilot. That shows faith, trust. We use all kinds of technology without understanding it, because we believe it to be trustworthy. When that faith is undermined, when we lose trust, it can have devastating effects. Look what happens when people lose trust in a political system, elections, medical expertise, even the very basis of society and its norms.

The mythunderstanding people have about Christian faith is that they think there is no grounds in reality for such faith. That it is unquestioning acceptance of what cannot be proved or tested in any meaningful “scientific” way. Yet Christians do have ground for their trust. We have seen in previous articles in this series that there are solid historical grounds for believing in Jesus’ existence, for the historicity of the New Testament documents and the events they record.

There is no reason to dismiss the experiences of Christians over two millennia, any more than you can doubt your love for a partner, or children, just because you cannot always explain what you mean and why you trust in them. The Scriptures repeatedly invite inquiry, questions, and the use of the brain’s ability to reason.

“…for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.” [Psalm 26.3]. “So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly”. [Ecclesiastes 7.25] “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” [Daniel 10.12]

And the great command of Jesus in the New Testament: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” [Mark 12.30] Peter encouraged Christians to be ready with reasons, not demands for unquestioning acceptance of things: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3.15]

I am not saying that our minds can understand and grasp everything, we are limited in that regard and God would not be God if we could completely understand him. But that is true of all areas of life. Notice how often even the scientist will use words like “it suggests that…”, or “this could prove…”, etc. But the basis for Christian faith is in history, in personal experience, in finding answers to legitimate questions. There is another myth that says that all religions basically believe the same thing, that they’re all the same at their core. But here is where Christianity is unique: not only because it is founded in historical events and people, not only that it claims you can know and have assurance and confidence in what you know, but because it depends on the trust Christians can have in answered questions, a relationship that is real and true.

Christianity does not require that you shut off your mind, ignore reason, and blindly accept whatever someone else tells you is true. Luke opens of account by explaining his reason for writing: “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught”. [Luke 1.4] Paul prays for the Christians in Ephesus “so that you may know him better”. [Ephesians 1.17]

There are so many other places I could quote from, but the main point is this: the idea of blind faith is a myth. On top of everything else, Christian faith is based on history and today, on the person of Jesus and his Resurrection. That’s the next myth to examine.

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