Faith: Superstition or Substance?
by Adam Tucker
I’m a huge Indiana Jones fan. While I don’t own a bullwhip, I do have an Indy style fedora hanging on the lamp stand in my office. I don’t advocate many of his moral choices, but he has great adventures that make for fun movies. My favorite is the third installment, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.1 The film chronicles the tale of Indy and his father, played by Sean Connery, searching for the mythical holy grail while being pestered by Hitler and Nazis.
In the climax of this particular adventure, the Nazis shoot Indy’s dad in order to force our hero to navigate the deadly booby traps that stand between the healing powers of the grail and his dying father. After successfully dodging disaster in the first two booby traps, Indy comes to the edge of a cliff overlooking an apparently bottomless ravine. He can see the entrance to the cave that houses the grail on the other side of the ravine, but it’s too far to jump. Indy looks down and says, “It’s a leap of faith.” The scene cuts to a shot of Indy’s dad lying on the ground holding his wound saying, “You must believe boy, you must believe.” We then see Indy take a deep breath, close his eyes, put his hand on his heart, and step into the nothingness hoping something catches him. If you want to know what happens I guess you’ll have to watch the movie!
The point is, that’s how many people, including many Christians, see biblical faith. They think we neither have, nor can we have, any actual reasons to believe Christianity is true, so we simply take a deep breath, close our eyes, put our hands on our hearts, and take a leap hoping that God will catch us. After talking about digging into questions, picking apart the logic, and wondering if “the crown of thorns is no more than folklore,” one popular Christian song from a few years ago put it this way,
But what if you’re wrong?
What if there’s more?
What if there’s hope you’ve never dreamed of hoping for?
What if You jump? Just close your eyes.
What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?
What if He’s more than enough?
What if it’s love?2
Christians are good at giving the “faith” answer. Challenged to think about a difficult issue? No need, just have faith. Confronted with something that, if true, would mean Christianity is false? No worries, just have faith. Asked to give a reason you’re a Christian rather than an atheist, Muslim, Hindu, or a member of some other belief? No problem, I just have faith! In other words, “faith” as it has come to be understood is something used when we’re ignorant of facts and is seen to be in opposition to reason and knowledge. It’s seen as wishful thinking of sorts such that we close our eyes to reality and by sheer willpower make ourselves believe the impossible. It’s almost as if many people think their faith actually makes true that in which they believe. Mortimer Adler once said,
I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers, that imposes upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition.
It’s no wonder that those who do not share Christian convictions find faith so repugnant. According to the late Christopher Hitchens, an extremely popular atheistic journalist and debater from the last decade,
Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals. It’s our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Out of all the virtues, all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.3
In his book A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian defines faith as either belief without evidence or the pretending to know something one doesn’t know.4 Atheist George Smith says, “Reason and faith are opposite, two mutually exclusive terms: there is no reconciliation or common ground. Faith is belief without, or in spite of reason.”5 Finally, one of the leaders of the New Atheist movement, Richard Dawkins, says, “There are two ways of looking at the world: through faith and superstition or through the rigors of logic, observation and evidence – in other words through reason.”6
Is biblical faith really nothing more than wishful thinking or superstition and completely contrary to reason? If one would spend some time reflecting on the text of Scripture and the historical understanding of the term rather than accepting popular opinion or picking and choosing verses out of context one would clearly see that blind irrational faith is completely absent from the Bible…
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