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Bruce, Do You Have Faith?

faith michael nugent

Recently, a Christian man asked me if I had “faith.” Before I answer his question, it is necessary to define the word faith. Faith means trusting or relying on someone or something; having confidence in a person or plan; loyalty or allegiance to a cause or person. Christians, however, load the word “faith” with all sorts of religious baggage. There’s a big difference between saying I have faith that the sun will rise in the morning, and saying I have faith that Jesus will miraculously heal me from cancer. The former can be understood through science, evidence, and personal experience, whereas the latter claim is without foundation and proof. The former relies on believing what we know to be true, whereas the latter relies on believing despite evidence to the contrary. The former rests on reason, the latter on fancy. There’s a plethora of evidence for the rising of the sun each day, whereas there’s no evidence for Jesus healing people from cancer. Is it possible that Jesus heals people from cancer? Well, anything is possible, but such a notion has no rational foundation. Thus, Jesus healing people from cancer is wild speculation without factual evidence. Christians saying, I KNOW JESUS HEALED ME, is not evidence since no proof of the claims can be provided.

Either one believes Jesus heals, or one doesn’t. Such a belief requires great faith. The sun coming up in the morning, however, is easily provable by scientific evidence, photographic evidence, and personal experience. I turned sixty-two in June. The sun has arisen 22,733 times since my birth at Cameron Memorial Hospital in June, 1957. I am confident that the sun will appear again tomorrow, and if I am alive, I will see it. Can I know for sure that the sun will arise in the morning? No, but based on past experience, I am relatively certain it will. Thus, I have faith the sun will rise in the morning.

The definition of Christian faith is found in Hebrews 11:1-3, 6:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear . . . But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

For the Christian, faith is hoping for, and the evidence of, things not seen. Is not the essence of Christianity believing, having faith in things that cannot be seen? Millions of Americans “talk” each day to a God whom they have never seen. I have long argued that the main reason I am not a follower of Jesus is that I do not have requisite faith necessary to do so. I have looked at the evidence for the central claims of Christianity, and I have found them lacking. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I am unwilling to put my faith in something that has little, if any, proof. Evangelicals, in particular, believe that the Protestant Christian Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. How do Evangelicals know this claim is true? They don’t, but by faith, they believe anyway — despite everything Dr. Bart Ehrman says in his books. The same could be said of the virgin birth of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead, and the countless miracles he purportedly worked. Remember, the Bible only records a sliver of the miracles performed by Jesus. The author of the gospel of John said in chapter twenty-one, verse twenty-five:

 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

Hyperbole? Exaggeration? Not if you are a literalist and an inerrantist. According to Wikipedia, the Library of Alexandria contained upwards of 100,000 books. According to John, this is nothing when compared to all the books that should have been written about the life, works, and miracles of the man, myth, and legend, Jesus Christ. Jesus was such a prodigious miracle worker that the known world couldn’t contain all the books written about his exploits. Yet, contemporary historians and writers were silent concerning Jesus and his traveling magic show. Despite this deafening silence, Christians, by faith, believe Jesus did these things. Is such faith rational?

So, yes, as an atheist, I have faith, but not the kind of faith Christians have. My faith rests on a foundation of reason and evidence. Recently, my wife was hospitalized for three weeks. Polly had major abdominal and bladder surgery. All told, Polly was off work for almost two months. It was a scary, heart-wrenching moment to helplessly watch as Polly was wheeled away by surgical staff. I wondered, with tears in my eyes, will this be the last time I see the love of my life alive? Maybe, as was the case with my father decades ago, but I put my faith in the surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nursing staff. These well-trained professionals were skilled at performing these surgeries, and I was confident that there would be a successful outcome.

What if I had, on the other hand, prayed and put my faith in Jesus, the God-man whom Christians call the Great Physician? How could I ever know whether Jesus was actually behind Polly’s successful surgeries? Scores of Christians at the church Polly’s parents attend were praying for a successful outcome. How could they ever know it was Jesus who “healed” her? Well, Bruce, look at the outcome. Wait a minute, wasn’t it medical professionals, performing to exacting standards, who healed Polly? (Imagine the outcome if Polly relied on prayer alone!) Well, um, sure, but it was God who gave them the ability and strength to do so. And your proof for this claim? I just know that’s what happened. By faith, I believe. Surely, readers can see the difference between my faith and that of the Christian.

Yes, I have faith, but my faith is different from that of the typical Christian. Our foundations are different. My faith is built on reason and rationality, giving me the confidence to believe this or that will happen. Evangelicalism, on the other hand, rests on naked faith; an irrational faith that says, believe despite evidence to the contrary. Is that not exactly what Christians have been doing for 2,000 years? Jesus is coming soon!, every generation of Christians has confidently said. Yet, twenty-one centuries later, Jesus still has not returned to earth. Is it reasonable or rational to believe Jesus’s return is imminent? Of course not. The exant evidence tells us that Jesus lies buried somewhere in Palestine. He’s d-e-a-d, end of story. Yet, countless Christians believe that not only is Jesus alive, he will return to earth very soon to establish his eternal Kingdom. Is not such belief (faith) irrational? Without faith, Christianity crumbles into nothing. I know there are Evangelical apologists who vociferously argue that their faith is reasonable and rational. These “sophisticated” Christians use all sorts of outlandish arguments to “prove” their claims, but I see little difference between their faith and that of the uneducated Christians. Press either of them enough, and they always retreat to the safety of irrational faith.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Avatar

    Nugent’s definition is correct, which is why confidence in the sunrise or in the abilities of surgeons is not faith. It’s belief based on experience and available information, not belief with no basis in evidence. Only the latter should be called “faith” at all.

    This is why, for example, we never see scientists getting together for chants and hymns fervently affirming their belief in plate tectonics or the asteroid belt or evolution via natural selection. They don’t need such nonsense because they have evidence. It’s knowledge, not faith.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      When I use the word faith, I mean trust, confidence in. While Christians might use a similar definition, the foundation of my faith is different from theirs — as I made clear, I hope, in this post. ?

      I realize many atheists are repulsed by the word “faith,” but I’m honestly not bothered by the word.

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    Becky Wiren

    It’s because I’ve never seen Jesus, or seen any miracles, that I can no longer say I have real faith in Jesus. Oh, I still have a spirituality but since Christianity is largely myth, my spirituality is private. My personal experiences don’t prove anything, nor would I ask anyone to believe based on my personal experiences. But evangelists by and large insist that Jesus is alive and will save us based on the Bible, a book filled with unproven, nay, even disproven myths. I once got into an argument with a former college Adventist friend about the Big Bang. He wasn’t too happy when I said there is more proof for the Big Bang than for creation. (See: Cosmic Background Radiation.) Consequently, he no longer talks much to me anymore since I’m lost according to his lights. C’est la vie.

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    I actually hate the word faith, which like the word blessed, I associate strongly with religion and can’t seem to get over my revulsion whenever hearing those words. Rationally, I know they do not belong solely to religion, but the association is too strong for me to break.

    What’s the proof that God/Jesus healed someone? It could just as well have been Zeus, or invisible aliens, or microscopic drones from another galaxy, or……if someone receives medical treatment and improves, there is far more evidence of the effectiveness medical intervention than of things for which we have no quantifiable evidence.

    It annoys me when believers say they don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. Christians’ Bible tells them that evidence of God is existent in nature but doesn’t say where specifically. I guess it means because things exist in the natural world that couldn’t be explained at the time, therefore GOD, and a lot of Christians still use that reasoning. If a God existed, it’s far more likely that the God is the malevolent horror of the OT than the supposedly loving one that a lot of evangelicals point to, but there’s no evidence of Yahwwh either.

    I still am amazed that in 2019 with all the scientific discoveries that have been made that people all over the world still believe in deities. Are humans ever going to outgrow that ridiculousness?

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    Carol Dworkowski

    I would also define faith as believing in something or someone on the basis of an intuitive trust that transcends our immediate experience.

    That is why, as a christian humanist, my relationships with other persons is founded on our common humanity, not on a common religious faith. Although I bond more deeply with those who have a high view of our common human potential rather than a low view, as that found in religious fundamentalism with its obsessive focus on Original Sin, I can always respond to the humanity that we both share, rather than simply react to the negative pathology that always leads to judgmentalism and alienation

    Here is a meditation by Matthew Fox, who is a christian, but is a humanist first and does not need a belief in God to justify his faith in the ultimate goodness of creation and love of life (biophilia):

    I am still amazed that in 2019 with all the scientific knowledge that we have relatively recently acquired, that there are still people who believe in a God who is no more than an anthropocentric projection of themselves.

    The old maps of reality, into which spiritual traditions have been integrated, often do not inspire people to be loyal to their tradition. Between the advances of both quantum physics and transpersonal psychology, we can no longer be at home in the old time religion. ~Rabbi Michael Lerner

    If God created man in his image, we have more than reciprocated. –Voltaire

    You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. ~Anne Lamott

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    Steve Ruis

    This is a common trope of apologists, to conflate ordinary faith (as you say, trust) with religious faith. Ordinary faith is based upon evidence, not necessarily first person evidence, but trusting that someone has seen the evidence and drawn a decent conclusion. Ordinary faith/trust can be wrong. All scientific knowledge can be trusted to some extent, but it might be wrong, that’s why “believing” in scientific knowledge is conditional (well, one reason anyway).

    Religious faith cannot be wrong. This declared by fiat, ex cathedra as it were. Not only that but one is not allowed to doubt one’s faith or investigate it. This is quite a different thing from trusting that the sun will come up tomorrow.

    By conflating the two uses of the word “faith” apologists are dishonestly trying to borrow some of the trust one has in ordinary things, and spend that trust in extraordinary things (religious claims, etc,)

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    Carol Dworkowski

    Religious faith can be wrong, it just cannot be proven wrong by either reason or another’s experience. On the other hand, it cannot be proven right, either.

    Scientific knowledge can be proven either wrong or having a high degree of probability through a combination of experience and interpretive reason. Better observational technology exploded the theory that the sun revolved around the earth, which had served as an irrefutable scientific observation for millennia

    Modern epistemology taught that we could know absolute reality through scientific (ie.objective empirical) methodology. Post-modern epistemology doubted that we could ever know ANYTHING with ANY degree of certainty. Contemporary epistemology claims that we can discern reality with greater,or lesser, degrees of probability, but never with absolute certainty.

    These three perspectives represent the primary epistemological paradigms that exist in our western and, to some extent, our global society today. We not only differ in WHAT we think, we differ in HOW we think. That is why we so often cannot understand how an intelligent person could possibly not be convinced by our logical defenses of our beliefs and those who reason out of another paradigm think the same of us. Let the disrespectful personal attacks begin. . .

    Many of us are closer to the epistemology that prevailed before Modernity’s dogmatic absolutism and the excessively reactive cynicism of post-modernism that followed it.

  7. Avatar

    When I go to apologist sites, or engage low grade religionists in ‘debate’, I see the phrase ‘it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian’. What rubbish. You do a good job in your article of distinguishing religious faith from confidence based faith of the type I have in a doctor or plumber. Of course, the phrase is a defence mechanism; religionists know that ‘faith’ is a desperately poor reason for belief, and want to tar atheists with their own brush. So when I’m accused of having faith that ‘something can come from nothing’ I’ll ask what evidence they have that there is such a state as nothing’. Or that I have faith that science can answer fundamental questions I point out that science is simply an attempt to explain evidence as best it can, not to necessarily reach firm conclusions, just provisional ones. Of course, as evidence mounts so does the probability of the scientific theory being true, but it never achieves certainty. Unlike religion.

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Bruce Gerencser