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Faith and the Chair

dog in a chair

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I suspect that most of us who were raised in Evangelical Christianity have heard the faith/chair analogy. If you have not heard it before:

Faith is like deciding to sit in a chair. You don’t know that the chair will hold you, yet by faith you believe it will, so you sit down in the chair.

Quite deep theology there, brethren.

Here’s the problem with this analogy: sitting in a chair does not require faith at all. Let me explain it this way. I am a big man, so making sure a chair will withstand my considerable ass sitting in it requires me to use the scientific method of inquiry.

Before I ever sit in a chair, I ask myself, does this chair LOOK like it will hold me? Now looks aren’t enough, as I learned several years ago at a Toledo Olive Garden. After the hostess brought us to our table, I glanced at the chair and quickly sat down. Except I didn’t make it all the way down. As I started to put my weight on the chair, it kicked out from me and I landed flat on my back in the middle of Olive Garden. I hit my head on the cement floor and could not get up. The manager came running in to make sure I was all right. The only injury was to my pride. So, was the chair defective? Not at all. The chair had roller casters and I didn’t see them. As I started to sit down, the chair rolled out from underneath me and I fell. Because I didn’t pay attention to the construction of the chair, I ended up on the cement floor. This is what having faith in the chair got me.

Most of the time, when we go out to eat, I carefully check not only the construction of the chair, but the ingress and egress. As a disabled man, I want to know the lay of the land. Where’s the bathroom, can I easily walk to the bathroom, etc. As far as the chair is concerned, I rock the chair back and forth and side to side making sure it is solid, and I press on the seat, making sure it will hold me. I have been to more than one restaurant where I’ve had to ask for a different chair lest the one they wanted me to use leave me on the floor. The only thing worse than a chair breaking is the embarrassment that comes from it (though my editor suggests that getting injured would be worse).

Using the scientific method, I test a chair to make sure it will hold me. After I have done so, and it passes the tests, I feel confident that the chair will support my 6 foot, 330-pound body (Yes, I have lost 65 pounds since Thanksgiving). I have been a big man most of my adult life, and this method of determining chair worthiness has never failed me. The only time I have ever had a chair break is when I “faithed” it.

The faith/chair analogy breaks down in another way, because the chair is an inanimate object that I can see and touch. God can not be seen or touched, and believing in God requires blind faith.

This is one of the reasons I am an atheist. I see no evidence for the Christian God. Believing in such a deity requires faith, a faith I do not have. For me, seeing is believing, and I do not “see” the Christian God.

Hebrews 11:1,3 states:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 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.

What is Christian faith?

  • The substance of things hoped for
  • The evidence of things not seen

Perhaps the wording of the NIV will make it clearer:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Many Evangelicals get upset when someone suggests that their faith is a blind faith. But isn’t that exactly how Hebrews defines faith: believing without seeing; that faith is the proof of belief in that which can not be seen?

Creationists would do well to read Hebrews 11 the next time they try to scientifically “prove” creationism. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that believing God created the universe requires faith. It requires faith to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence for the formation of the universe, earth, and life. Creationists embarrass themselves and besmirch their religion when they try to make creationism fit into a scientific box. And when their efforts fail, what do they do? They retreat to the safety of faith, a place they should have stayed to start with.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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    I’ve had a similar experience in my office. My chair has casters, which is typical for office chairs, and I use a carpet protector to facilitate rolling around my desk area. I’ve heedlessly tried to sit down in a hurry and ended up on my butt on the floor. Fortunately nobody was present at the time(s). But I don’t understand why a restaurant would bring a patron a chair on casters; I would not expect it to roll either. Probably my worst restaurant accident involved a waitress dumping an entire large iced tea on my lap (on their patio). I was wearing black pants which dried out by the end of my lunch, but she did not offer to adjust my bill. I asked the manager about it and he said she did not tell him…so he gave me the lunch for free. I just felt like sharing those silly stories. And yes, the faith analogy is ridiculous, because anyone can see and test a chair empirically.

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    Setting the issue aside for the moment about how disabled people must be hyper-aware of their surroundings when it comes to sitting….even when considering a non-disabled person, the analogy of religious faith with sitting in a chair makes no sense:

    Overwhelming evidence and verifiable, repeatable experience tells us that the vast majority of chairs will hold the weight of an average person. So there’s a tiny chance any given chair will collapse when you sit in it, but it happens so rarely nobody thinks about it on a regular basis. If it feels or looks wobbly you might be extra suspicious, but this doesn’t happen too often.

    So your “faith” in the chair is similar to your “faith” that when you’re sitting at a red light, it’s going to shortly turn green and you’re going to hit the gas and go. As with the chair, there’s a very tiny chance the stoplight will malfunction at the very moment you’re sitting there waiting for it to change. But this is so rare, nobody really expects it, so most of the time nobody thinks about it, and in everyday life you simply assume the chair or the stoplight will work properly and you’re surprised when it doesn’t.

    What I’ve just described is NOTHING like religious faith in unverified supernatural beings or events. It’s not even apples and oranges – it’s apples and umbrellas.

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    It’s funny how fundamentalists want to use “science” when they think it benefits them. Unfortunately, many of them have siloed themselves into homeschooling or religious schools that may not have taught them what is involved in the scientific method, so they cannot fathom why their chair demonstration fails.

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