Faith is Not a Virtue

To be clear, I am not here to bury religion. Faith and religion are distinct yet complementary concepts. As a matter of fact, someone could attempt to justify a religious belief strictly on objective empirical (fact-based) evidence. I also recognize that most people accept their religious belief in some part on emperical evidence. Often, people will cite emperical evidence when proving that their religion is the correct one and another’s is not.

I understand the definition of “faith” to be the means of acquiring a belief in a concept that lacks emperical evidence of its existence or, better yet, a belief in something in spite of the available evidence. By this, making a judgement on the best available emperical evidence, even if incomplete, would not be acting on faith. I do not mean faith in the colloquial sense either, like remaining faithful.

For clarity’s sake, I understand virtues to mean the consistent actions by which one achieves moral values.

But everyone has faith in something, some might argue. Even if true (and I am not conceding it is) that would not mean people ought to have faith. “If all your friends jumped off a bridge ….” You get my point. No doubt, some benefit from their faith and achieve things they might have never dreamed possible.  In the coming paragraphs, I hope to prove that faith is not something that can be practiced consistently in order to achieve moral values.

For sure, we accept ideas everyday without a complete understanding of the facts, but we can still deduce (or infer) beliefs from previous evidence we believe is true. In order to do so, we use logic to decide what evidence is relevant, what evidence is lacking, and how important is each in order to make a decision or withhold from making a decision. When I am driving down the street, how do I know that the driver coming in the opposite direction is not going to steer into my lane and cause a head-on collision?  Since everyone has a free will, I can never know absolutely.  Based on the preponderance of the emperical evidence, I have no reason to believe the typical driver will cause a collision. My judgement could be mistaken, but the only way of knowing that is by studying the consequences of the empirical evidence.

The distinction between human beings and the lower animals is our ability to form concepts and choose values. We are not especially superior in any physical sense to other animals, who can see better at night, travel faster, carry proportionally more weight, and adapt to the environment more quickly. But we sit atop the food chain. The greatest advantage we have is our ability to conceptualize.

Yet, we are also at another disadvantage. We do not not inherit knowledge from birth. We are a blank slate. Since values — those things which one wishes to gain or keep — are not given through instincts, they must be discovered with the only tool available to us for integrating perceptions of (objective) reality. We have the choice to make our character what we want it to be. We can choose good or evil. If we want a happy life, we have to discover and uphold rational, life-promoting principles (virtues) that make it possible. They are the actions that further and sustain one’s life when practiced consistently.

The extent to which people neglect or reject their their greatest tool of survival is the extent that they retard their life. The extent to which people believe something in the absence of evidence or in spite of it is the extent to which people believe something because they want to. They believe because they feel like it, meaning faith is a form of subjectivism. Unwittingly, they build their support for absolute truth on the soft sands of subjectivism.

Yet, many people of faith defend their religious belief because God gives authority to the purpose of morality. If God did not exist, anything goes, they might say. But without realizing it, supporters of faith concede that reality is not objectively knowable, that reason is a handicap to be subordinated to revelation, dogma and mysticism, and that support for morality rests on a whim.

I am not disparaging feelings or emotions. They are important factors, as are our cognitive powers. Emotions are the automatic responses to value judgments produced by the premises we hold. Conflict between reason and emotions only arises when the premises of our emotions are in conflict with reality.

Subjectivism as Sacrifice

The invariable contradictions that arise from such a mindset lead to incredible frustration and self-doubt. As people reject the crippling effects of faith, which they increasingly are, many cling to their subjectivist preconceptions of morality. They have heard all their life that without God, anything goes. So with their newfound disbelief, the truth is what you feel it is.

Morality becomes the domain of society. The “common good,” “the public interest,” and “majority will” become the dominant motives of morality. “If individuals have to be sacrificed to satisfy morality, then so be it.” Evil becomes “necessary.” The good is not longer tied to the individual but to the collective.

Life as the End

Meanwhile, the true paradigm is that without an objective reality, then morality does not exist. But reality does exist; therefore I am. Faith is not necessary to believe in morality. The law of identity, the law of causality, and the corollary law of non-contradiction are not debatable. They are the axiomatic metaphysical givens that underlie every action we take. The very attempt of dispoving them demonstrates their validity. They are absolute, self-evident and unchanging.

Individuals are all there are. The “common good” is a meaningless concept because the collective is only a metaphor. Try and point to a collective without pointing to the individuals or the consequences of their actions. We as humans are given a choice: to live or not to live. If we choose life, and there are objective reasons to live and prosper, the process of achieving that value (our life) is called morality. The concept of a value presupposes the existence of a valuer. Without life, values would be a meaningless concept. This means that sustaining one’s life is the purpose of all moral values; it is how they come to be. As life exists only in individuals, each individual’s life is an end in itself and should not be sacrificed to others or to metaphorical collectives.

That is why faith is so dangerous. It gives people an easy excuse to believe what they want, which others are sure to disagree with for their own subjective reasons. The only way to settle this dispute is by majority vote if we are lucky and by force of arms if we aren’t so lucky. In either case, the rule is might means right. The victory goes to the most underhanded, the most violent, and the most deceitful.

Image credit: kyz, with a Creative Commons license