Faith or Expectations?

Faith. It is at the heart of every theist’s last-ditch argument. When you have questioned the historical discrepancies in their Bible, when you have pointed out all the nasty things their religion has been responsible for, and when you finally work your way down to the core of their beliefs, the answer is always, faith. The phrase goes something like this:

“Well, either way, it doesn’t matter what you think. I believe god exists because I have faith that he does and having faith is a lot harder than not having faith.”

Usually that about ends the argument for me — there is no arguing with crazy, after all. And really, what can I say at that point? “OK, fine, be stupid then!” typically doesn’t fly with my grandmother.

I was confronted with this argument recently and when I was replaying the argument over in my head thinking of all the things I should have said, it dawned on me. I have faith, too. I mean, I think I do. I would go so far as to say that everyone has some sort of faith inside of them. The difference is that my common sense tells me to have faith in things for which I have seen.

For example, I have faith that my car will start in the morning to drive to work. Do I know that it will? No. But, I have kept up with the maintenance and it worked fine the day before, so I have faith that it will turn on. I also have faith that my husband won’t cheat on me. Do I know that for sure? Absolutely not. How could I? But, I have faith that he won’t because he has never done so before and our marriage is good and strong. All of us have faith that tomorrow will come. We schedule appointments, put things off at work and plan vacations all under the assumption that when today ends, the sun will come up and tomorrow will begin. Do we know that it will for certain? No, but we have no reason to believe otherwise. The sun has always come up and tomorrow has always come — whether we like it or not.

The problem with the faith argument though, lies in the very definition of faith itself:

“Faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Merriam-Webster

My common sense tells me that my faith should be based on proof. My logical, reasonable mind tells me so as well. “I believe that ‘X’ will happen because it has happened before or there is evidence that it will.” However, theists and believers of any god(s) believe that faith in something “for which there is no proof” is a perfectly acceptable way to live and it satisfies their minds to be with religion. “I believe that ‘X’ will happen because I have faith that it will.”

This sort of thinking has never satisfied me, so maybe I don’t have faith then; maybe I have something more like expectations:

“Expect: to consider probable or certain; to consider reasonable, due, or necessary.” Merriam-Webster

I expect that my car will turn on, that my husband won’t cheat and the sun will rise again tomorrow. I still know none of these things for certain, but it is probable that my expectations are correct based on the current evidence.

So, maybe that is the biggest difference between atheists and theists: Theists are perfectly satisfied with having faith and can live with the fact that there will never be any proof to show them that their beliefs are correct or accurate. Atheists tend to let their ability to reason overcome their ability to have faith — It is more reasonable to believe in something because there is proof and, on the flip side, it is more reasonable to not believe in something because there is no proof. This, however, does not mean that having faith is any harder or any easier than not having faith. I think that if your mind is capable of accepting the idea of faith, then it shouldn’t be very hard for you at all. But, if you are struggling with the idea of faith and the blind acceptance of it, then sure, I imagine it would be pretty difficult.

The bottom line is that the common sense of an atheist tells them that if there is no evidence, then it must be bullshit or, at the very least, it should be something that they question. The common sense of a theist (and the Bible, oddly enough) tells them that as long as they have faith, anything is possible. “With God all things are possible.” Mark 10:27

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12 comments

  1. Seems like it could be a prejudicial definition to me. It certainly fits for the subset of individuals who, due to lack of education or lack of interest, simply “give up” and punt to faith (e.g. the aforementioned grandmother). But faith is a polysemic term and can mean a lot of different things depending on the individual.

    We should be careful not to assume that everyone who mentions faith is using this particular definition.

    1. While I agree with you in theory, I believe that those using faith in the argument I outlined in the post are in fact using the definition I presented. They even say, verbatim, that they have faith and therefore do not need proof. Like I also stated, the phrase tends to come after a long and heated discussion on the topic of god so yes, perhaps you are correct that it is due to lack of interest — they have lost interest in the argument. I based my entire argument on this type of person and the definition found in the dictionary. Of course, different words can mean different things to different people, BUT, the definition stays the same regardless of whether people agree with it or whether they see it that way or not. So, do I think that all people view faith the same way? No. But, do I think that those using it as a means to end an argument view it that way? Yes.

      1. Agreed. Like the aforementioned grandmother, those who use faith as a trump card in lieu of reason are definitely falling under this definition. No doubt about it.

        My concern is more with those people who stubbornly declare that theists invariably depend on faith — defined as “belief without proof” or something similar — before the theists even bring it up, and continue to doggedly assert that position no matter what is said to them. It’s frustrating. “No, you believe in God, which means you have faith, which means you are believing something without proof.”

        But I certainly don’t think that’s you!

          1. Neither do I, haha.

            You’ve shown a great deal of understanding and thoughtfulness when it comes to analyzing arguments and beliefs. It’s much appreciated. Atheists like you restore my faith in not having faith. =P

      1. In the final analysis, as you rightly pointed out, we’ll have to go with probabilities. Personally, I’m happy to believe what is believable, and I don’t believe what is unbelievable. I guess you can tell that I’m a rather frugal fellow.

  2. I’m not sure I viewed faith like that when I was a Christian because there wasn’t an ounce of doubt (as far as I remember). So, ‘faith’ meant more trusting the god God and his plan. When things didn’t make sense or were difficult, it was trusting in the big sky fairy to make it better now or in the in the afterlife. Not having faith in ‘his’ existence but the goodness his actions. Was I a wrong Christian?? Dammit! Hope I’m a better atheist. 🙂

    1. I absolutely do not believe that you were wrong. Well, I mean, I do because I don’t believe in god, but in putting myself in your shoes, I can see how that is another version of faith. I sort of left out this aspect of faith, so I am glad you caught it. Faith that something exists is different than faith that something will happen; faith in a noun or faith in a verb. I am with you on that point though. When I was a believer, I had no doubt that god existed until… well, until I started having doubts! For me, it took the doubt that a god actually existed to birth the doubt of my faith that he/she/it would be able to do anything for my life.

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