Chapter Eleven

Faith: All the Way Down

David Johnson

Andrew Knight

Michael Brady

 

It would be difficult to imagine a word more important than faith. Christian Faith and its more abbreviated The Faith are common shorthands used by Christians to identify this outlook. Jude 1:3 referred to the collection of beliefs espoused by New Testament authors as “the faith once delivered” and urged readers to contend for it. Elsewhere, faith is that critical something that separates those eternally saved from those who will be destroyed.

Under the banner of faith, the author of Jude condemns homosexuality, supports the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, suggests that supernatural beings contended for the body of Moses, and insists that the Christian god is holding other supernatural beings in chains for future judgment. After dividing humanity into those with and those without faith, the author insists that there is a timeless being to whom glory, majesty, dominion, and authority are due. And, it is these views among others espoused in the pages of The New Testament that the author insists should be defended.

Yet, a collection of beliefs is not the only use of the word “faith”. Sometimes, the word expresses a degree of confidence, and at others, it expresses a leap over a gap in knowledge. It is a defense of faith to which Christian apologist’s turn their hand, and skeptics question this enterprise. So, it is this idea of faith to which we to will turn and at least attempt to recognize faith in many of its forms and ask some hard questions about this seemingly simple word.

So, when we read books like Unbelievable? or any book making a persuasive case for a world view, we should necessarily ask to what degree the author or authors is asking us to take on faith the views offered, and we should also ask what kind of faith is being promoted. Are we being asked to accept the claims based on equal evidence, or are we being asked to cover some lack of knowledge by simply having faith?  

There is one other religious usage that we should have in mind that is a rough combining of the two ideas so far. In some conversations the idea of a leap of faith is discussed. Here, the idea is that there is some amount of empirical confidence that a Christian can have and the remainder is covered by faith. 

Some skeptics shy away from the word faith due to its rather loaded religious meaning, but it plays a rather central role in Justin Brierley’s book and this one, even when it is not being directly addressed. So, keep these ideas about faith and confidence in mind as we continue through this chapter and as you read the remainder of this book.

Faith: All the Way Down

 

We have all either been Christians, or have been listening and interacting with Christians for much longer than the 10 year run of the program. Justin has done an excellent job of bringing the various flavors of Christianity into the marketplace of ideas. We have listened and interacted with them all. And the one thing all Christian ideas have in common is faith. 

At bottom, there is a story or claim that cannot be justified with classical evidence or scientific scrutiny. It doesn’t take long before every Christian vs. atheist debate comes down to a faith-based proposition. You simply cannot construct a religion that does not require some amount of faith. By their very nature, religious claims are beyond the realm of classical proofs.

Even the Christian does not deny the primacy of faith in their worldview. What they will sometimes dispute is the definition of faith. We are not suggesting that there is an absolute definition of faith on which everyone must agree. But we must come to some consensus on what the bible means by faith when its writers use the word. We might also consider the fact that different writers might have used the word differently in different places.

Defining Faith

 

The brand of faith to which Christians seem to object the loudest is the variety commonly known as “blind faith”. But that is not the only way to understand the word. Generically speaking, faith is synonymous with belief. That means that if you believe something, you have faith in that thing. But that brand of faith is too weak to support the weight of religion.

Mere intellectual assent is not the measuring stick of faith. James writes that the devils believe and tremble. In saying this, he seems to be dismissing the idea that religious faith is mere intellectual assent. 

When my wife tells me she loves me, I believe her. That is to say, I give intellectual assent to her assertion. Christians seeking to make the meaning of faith more generic often use this example. But that doesn’t work, at least where James is concerned. To know something is not the same as having faith in something.

A better way to understand the kind of faith to which James is referring is  actionable trust . It is not merely agreeing with a claim. It requires taking some type of action as a result of that agreement. I can’t just say that I believe that the poor should be provided the needs they cannot provide for themselves. But the kind of faith James writes about requires that I not only believe that, but become an active participant in taking care of those needs.

In the strictest sense, though, James’ use of the word is somewhat non-standard. He was not speaking of faith as the power of belief. He was using it to spur social action as opposed to ivory-tower philosophizing about equality and social activism. For what it’s worth, I agree with James. When it comes to helping people, we need less talking and more doing.

To define religious faith, we will have to go beyond James and look elsewhere. Some Christians say that faith is synonymous with trust. And while I think that gets us closer, I don’t think it gets us all the way there. Trust can also be simple assent. But it could also represent actionable faith. 

Actionable Faith

 

It is one thing to say you trust the integrity of the rickety foot bridge. It is quite another to walk across that bridge. The Christian might say that your faith is meaningless until challenged. But the flaw in this assertion is that most Christians living in a Christian-friendly society are never challenged to perform any type of faith-affirming action to begin with. We are never tossed into a den with hungry lions. We have never had a sword removed from our neck only if we recant our faith. We have never had one penny of our paycheck on the line.

So if actionable faith is the only kind of faith that matters, very few believers have a faith worth mentioning. Going to church is not an act of faith. It is an act of social fellowship. We gain a clear benefit from being a part of a church community. Faith has nothing to do with it. Giving money to your church club is also not an act of faith. It is an act of responsible membership to an organization to which you belong.

Having a conversation with someone about your faith is also not an act of faith. We talk about a lot of things, including our favorite food, football team, or TV show. None of that is an expression of faith. It is an expression of our preferences and a desire to expand the boundaries of our given in-group. 

In the same category, inviting someone to our church is not an act of faith. That is no more an act of faith than is inviting someone to your school play. One is hard-pressed to come up with anything the average Christian does on a semi-regular basis that would constitute a genuine demonstration of actionable faith.

In a place like the US, taking a strong faith-based position on an important issue is still not an act of faith. The majority of the US population claims to be either Christian or god-believing. Here, you are viewed with suspicion if you don’t have some type of openly faith-based orientation. So stepping out on a stage and saying controversial things in the name of your religious faith is not a risk. In fact, it is the best way to get your crazy idea a serious hearing. It is a good tactic even for people without faith.

The UK is a little different, but only a little. Some faith-centric politicians will have a little harder time getting their faith-based message across, especially if they are espousing a particularly conservative religious message. But they still manage to retain a lot of political power. And no one loses their citizenship rights as a result of faith. 

In neither country are you under threat for being Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or a practitioner of Voodoo. You are not exercising an act of faith by preaching the straight gospel, and taking a hard stand against sin. You are just making noise. And that is not illegal, or even risky in the Western world.

Faith in the bible

 

I think if we really want to understand faith as it refers to religious commitment, we have to go to the bible and see what it means there. I will start with the closest thing we can get to a definition of religious faith in the bible:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Heb. 11:1

I like the King James Version for this passage because it uses two words that play well with secularists: substance and evidence. We understand substance. That is the stuff of the universe. We understand evidence because that is the proof of a theory. You see, Christianity is substantial. And it has plenty of evidence.

But a closer look explodes that notion. The real words to watch in the verse are  things hoped for , and things not seen. Your hopes are only as substantive as your faith. And unseen things are backed only by the evidence of faith. It is the confidence that your hopes will be met, and the assurance that invisible things are real. 

The Christian hope is entirely in the insubstantial, invisible realm that offers no proof outside of faith. The chapter goes on to call out one example after another of people who showed confidence in the face of uncertainty. 

Confidence in the Face of Uncertainty

 

When it comes down to it, I believe this is the only definition of faith that matters. It is confidence in the absence of tangible proof. If a person tells you there is a bear headed for the village and you have no way of confirming the claim, you may choose to evacuate the village on the word of that person. It is not very good evidence. But you accept it on faith. If the same person makes the same claim, and you can see the bear through a clearing, you will still evacuate the village, but not on faith. You have better evidence so that faith is no longer in play.

To review, when your actions are based on something tangible, it is not faith anymore. It is only faith when tangible evidence was insufficient. The moment you got the confirming proof, you lost access to faith. The only kind of faith you can have at that point is mere intellectual ascent that you agree with what the irrefutable evidence is telling you. Jesus did a better job in making this point:

A week later the followers were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked, but Jesus came in and stood right in the middle of them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand here in my side. Stop being an unbeliever and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you see me. Those who believe without seeing me will be truly blessed John 20:26-29

While the payoff in the story is in verse 29, the story prior is instructive. First, all of the apostles were shown the marks of crucifixion. Thomas wasn’t with them at the time. He only demanded to see the same evidence the others had been shown. So we should not think for a moment that the others somehow had more faith than Thomas. Nor should we think that Thomas was asking for special favors. He wasn’t. 

But of course the place our eyes are drawn is to the end of the story where Jesus makes the faith distinction I made prior. Thomas believed because he saw. But the greater blessing is reserved for those who believe without seeing. Jesus was not fond of evidence. He preferred faith from his followers: the kind that did not involve seeing convincing evidence.

Blind Faith

 

Until now, we have been skirting around this controversial and delicate description of faith. We have tried to cater to the sensibilities of progressive Christians because we have heard their objections over the years. We have tried to view faith as they do. We have examined faith in the more generic sense of the word. But the bible will not allow us to get away with it so easily. It demands something more. We are left to call it what it is: blind faith.

Sometimes, we use the term, “leap of faith” to suggest the impetus of an action that cannot be supported by more reasoned consideration. The leap of faith is the dive from a high cliff with only the hope that we will survive the landing. It is launching into the unknown - the place beyond the horizon which we cannot see. We do not know what will happen. And there is not enough evidence on way or the other to suggest a better course of action. A leap of faith is what we have to take when something has to be done, and we have nothing rational on which to base that action.

It is blind faith. 

Paul says it as a matter of fact:

We live by what we believe, not by what we can see.  2 Cor. 5:7

This is the core of religious faith. And it hardly gets more clear. By definition, you are blind to what you cannot see. That is what it means to be blind. It is no coincidence that taking a literal leap of faith so often involves tightly shutting one’s eyes. 

In this passage, see is synonymous with empirically prove, just as walk is synonymous with live. We could slightly restate the passage in the following way:

We live based on what we believe rather than what we can empirically prove.

Reading that way changes nothing in the passage. It pretty much reads that way already. The passage is a veritable blind faith manifesto. When you couple it with what Jesus said to Thomas about how it is better to believe without seeing, I struggle to see how we can come to any other meaning. The real question is why progressives reject that description of their faith.

Things They Don’t Know

 

Peter Boghossian, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University, defines faith as pretending to know things you don’t know. Christians do not react positively to Boghossian when he defines faith in these terms. It is easy to see why. It combines the worst implications of blind faith with an intent to deceive. At the very least, it implies self-deception. It is both definition and accusation. 

Boghossian cuts to the heart of why Christians do not like to be painted with the brush of blind faith. It would actually require Christians to admit to all the things they don’t know, but espouse with the confidence of those who do. To take it a step further, is it not an act of dishonesty to promote a thing as true with more confidence than the evidence permits.

If I rush into the room and shout that the building is on fire, I had better be certain that the building really is on fire. Because of my confident shout, people will act accordingly. Their reaction is based on the confidence of my assertion. I will have much to answer for much if it turns out I only smelled smoke as I passed the kitchen. 

In that situation, I should have investigated the smell. If that wasn’t possible, I should have mentioned to someone that I smelled smoke, giving them a chance to ask more probing questions. If I was going to over-react with honesty, I should have burst into the room and declared that I smelled smoke when passing the kitchen. 

The problem comes when I leapt to the conclusion that a dangerous fire was underway without sufficient evidence. We can gain insight by probing further into why I wanted to yell “fire” in a crowded room. One possibility is that I had an overly fearful response and I should deal with my fear issues. It could be that I am an attention-seeker who wanted to be the center of attention. Or it could be that I have a savior-complex and I saw this as an opportunity to save someone. In any case, I misled people by applying more confidence to a conclusion that was warranted by the evidence. 

Christians - people of faith - are guilty of this, and I would argue, for the same reasons. They assert outrageous claims with a confidence not backed by the evidence. Consider what they say about hell. Furthermore, it does not matter what version of hell they believe. No living human being has any direct evidence of the place, or even a condition known as hell. So why do Christians speak of it with such confidence? 

It could be because they are fearful, and are therefore afraid for everyone. It could be because they know that talk of hell will get them attention. Or it could be that they have a savior-complex and need a sufficient danger from which everyone needs saving.

You can apply this reasoning to a whole host of things Christians don’t know. Before going further, let us pause for a moment to consider all the things about which Christians promote, but cannot possibly know:

·      The existence of god

·      The divine inspiration of scripture

·      The nature of the trinity

·      The meaning of unanswered prayer

·      The virgin birth

·      The nature of heaven

·      Exactly what god wants at any given time

·      Who goes to hell

This is just a short list in no particular order. Several chapters could be devoted to what Christian’s claim to know, but don’t. And it is not just that they believe these things for themselves. It is not even just that they have more confidence in their conclusions than the evidence supports. It is that they present these teachings to others with that elevated confidence like a crazy person rushing into a crowded room and shouting “fire” because he smelled smoke when passing the kitchen.

Christian claims hit humans where they are most vulnerable. We are evolutionarily predisposed to listen to such assurances because they speak to our most visceral fears and desires. If someone tells me that the creator of the universe is very angry at me because of the many offenses I have committed, I have to wonder what offenses I have committed. 

They go on to say that whether I believe it or not, I am moments away from spending eternity in torment. Saying that in church is literally yelling “fire” in a crowded room. I obviously don’t want to suffer that fate. But they come to the clincher which is that there is an easy way to avoid this fate for me and my entire family. All I have to do is accept Jesus as lord of my life.

The entire thing is manipulative and deceitful. All that’s needed to make it work are people willing to go out and spread this message of things they cannot possibly know for sure, with more confidence than the evidence grants. Preachers make a living strongly expressing things they can't possibly know with such confidence that the hearer assumes there is more evidence than there really is.

Not a Virtue

 

Up to this point, we have spent a lot of time defining faith, examining how it was used in the bible, and exploring how Christians use it today. We have also hinted at why faith is a system non-believers tend to reject. For the remainder of this chapter, we will more directly discuss why faith is not only an unreliable system for making life decisions, but also why it is an immoral ask of anyone, especially from a god:

Faith is not a virtue of which to boast, but a vice. Faith is an indulgence, a shortcut, a copout. In our current cultural context, being a person of faith implies that one is virtuous in some way not accessible to a person without faith. Such a person makes a bold claim. They are deemed to believe in important things. They have depth, perhaps even wisdom.

None of these assumptions need be demonstrated in any way. Just claiming to be a person of faith is usually sufficient. Just look at the latest statistics on trust: A recent study showed that those surveyed found atheists slightly less trustworthy than rapists. This distrust of atheists has been the case in the US for some time. 

The opposite is true for Christians. Just having that label conveys trust. This, despite the fact that the vast majority of prisoners in the US identify as religious. Protestants and Catholics take the biggest slice of the pie. Only 1% of the prison population are atheists. So the first thing wrong with faith as a worldview and epistemology is that it creates and reinforces a sense of false virtue. Here are a few others:

An Impossible Command

 

I am going to tell you an unlikely sounding story. And you have to believe it or die horribly. Choose!

Of course you would protest how unfair that is. I can’t command you to believe something, even if it happens to be true. The best I can do is give a person the most convincing and persuasive argument and evidence available to you. Scarcely understood neural processes determine whether the person believes you. 

You can force a person to say they believe you. You can talk a person into wanting to believe your story. You can even get a person to repeat your story and convince someone else of its veracity. But under no circumstances, apart from sci-fi style brainwashing, can you force a person to believe something they don’t actually believe. 

This is the first, most obvious, and biggest problem with god using faith as a mechanism for salvation. It commands the impossible. The best a skeptic can ever do is take action without corresponding belief in that action. We already know that in the works vs. faith battle, faith wins in most theological circles. That takes us to the next problem:

Pascal's Paradox

 

In brief, Pascal’s Wager comes down to this: Even if you don’t believe in god, you just as well go with Christianity anyway. If you believe and are wrong, nothing bad happens as a result. And if you do not believe and are wrong, the consequences are dire. So why not just go with Christianity?

There is no redeeming feature to Pascal’s Wager.

But it is worse than it sounds. That is because it assumes we could just fake our way into salvation, or that god would accept our non-faith as good enough. But if Christians are to be believed, it is about the condition of the heart. So there is no way to fool god with your ruse. He will know right away that you really don’t believe. So just going with Christianity to avoid hell is the surest way to enter hell.

It also pushes the would-be convert into a works-based belief system which tends to be frowned upon by mainstream Christians. Since the person has no real faith of their own, they can only go through the motions in hopes that the motions will be enough. So even if one does their best to accept Pascal’s Wager, they are doomed to fail. The pseudo-faith Pascal proposes can never be sufficient.

Faith Promotes Self-deception

 

Another natural consequence to trying to force yourself to believe something you don’t is that you might be only successful enough to deceive yourself. The way this works is that we want to believe a thing so much, we convince ourselves that thing is true without running it through a more rigorous process of scrutiny. Because we can’t accept no for an answer, we don’t.

We become hardened to our conclusion and lose the ability to give contrary arguments a fair hearing. We become so invested in the belief that it ceases to be a mere true/false proposition. It becomes something more - a part of our identity without which we would no longer know who we are or how to live our lives. 

Once a faith claim transcends mere propositional truth, it takes more than mere propositional logic to defeat it. That is because the believer tends to slip into the logical fallacy of special pleading. Special pleading is when you apply a different standard of reasoning to one thing that you wouldn’t apply to anything else.

If you say that it is always immoral to command someone to sacrifice a child to a god, you have set up a clear principle of right and wrong. But if you then say that it is perfectly moral for god to tell Abraham to kill his son as a sacrifice, you are engaged in special pleading on behalf of the creator of the universe.  What you are really saying is that such an act is wrong unless ordered by god. God almighty leaves you to justify that special plea.

People who force themselves to believe something that they really don’t will often find themselves special pleading. This is a sign of self-deception. And it is just one of the problematic consequences of demanding faith.

Faith Promotes Antagonism with Reason, Evidence, and Science

 

There is a war between faith and the forces of reason, evidence, and science. Many Christians want to deny it. They want to be seen as reasonable people with a faith based on evidence and backed by science. But faith is antagonistic with, and even antonymous to those concepts. 

Some Christians insist that theirs is a reasonable faith. But if they back their faith with good reason, then the faith is unnecessary. You only need the reason. We often find ourselves forced to act on a thing without all of the information. It might be said that we never have all of the information. But we make the best go of it we can by applying reason. That is not the same as faith. But if Christians want to dilute faith by reducing it to that, then so be it. But if you had really good reason backing a decision, you wouldn’t call it faith.

When we have enough pieces of the puzzle that we call it evidence, again, faith is no longer required. Someone tells a story of their innocence. We believe them to the extent that we can. You might even say that we have faith in them provided that the faith is held loosely as a placeholder until better evidence is available. But later, the DNA evidence comes in. And the video tape was found and examined. At that point, we no longer need faith. We have evidence. 

Science is an even stronger version of the previous two. We apply reason. We observe. We experiment. We share the results to be reviewed by peers. And we repeat again and again to be certain of the results. That is science. Faith cannot survive science when it is done properly because the whole point of doing the science is to have as certain a result as possible. 

A scientific paper does not read like a faith statement. And if it does, it is bad science. Scientists choose sight over faith. 

One accepts scientific evidence until better evidence comes along. If you want to live by faith, then you ignore evidence. If you want to believe that the bible is correct in portraying the universe as around 6,000 years old and not upwards of 14 billion years, you have to reject the reason, evidence, and science that support the higher figure. Faith has no choice but to struggle against the things that seek to kill it.

Faith Is the Enemy of Progress

 

Because faith is easier than science, faith comes faster, and spreads further. So when science comes along and provides a more accurate picture about the world, it almost always has to fight against an entrenched faith view that has preceded it. 

Furthermore, the faith view never fully goes away. It is impossible to fully debunk a faith view of the world. Faith keeps getting passed on from mother to child. Faith-filled myths are a part of our culture. Religion is still taken seriously. And there are few, if any, social penalties for holding faith-based conclusions over science-based conclusions.

So even though the sin theory of disease is out of scientific favor, Christians still believe that some infirmities are punishments from god. They also pray for healing as if prayer were as effective as medical treatment. Even after the loss of faith, the acculturation often proves impossible to completely shake. 

Many former Christians report still fearing hell or eternal punishment of some sort long after walking away from religion. Some never get over it. For them, the hell meme has become a visceral reality. One does not have to leave their faith to experience this type of phenomenon. 

Many Christians have long since accepted evolution and the billions year old universe as fact. But they still speak in terms of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve and original sin as if they were real. Christians who acknowledge that the virgin birth story was fabricated still cannot bring themselves to speak of Jesus as a naturally born, fully human person like everyone else. 

Therefore, it is perfectly understandable why The Church persecuted Galileo for his faith-challenging discoveries. We can understand why it took so long to stop teaching Creationism in public schools as if it were better than scientific conclusions. We are still fighting that battle in school systems throughout the US. 

Despite what we have learned from biology about gender and sexuality, we still treat women like weaker vessels and non-heterosexuals like criminals. Progress is still being hindered by faith-based commitments, many of which we absolutely know are wrong. Reduced progress has always been, and will always be the cost of religious faith.

Faith Challenges Our Moral Intuition

 

Christian morality is a matter of faith based on their formulation of the moral argument. For them, the only true morality comes from the only true moral lawgiver. So for them to have any moral values at all, they have to believe there is a god. Second, they have to believe that their god is the paragon of morality.

They believe their god is beyond moral scrutiny. In other words, there is nothing we can do to judge the morality of god. We are not moral enough to judge god. So his actions are deemed moral by default. Everything he does is not only moral, but the most moral thing. That is true even when it clashes with our own moral instincts.

This is the chilling aspect of the story of Abraham. When god told him to sacrifice his son, Abraham, and the reader is not permitted to question the morality of that command. They must assume it is moral. The only consideration we have is whether or not to obey it. Failure to obey would be a moral lapse on Abraham’s part, and ours.

But our ethical instincts tell us that such a command is wrong. Faith-based morality says that it is right because it came from god. This causes us to make questionable moral choices. History is riddled with such moral choices. The worst pages of history are written with the ink of faith-based morality.

We have fought wars based on faith morals rather than an evolved social conscience. We have crusaded against infidels, burned witches, defended slavery, criminalized sexuality, and persecuted people of other religions to satisfy faith morals rather than our own ethical intuition. When morals cannot be challenged due to faith, then they become immoral.

Faith Causes Division

 

By its very nature, faith will always divide more than it unites. You can convince 10 people to believe in god. But eventually, those 10 people will start diverging on the nature, character, and commands of that god. Before you know it, you have 10 different denominations, each attempting to unite the world under their own banner. 

Exclusive faiths like Christianity are particularly divisive. That is because it teaches that no one comes to god except through Jesus. If you are religious, but don’t happen to be a Jesus follower, you can have no part of their idea of god. If you think you have a relationship with god apart from Jesus, then by necessity, you are following a false god. You are the other. Nothing creates more “Other” like Christianity.

But don’t think that signing up for Christianity solves the problem. I was once a member of a narrow-minded Christian sect - the Church of Christ in my case, but there are others - that taught we were the only true Christians. We believed everyone outside our sect - even those who thought themselves Christians - were going to hell.

Faith also divides along racial lines. It is still sadly true that 11:00 am on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. Even the love of Jesus can’t seem to get us beyond the social scars from our past. 

The divisive nature of faith causes us to make assumptions about strangers we meet. The more evangelistic believer approaches everyone as if they were wicked sinners in need of their brand of salvation. That is the opening assumption for the person who decides to share their faith. 

That assumption completely ignores the fact that the person in question might have a faith of her own. This does not matter to the faith evangelist. They are on a mission from god. And therefore, everyone is the other until proven otherwise. How much more united the world might be if everyone didn’t just automatically assume that everyone else was the worst of sinners that needed a particular kind of salvation.

Conclusion: In God We Cannot Trust

 

Despite the inscription on our dollar bills, there are very good reasons to distrust the idea of the Christian god. We cannot trust his creation. It was easily broken. And it quickly became a death trap for the inhabitants. Since we cannot trust a creation which god declared to be very good, why should we trust the next one? Why should we believe that heaven would be any better? According to the story, it went badly wrong once before. Why should the addition of free-willed humans make it better?

We can’t trust god’s moral intuition. He ordered all kinds of things that we consider atrocities today. For some reason, he even thought eating shellfish should be a death-penalty offense. There is no way to make that work in any moral context. We must look elsewhere for moral guidance.

We can’t trust that god will protect us from harm. In the myth of Eden, god allowed the universe’s greatest evil influence to enter into his new and perfect creation and to corrupt it forever. Though god is with his faithful all the time, he still allows unspeakable harm to come to them, and tells them to be joyful they are worthy to suffer for him. That does not engender a feeling of security.

We cannot trust god’s politics. When he could have set up any form of government he wanted, he went with patriarchy, monarchy, and theocracy. Apparently, representative democracy was not on the menu. 

We cannot trust god’s message because the bible requires too much higher education to be grasped by the average person. Even those with the requisite education disagree on just about everything. To make matters worse, Jesus spoke in parables to confuse most people. He said so himself. So, if you are not one of the people he considered his sheep, you are guaranteed to have a misunderstanding of who he was and what he was about.

The progressive Christian objects to this line of reason by opining that if we remove god from a position of trust, who can we trust? Wouldn’t that just leave us adrift? But the answer to that question is self-evident. We have to learn to start trusting our neighbor. We have to trust the people in our lives who prove trustworthy.

We trust the process of reason and science and social evolution. We trust ourselves and our finely honed ethical instincts. And we have to be prepared to survive the heartaches when the objects of our trust fail us. For there is nothing so trustworthy that it does not fail on occasion.

We trust in modern healthcare, but people still get sick and die. We trust weather forecasts, but we still sometimes get wet. We trust that the police will keep us safe more often than they will harm us. We trust that the judge will see justice done more often than injustice. And we trust our spouses and life partners despite the heartbreak they sometimes cause.

But no matter how many times natural trust in natural things fails us, it is far more reliable and trustworthy than putting our faith in a Bronze Age deity who has declared in no uncertain terms that the vast majority of people who have ever drawn breath will be doomed to eternal destruction. 

So I will trust you. And you can trust me. Together, we will help one another arrive at a better world. Our faith is not required, only our best humanity.