American a-theist in residence, Sam Harris, says that faith is “the permission that religious people give one another to believe things strongly when reasons fail” (listen to the speech here). Harris seems to think that faith is something one does after all else falls short, a final leap in the dark, a punt. It is as if we can only get so far on our own steam and have to guess at the rest. And, having made the leap, we keep each other bolstered by excusing ourselves from rationality.
There may be many religious people who think this way, but by no means all. Christians have other, better ways to define faith. I have been thinking about John Calvin’s definition lately (it made an appearance in a recent post here). It is striking how different it is to the definition supplied by Sam Harris:
“Now we possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
For Calvin, faith was no punt, but a “firm and certain knowledge.” Christians do not have to make out that faith is a mixture of doubt and reason as if faith is only possible if it includes doubt. Rather, it is certain, sure and known. Faith, according to Calvin, is the knowledge of God’s favor. Such favor is undeserved and undeserved favor is more commonly known as grace. The basis for such favor lies not in oneself, but in Christ who died for sinful human beings. And the knowledge of God’s favor is given by the Holy Spirit who reveals it and assures the believer of its veracity.
Before one maligns people of “faith,” as Sam Harris appears to do, one ought to check out exactly what they mean by faith. Harris seems to think that faith makes up for a lack of reason, but, for the Christian, faith is what makes reason reasonable.