I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. – Book of Mormon, Ether 12:27
Every year since the beginning of time, the extended Cornell family attends Aspen Grove Family Camp up in Provo Canyon. Being morbidly afraid of heights, I spent years avoiding Aspen Grove’s massive ropes course, where you climb up into the trees and walk around on metal wires that are about thirty feet above the ground. You’re attached to belay lines and are perfectly safe, but even though I mentally understood that, that didn’t keep my legs from wobbling like jelly with every step I took when I finally tried the thing. It wasn’t until I actually fell and the belay mechanisms caught me that I got a feel for just how safe I was, and I was able to move forward in a terror-free manner.
That’s the experience that gave me a hands-on practical lesson in faith.
The reason, for instance, that we “receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith” is not because God is refusing to let us in on His secrets. The truth is that that’s the way faith works. No matter how much one of those nice Aspen Grove staffers were to describe to me the safety features of the helmets and the ropes and the carabiners – I dig the word “carabiner” – it wasn’t until I actually tested the stuff for myself that I was able to develop the faith and confidence to rely on them.
“Faith,” therefore, is not synonymous with “belief,” or passive intellectual assent. Intellectually, I believed I was safe from the first moment. But my negligible faith – my willingness and confidence to act on that belief – didn’t gain strength until after it had been tried.
There has been much conversation about faith in the comments on this blog. Caleb claimed that faith is “belief in something for which there is no evidence.” No_Spam insists that only believers in the supernatural exercise faith, and that atheists are faith-free. With all due respect to these two very bright folks, I submit that neither assertion is true.
The title of this post is taken from a song by Sting where he renounces his faith in everything but the person to whom he’s singing, presumably a friend or a lover. In order to have faith in that friend, Sting has had to have experience with them, and he likely has plentiful evidence that the person is reliable. Most of us only exercise faith in people or institutions where such evidence already exists. We deposit our money in reputable banks because we have faith that our savings will be safe there. We don’t deposit money in JoJo The Monkey Boy’s Savings, Loan, and Bait Shop because the evidence suggests that it might not be there for us when we come back to get it.
Notice that in each instance, no supernatural entity is involved. Every action we take in every aspect of our life is an act of faith. So when atheists proclaim that people of faith are imbeciles and that they, the enlightened atheists, are beyond such primitive notions, pardon me for getting skeptical.
Take, for instance, our pal and presidential candidate Trust Fund Jonny “Am-I-Still-A-Mormon?-That’s-Hard-To-Define” Huntsman. Columnist George Will mocked my eminently mockable former governor for tweeting, “”I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
George Will’s response: “Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling?”
The answer, at least in Jonny’s case, is almost certainly yes. And guess what? Science would have led him astray, and his faith would have been misplaced. How, then, would he be any less wrong than some religious kook praying to a statue of a man with a wolf’s head? Faith in junk science may have a more respectable veneer these days, but it’s just as wrong as the silliest of cult beliefs. Indeed, science’s track record on doomsday predictions has been not just wrong, but ridiculously wrong. Yet Jonny Huntsman, Al Gore, and their like-minded brethren insist that all those who disbelieve this latest attempt at science crying wolf are heretics, blasphemers, “deniers.” They insist we adopt the tenets of their unproven faith at an astronomical societal cost. Why is my faith more ridiculous than theirs is? Furthermore, I’m not trying to enforce Mormonism at the end of a gun. So why should they be able to inflict their faith on me with the full power of the government to enforce orthodoxy?
Faith is not simply a religious principle. If you don’t have faith in God, then you have faith in something else. Militant atheists a la Richard Dawkins have enough faith in Darwinian processes that they insist random chance could have created the majesty of the universe. On that count, I remain a skeptic. I am, however, quite grateful for the chance to bash atheism, global warming, and Jon Huntsman in a single blog post.