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Theological Publications






The Sin of Faith



The Low Road to Heaven

I believe that faith is inherently immoral, and this initial step in the wrong direction explains many of the so-called “abuses” of faith. Only they aren’t exactly abuses since they stem consistently from faith’s inner logic. People will agree to anything to avoid going to hell where they can count on being tortured for eternity. I know I would, if I took the threat seriously. It would cost me my self-respect, but I guess (as in Bergman’s masterpiece The Shame) that can become a luxury we can’t afford when conditions are dire enough. You are careful not to share any opinion you think your boss might find offensive. How much more must you monitor every word and thought if you fear your Heavenly Boss will send you to hell for them? He must be right. You can’t afford not to think so. You’ve got to kiss his omnipresent ass. This makes you a sniveling yes-man.

Ivan Karamazov had it just right: the price of the ticket to heaven is to let God off the hook for the suffering of the innocent. Faith in the sense of religious allegiance, unqualified assent to what God is said to have done, is the fundamental moral compromise. Letting him get away with murder. Christians are really admitting this if we listen to them closely. They say, first, that whatever God does must be right even when it does not look right to us. And, second, they hold that, even if there is not a missing piece to the situation that, if known, would make everything fall into place, the mere fact that God does it makes it ipso facto right. This is to admit one is a servile spin doctor, like Lanny Davis, and that whatever der Führer does is just fine as long as "he keeps on blessin' and blessin'" as the sickening chorus has it. It is a fundamental moral sell-out from which all subsequent "bad faith" (as Sartre called it) stems like symptoms of a virus. How can it be otherwise? When we see the blatant chicanery of apologists, creationist debaters, Catholic child molestation PR men, it shouldn't surprise us. They have sold out. And they admit it!

Look at C.S. Lewis' s essay "On Obstinacy in Believing," where he tries to rebut such charges but only winds up evidencing them. He says that while considering conversion one must make the best judgment one can make on the best evidence. If Christianity doesn't seem true to you, he says, then by all means reject it! But once you are in, you are no longer responsible to weigh all things. Indeed, you are responsible not to! This, he says, is because conversion involves a choice analogous to the marriage bond, and to reconsider faith would be like having a wandering eye! This is so amazing, so outrageous, there is no other way to explain it but as desperate self-deception.

Even if, as seems likely, religion began without belief in life after death, we can see the same principle involved: humans sought goods unobtainable by themselves from imaginary higher entities they imagined could furnish them. Weather control, riches, love charms, hexes. And the same obsequious “yes-man” worship was the result. The riotously funny film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has a scene in an English boy's school chapel with a litany that starts, "Forgive us, Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying." That about sums it up. I won't rock the boat, because if I did I might go to hell. .


That Leap

Is the choice of a particular religion simply arbitrary? Do you just pick one out of a phone book? If it were a sheer leap of faith, it would amount to luck. No one means that. Of course most believers, if they think about it at all, just rationalize the inertia of their membership in the religion of their parents. But suppose you don’t like that one, and you are shopping for a new creed; how would you decide? I have often heard apologists claim that, while you can't demonstrate the truth of any religion, even if it is true, you can at least eliminate some from the competition if they contradict themselves or depend upon statements that are demonstrably false. And then they glibly point out scriptural difficulties or theo-philosophical contradictions in Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism ("You're supposed to desire not to desire? Yuk yuk."), etc. And then they pivot around and start the special pleading. Obviously the same sort of stuff can be thrown at Christianity by the bucket-full, but they marshal painfully silly clichés in place of arguments that they would never let their opponents get away with: "God doesn't send anyone to hell! People choose to go there!" Why don't they see their silliness? Why don't they recognize what they are doing as special pleading? Because of that damn "faith," which is just the art of the spin-doctor. The epistemology of stonewalling and propaganda. Thus faith corrupts their whole approach.

They think the other creeds have failed the tests of consistency, evidence, etc., which they imagine Christianity passes with flying colors. And yet having passed the test, they readily admit, Christianity is not thereby proven true. It still requires a faith commitment. They often like to say it is a step of faith, not a leap of faith. And there is a point to this, but they are equivocating on the meaning of faith. They are mixing up the epistemological cheat of leaping the evidential gap with the pietistic/revivalist notion of having "faith" as a "heart-warming" encounter with Christ. The latter would be fine and dandy if we knew there was such a Christ to have a relationship with. The uncertainty of it means one must predicate one’s most important commitment on something one must merely hope or wish to be true. The ensuing neurotic attempts to convince oneself by convincing others only show loudly and clearly that one do not, deep down, really believe it. One only wishes one did. The faith-commitment to Christ would not be threatened, eroded, or contradicted in the least if we knew for a fact that Jesus existed, died for sins and rose from the dead. James 2:19 says it: "You believe that God is one? Good! So do the demons! And they tremble!" The two "faiths" are logically distinct, and to mix them is to try to make virtue of necessity, as if swallowing intellectual dishonesty were, like yielding one’s rebellious will to the savior, a virtuous deed, so virtuous in fact that one will be damned for not doing it!


No Breaking Point

A faith prepared to allow for infinite flexibility in its expectations for God, a readiness to excuse and absolve any seeming atrocity as long it is God who commits it, leads to moral nihilism, since there are no consistent criteria for “goodness.” But more than that, it also produces theological nihilism, a “belief” that is vacuous and incoherent. Faith is confidence in God to—what? Well, it can’t be that you expect God to see that good always prevails over evil, because it’s obvious that he doesn’t. The believer’s (spin doctor’s) job is to rationalize or minimize God’s failure to do so. “Yes, he’s a Being of infinite compassion and justice who governs the world with divine providence, but there are certain mitigating circumstances. Even if we have no idea what they are! One day, in the sweet by and by, we’ll find out.”

In the final analysis, the only content that the belief, the faith, in God possesses is confidence in the guarantee that he will honor that ticket to heaven he supposedly issued you. Here’s a troublesome thought. Suppose you get to the Day of Judgment and God cancels the ticket. No explanation. No appeal. You’re just screwed. Won’t you have to allow that God must have reasons for it that you, a mere mortal, are not privy to? Who are you to, like Job, to call God to account? All that would be left to you is the masochistic perversity of the Hopkinsian Calvinists who claimed they’d rejoice to burn in hell if that were God’s pleasure—because, for all you know, it might be.


 By Robert M. Price



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