The Meaning Of Faith

If it is not yet clear to the reader, the understanding of'"faith" that the new atheists take for granted bears very little resemblance to that of theology. The main difference is thai the new atheists think of faith as an intellectually erroneous attempt at something like scientific understanding, whereas theology thinks of faith as a state of self-surrender in which ones whole being, and not just the intellect, is experienced as being carried away into a dimension of reality that is much deeper and more real than anything that could be grasped by science and reason, This is why faith is so often accompanied by ritual. But the definition of faith that Dawkins, Dennett, I larris, and 1 litchens all embrace is "belief without evidence/1 They think of faith as a set of hypotheses—such as the God hypothesis or the soul hypothesis—that lack sufficient scientific or empirical evidence for reasonable people to acccpt. They allow that if the right kind of empirical evidence ever turns up, then reasonable people will be permitted to give assent to the God hypothesis or the soul hypothesis. But then there will no longer be any need for faith. Knowledge will have replaced it,

For theology, however, the objective is to deepen faith, not eliminate it. In theistic traditions the essence of the ideal life, even the heroic life, is being willing to wait in faith, trust, and hope for ultimate fulfillment and final liberation. Consequently, when Harris and the others invite people to give up their faith and live only by reason, they have no idea what they are asking. The invitation to join them in a wrorld without faith will sound to most people like a petition to shrink our world to the point where we can all be suffocated, 1 or even if the universe contains 300 billion galaxies, and the multiverse, if it exists, billions more, educated people know that the world is still finite and perishable, And by anybody's mathematics an infinite divine mystery is still more impressive than any finite spatial and temporal magnitude at sciences command. Advising people to give up what they take to be whether rightly or wrongly—their lifeline to the infinite greatness of a divine mystery, and inviting them to squeeze their lives, minds, and hearts into the comparatively minuscule world of scientific objectification, is not going to be met with enthusiasm al) around. There is nothing wrong w ith science, of course. But, if we may be permitted to adapt Edwin Abbotts timeless imagery, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, and Dawkins seem like che inhabitants of a two-dimensional world who, having mastered that sphere of being, are now busy inviting those who occupy the admittedly more disorienting world of many dimensions to please come down and live with them in Flatlanti

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