The Dangers of Having Faith?

Thursday, October 13, 2005
One of my brain-feeders sent me this among his daily flood of 100+ stimulating articles and forwards which I usually have no time to read, much less comment upon. See my comments at the bottom.

Capitalism Magazine

The Dangers of "Having Faith"
by Michael J. Hurd (October 11, 2005)

Article website address:
Summary: Does it make sense to "have faith" as a way of coping with life?


Does it make sense to "have faith" as a way of coping with life?

Literally speaking, to "have faith" means to suspend reason. Reason includes looking at facts, logic and using simple common sense. Reason is our means of coping and, ultimately, survival. Reason is responsible for our intellectual development (e.g., the Declaration of Independence) and reason is responsible for our technological development (e.g., strong and good buildings that keep our cities from looking like Pakistan after a major earthquake). It's obviously not a good idea to suspend reason.

Sometimes when people use this expression, "to have faith," they are acknowledging the fact that they don't have control over everything and don't know everything. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to recognize, and it is sometimes healthy to simply "let go" of what you cannot control and wait to see what happens. I wouldn't call it "having faith," though.

Exactly who or what are you having faith in? There's no reason to believe that things will necessarily turn out well or turn out poorly, and assuming that someone or something else is taking care of all of this for us can be dangerous to the values of personal responsibility and self-determination. And be careful about something else. There's always a possibility that you
have more control over a situation than you realize, and you have to remain open to seeing that possibility.

If you submit to a state of passivity and even helplessness, you do your psychological health--and ultimately your entire life--no favors at all.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychologist, psychotherapist and author of Effective Therapy (New York: Dunhill, 1997) and Grow Up America! Visit his website at:

This is typical of simplistic Ayn Rand -style thinking. I happen to appreciate Ayn Rand quite a lot but I take a nuanced view of her teachings. Within that community (as with so many others), a great many people have knee-jerk reactions to certain ideas. Faith evokes an emotional response with these people.

Faith is not a suspension of reason, nor is it a giving up of control. (And Control anyway is as elusive a concept as Consciousness and Free Will.) For argument's sake however, and as a practical matter, one can have Faith in oneself - in one's own abilities and competency to handle whatever life will send your way. This can be a quite reasonable conclusion from past experience. One can have faith that things will work out for the best even though you cannot apprehend or anticipate all the twists and turns of events that may transpire or your reactions to them. It is in that last bit however, your reactions to events, where Faith can help you. Faith is the opposite of Fear. If, as we SF geeks learned from Frank Herbert's, Dune, "Fear is the Mind-killer", then I venture Faith is the Mind-nuturer.

Faith becalms the passions that cloud thought thereby allowing for advantageous and desirous responses. This is how Faith, "gets you through hard times." While it may be irrational to believe in a generally-benevolent universe, as a practical matter, one may quite rationally to choose to believe it is so. It makes you a more effective person. Who does not want to be effective?

There is another order of Faith. Simply choosing to believe is not easily distinguished from fervently hoping it is so. This other order is a kind of Knowing. It feels different than just believing. I do not know the source of this though religious types would be quick to offer an answer. It comes to you not by a process of believing long enough but more of a direct access. There is a Sanskrit word for it in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali but I do not have my copy handy. I recall that Patanjali or perhaps someone else broke down the different sources of knowledge:

1. Experience
2. Authority
3. Deduction (arrived at by reason)
4. Direct (revelation)

A strict rationalist may not accept #4 as a valid source or may at best study it as an outsider. (e.g.. "Consider this curious malfunction of the human brain. He claims he is part of the mind of God!") To experience it is something else altogether. It is the same as the difference between taking something on authority and seeing it with your own eyes.

How could direct revelation, this deeper knowledge work? It could be a mental process which is beyond the apprehension of the mind. Can the highest order of mental process apprehend its own workings? I do not yet know.

There lies Faith I am sure.


truepeers said...


first post here? welcome!

I agree with you. The opposition of faith and reason is now a rather old-fashioned habit of thought that you rightly question.

In fact, the more rational we become, the greater our need for faith. This is because reason, working properly, doesn't lead us to certainties (if we are dealing with the problems of human life, as opposed to simple facts of nature) but rather it takes us to the point of uncertainty or paradox. And hence the greater our reason, the greater our need for faith to get past the mystery of our life's purpose, or past our unwillingness to make choices in face of the rational knowledge of what we must lose, or what violence we must commit, in choosing.

Faith, as I understand it, can be understood religiously, putting one's faith in god. But the secular person needs faith too, faith in humanity, faith in the social system of which one is a part, faith in one's choices or career, if one is to get beyond the dilemmas of reason and choice. Faith thus implies a desire for some knowledge of history or culture and the ways they operate to keep humanity alive and progressing in some sense.

As for revelation, exactly how it works is a mystery. If it were not, if it were reducible to methodological reason, it wouldn't be revelation. What is mysterious is how the worldly world we live and experience is transformed into the transcendent world we understand through language and culture. A revelation is a moment when we grasp something for the first time in our linguistic consciousness, and wonder how it got there from out of our worldly experience.

Rick Ballard said...

"Can the highest order of mental process apprehend its own workings?"

If faith is a gift can the attempt to apprehend it cause it to be misplaced? And isn't revelation experiential in nature? I can agree that it is not acquired didactically or rationally but I'm curious as to how one would separate revelatory reception from the experiential realm.

A nice puzzle to carry to bed.

JB said...

Literally speaking, to "have faith" means to suspend reason. Reason includes looking at facts, logic and using simple common sense.

There's always a possibility that you have more control over a situation than you realize, and you have to remain open to seeing that possibility.

Well, if reason -- facts, logic and common sense -- indicate you have no control whatsoever over a situation (which is demonstrably true in some real-world cases), what psychological process are you relying on to create the possibility that you indeed have more control over a situation "than you realize".

Sounds like faith to me.

terrye said...

Years ago I heard a police officer tell a group of women "If you walk in your door and things do not feel right, run".

Is faith instinct?

Perhaps, but I know there is more to this life than the rational world.

Or at least the rational world as we understand it.

Knucklehead said...


Welcome to the party.

There's a "joke" that, IIRC (I don't always) was told to me by a believer friend, that covers this intellectual territory quite well, IMO.

It goes something like this (it is worthy of embellishment but I'll resist that temptation)...

A fisherman was tossed overboard from boat that was swamped in a storm. One of his fellow crewman, formerly aboard the same swamped boat, tossed him a life vest which the fisherman tossed back, telling his fellow crewmate to keep it because he didn't need it since God would save him.

Eventually the crewman with life vests were rescued by a USCG helicopter which then when looking for the faithful fisherman, found him, and attempted to rescue him. But he refused rescue insisting that God would save him.

The helicopter needed to leave the scene but radioed a USCG cutter and the cutter came around and attempted to rescue the faithful fisherman but he refused rescue yet again insisting that God would save him.

Needless to say the faithful fisherman drowned. Upon arriving at the Pearly Gates he was admitted and requested to speak to God. When he was granted his request he asked God why God had forsaken him and left him to drown.

God replied, "I sent you a life vest, a rescue helicopter, and a rescue boat. What more did you expect?"

Those who are prone to misinterpretting "faith" get the point of this joke/parable bassakwards. They believe that those who have faith must be like our blundering, but faithful fisherman awaiting a miracle that does not, can not, happen. They view faith as a roadblock to rationality.

But faith is nothing of the sort. It is not a roadblock to rationality it is, as you point out, an enabler that allows us to move forward in the face of confusion or fear when pure rationality is compromised or cannot function quickly enough to help us.

It allows those who have it to act when action is more important that calculation. It allows for the recognition of the "miracles" all around us, the potential solutions, imperfect or imcomplete as they may be, that lie closely at hand. It allows for accepting that what we want is not always identical to what we need. It helps to prevent paralysis by analysis.

My Better Two-Thirds, who is no more (and probably no less) a "person of faith" than I am is a frequent exponent of the idea that "things will work out". She has recently been through some discussion with friends who reject this notion, who find it unacceptable, childish even. She has expressed frustration with them for the negativity, the pessimism that is preventing them from moving forward with their lives and keeping them mired in the effects of misfortune.

I have no doubt that people of faith would reject the notion that it is a simplistic psychological mechanism that they draw upon to help them in difficult moments. They would describe it as, indeed, revealed knowledge. Perhaps it is.

Those of us who find that perplexing need not reject it or accept it. It is immaterial to us since the effect upon their lives is, at a minimum, the same as our acceptance that pure rationality is insufficient to live our lives by since life will present us with problems and opportunities that are beyond our ability, or at least the time available, to fully and rationally analyse.

We recognize that we must sometimes move forward, apply solutions or attempt to take advantage of opportunity, in imperfect and incomplete ways. That complete disaster, if we take what actions we can, is every bit as unlikely as is a miracle. We accept the "small miracles" around us that prevent the feared worst case disaster from becoming the reality we wish to avoid.

Syl said...

Why do discussiona like these always come down to God or nothing? There is a third way. Something in between Faith in God and Faith in oneself.

There is also the simple faith that there is something we don't understand. And that does not have to mean God.

In AA one thing members say is 'I believe there is a power greater than myself'.

It does not have to be God, or Allah, or Buddha, nor does it require acceptance of any institutional church.

It can be as simple as a faith in some life force. Something we cannot see, touch, or hear.

Perhaps a connection, no matter how seemingly tenuous, between all living things where the sum may be greater than the parts.

One doesn't even have to believe there is life after death. After all, if we are an embryo we have no conscsiousness of being alive, and if there is no life after death, we will have no consciousness of being dead.

There is nothing to fear in death either way, only in dying.

'Let go, let God' is another saying. It doesn't have to literally mean 'let God'. It simply means letting go of the illusion of control.

'Turn it over' to the life force, or the greater power.

And that doesn't mean one doesn't have a certain amount of control over one's life, it simply means that we spend too much emotional energy trying to control things we have NO control over.

It's hard to turn over control and it's not meant as a substitute for action where necessary. I mean you don't pray you get a job, you go out and hunt for one.

But amazing things can happen, when you let go. A 4-week old kitten had managed to get inside a bad place, she was screaming because she couldn't get out. I reached up and put my hand around her little body but she hung on tight and I couldn't pull her out.

Then I 'let go, let God' and felt a wave of release go through my body. At that moment, the kitten went totally limp and I was able to pull her out. Whatever she sensed caused her to let go herself.

I've had 'psychic' experiences with people in other countries. I've laughed when I've read about experimenters moving subjects a mile apart to see if their ESP would still work. Distance doesn't matter.

Whatever the force is, it is connected everywhere at once. Faster than the internet even. :)

I know (have faith) there is something out there. Perhaps a God is involved, perhaps not.