Every year since the beginning of time, my extended family has attended 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, like so:
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 religion requires 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.
Faith is a misunderstood concept and is often described by atheists as belief in something for which there is no evidence. Supposedly, only believers in the supernatural exercise faith, whereas atheists are faith-free. With all due respect to nonbelievers, I submit that neither assertion is true.
In his song “If I Ever Lose my Faith in You,” former Police frontman Sting 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.
If you’re skeptical of my skepticism, or even if you’re not, be sure to join a camp below. Or maybe start one of your own!