The Leap of Faith
One of the big problems I have with religion is that it does not allow you to test its claims. At the bottom of almost every religion you will find a circle-reasoning: the holy text is never wrong because it is the word of god. We know this, because it says so in the holy texts, which is the word of god and therefore never wrong.
Apart from the existence of the text itself there is no reference to reality in that statement at all. At no point can you test this statement for validity, because it does not refer to anything outside itself. As a statement it is meaningless because of that, because it does not allow us to reasonably investigate whether we agree or disagree.
To overcome this gap, many religious people say that faith requires a Leap of Faith. They say that at some point, you must simply believe without asking for proof. Some claim direct experience of god, like a voice inside their head, or a feeling of absolute conviction. “I believe the bible is the word of god because I feel it is” they say, and this statement sounds a little more honest. A similar problem applies: everything happens inside that persons mind, and in the book. Again there is no verifiable connection to the tangible world, and it is hard to see what that statement could possibly mean to anyone else, since no reason is given why the person feels this way. I believe because I believe, this person is saying. Again there is no possibility to investigate if we agree with the grounds for that belief, because none are given.
In itself this poses no serious problem. People can more or less believe what they want, in my book, as long as they do not harm anyone.
However, if the holy book makes a lot of statements that reach far, far beyond the personal and makes a whole series of claims about the universe and mankind’s place in it, this is not satisfactory. It is fundamentally unfair to first base your belief on a leap of faith, which is a process that does not refer to anything outside your own mind, and then make statements about reality based on that belief. You share that reality with other people, so you owe some sort of explanation for your reason to make assumptions about it. You do not owe anyone an explanation for the faith inside your head – that is entirely your business. But the moment you make a claim about anything outside your thoughts, you cross into a more public space, and you owe a little bit more than what boils down to “because I say so” - Especially since religions make some very pointed claims about people who are not believers, that often have to do with lakes of fire and other unpleasantnesses. Most also make the claim that their religion describes the only right way to live. A lot of them even go so far as saying that they should be the guideline for our justice systems. All this is based on a blind leap that they decided to make, and that we cannot investigate because every time we follow the reasoning we end up at the point where god is right because god says so.
If I said that I felt wearing purple hats is morally wrong, people would be able to ask me why I held that belief and challenge it. We can then have a discussion to investigate my reasons to believe this, test them for validity, and come to a conclusion. If I say that god thinks purple hats are satans sartorials, and that I believe this because I feel god is right, there is no discussion possible.
For this reason I reject the leap of faith as a valid explanation. I feel it is an intellectually dishonest ploy at best, a way to dodge having to explain why anyone should accept one faith over another or any faith at all. It is just a fancy way of saying “because I say so”.
I will go even further, and state that the leap of faith is bogus if seen as a direct experience of god. I think it did not occur spontaneously in the mind of the believer at all. There was no sudden voice of god – someone convinced that person to believe. They offered psychologically seductive reasons to suspend critical enquiry in favor of belief without proof. I challenge anyone to find a person who has never heard of the Abrahamic religions who spontaneously became a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew. I will go further still, and challenge anyone to find a person who never heard of Christianity, give him or her a bible, and see if they deduce anything anyone would recognize as modern western Christianity out of it. It seems to me to be far more likely that careful convincing is required, a lot of explaining, and the introduction of the many obscure concepts that people in areas dominated by abrahamic creeds take for granted.
Without spontaneous conversions by people previously unaware of the existence of the abrahamic creeds, we cannot accept the leap of faith as a direct action by god in the mind of a person. Apparently god needs someone else to prepare the ground for him. So really, the leap of faith is nothing more than the act of wanting god to exist.
This leads us to a more troubling conclusion. Remember what happens to us poor unsaved souls in the end according to the abrahamic creeds? The lakes of fire and other unpleasantnesses? The best we have to hope for is being forever excluded from the heavenly VIP lounge, but the majority believe in a much more eventful afterlife for the heathen, the heretic, the infidel and other assorted sinners. Well, according to Christians, Muslims and Jews this is perfectly ok. Not only do they believe this is so, they believe it is right, and they believe it because they want to believe it. They endorse the torture of all dissenters, and give it their sanction. It is something you just have to believe is right. A leap of faith. Praise the lord and pass the brimstone.