So for the last 3 and a half hours I have been listening to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens talk about religion. It is an interesting exercise for a Christian believer, but hardly one I would recommend to those who do not know why they believe what they believe. Just the certainty with which these men dismiss the possibility of God had me going back and reading some of my refutations of what they were saying. Fortunately for me, I found myself very persuasive.
One of the things that came up over and over again was the dismissal of the importance of faith, the utility of faith and the benefits of faith. According to what these men were saying, Christian faith has absolutely no benefits, no utility and no importance full stop. While I agree with these men that benefits, utility and importance would not demonstrate truth, I very strongly disagree with them that Christian faith has had no benefits, utility or importance in our history. Ironically, the last statement that Christopher Hitchens made demonstrated why this is. He said that he believed that their efforts would fail and that the end result of history would be an Islamic theocracy.
The fundamental problem that faith addresses is the defeatism of futility. If we are going to be honest, then let us admit that evil is very much more powerful than good in our world. Imagine taking a young man and raising him to love and forgive others, teaching him to read, to write and to become a scientist. After twenty years he has become an amazing young man with all kinds of potential because numerous people have poured their time and energy into his life. Now imagine that this young man is killed by a suicide bomber in an amount of time shorter than it takes you to read this sentence. What was the point of all the love and sacrifice? Is everything that we do as human beings in vain? Why bother to try and better our world? Why not just get drunk or watch some porn?
The reason that Christians cling tenaciously to faith despite any and all intellectual obstacles is that we need to believe that the difficult virtues of love, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, forgiveness and patience are worth it and not merely a waste of time. It is not merely enough to know that chastity, sobriety, honesty and hard work are the right things to do, we need to know that when all is said and done they were worth the sacrifice. The dry pride of patting ourselves on the back and saying, “I would, of course, always do the right thing because I am so wonderful” does not appeal to us. We want to know that goodness works in a real and practical way and that love will triumph in the end.
In a world like this, living a life of hope takes a lot of faith. Without that faith, societies stop rearing children and turn to materialistic pleasures. Without that faith, societies stop caring about moral instruction and come to believe in the morass of moral relativism where all paths are equally acceptable. Without the faith that love will eventually triumph, nothing of lasting value can be accomplished in this world.
For more on the importance of faith, see my post on the “Importance of Faith“.