I am asked, as a Christian, “What the heck do [I] mean by faith?” Often the question is a way of setting up the assertion that religion is predicated on belief in the unknowable and therefore inferior to an atheistic or agnostic view.
I think this argument is faulty on a number of counts, but primarily on a misunderstanding of what it means to have faith in something. Consequently the atheist or agnostic making this claim often ignores or does not see the symmetric nature of this issue.
Most obvious in the atheist is that a disbelief in God is still a belief, and eventually a faith in some state of affairs they cannot literally see. The agnostic seems to bypass this dilemma by remaining in doubt of either truth.
It is at this point, however, that the assertion is often made that we cannot know. The theist and atheist may disagree with the agnostic on that charge, but regardless, this belief in the unknowable quality of the spiritual, specifically God, is still a faith. They “know” that they cannot know.
The real issue I find here is that the word faith is relegated to religious topics and this somehow obscures the fact that every day you walk by faith. This is quite literally true for those of us who walk without constantly watching our legs to be sure of their movement.
But what do I mean? The argument made against faith assumes faith is a filler for reason. I do not doubt there to be faiths of that sort, irrational opinions arrived at not by argument or experience, but by some dread or instinct.
In the same way that romance ideally leads to a lifetime of mutual care and affection, our reason should lead to faith. Faith is not the end of reason, it is the budding of reason, reason given life.
What is faith? It is taking that final step where reason leads you.