Faith is often discussed in propositional, epistemological terms in philosophy of religion. The University debate, which dealt with logical positivism, enquired into the nature of religious belief. Wittgenstein, discussing religious language, asked what kind of propositions religious propositions were. John Hick considered whether faith was not so much assent to propositions (the medieval fideist framework), but a faculty of interpretation, by which we make sense of experience, being influenced by Kantian transcendentalism. He also rejected logical positivism by arguing that religious propositions were capable of eschatological verification.
In this post-Enlightenment age where atheism is socially acceptable (at least in certain countries), we are more likely to encounter opposition to religious faith generally and Christianity in particular. Faced with challenges to our faith, we can search for answers, push on blindly, become agnostic, or actively deny faith. The last two are generally considered a form of apostasy as far as outward appearance is concerned, but we also know that Christ searches for the lost sheep and that with Him all things are possible: He can find what was lost.
The arguments against our faith (or doubts that we experience) can be grouped into a two basic categories:
- Attacks on the a posteriori evidence for Christian claims (e.g. asking where is the evidence of the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the wilderness); and
- Attacks on the analytic coherence of Christianty (i.e. suggesting that there are contradictions in our theology).
Our temperament, experience, and intellect shape our response to these challenges. People who embrace a form of virtue epistemology (whether they realise they are doing so or not), probably tend to be more troubled than certain others when they are faced with a question they cannot answer. This is because virtue epistemology (as the name implies) sits at the conjunction of ethics and epistemology. It teaches that we know things when we have used our intellectual virtues to acquire the subject of the knowledge. In other words, inter alia, it means that we should believe the right thing for the right reason having applied ourselves to the task. When framed in these terms, this appears to be a high standard (arguably too high), and tends to remind one of the “scupulosity” experienced by Martin Luther and characteristic of certain forms of Protestantism.
Frequently it feels as if we are attacked on all sides. When seeking an answer, sometimes we are faced with silence; sometimes we are so distracted or perturbed that we have difficulty discerning the voice of God.
Within the Church, life is made harder by abuses: false prophets, scandals, and certain kinds of fundamentalism that will neither listen to reasoned argument nor offer comfort to those struggling with the intellectual aspect of faith. Sometimes being provided with a wrong answer is worse than not being provided with an answer at all.
The bible tells us to look always to Jesus, and says that He will perfect the work that He has begun in us. In the here and now spinning as we are from the fundamental changes to our way of living brought about by the disease, we find ourselves asking these uncomfortable questions more often than we would under normal conditions. The truth is, as St Peter once voiced, there is nowhere else to go. There is either Christ or there is nothing. No third option is left to us.