In recent weeks, Everyday Religion in a World of Many Faiths has explored multiple arguments for the existence of God. Class participants have weighed and debated different cases for religious belief.
But the latest session took a different approach. This time, classmates explored the importance of faith in justifying belief.
Professor Adnan Aslan drew on the fideist thinking of 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard to frame the discussion, underscoring an approach that complemented the logic-driven arguments of recent class conversations.
“True religion is not cold and calculating. Rather, it is passionate and obsessive, more akin to an intimate relationship between two young lovers.”
“For Kierkegaard, true religion is not cold and calculating, reiterating the right answers to logical, formulaic issues in systematic, impersonal fashion,” Aslan said. “Rather, it is passionate and obsessive, more akin to an intimate relationship between two young lovers.
“Kierkegaard believed that there are no solid proofs for religious faith, and that even if there were, they would be unhelpful for developing real religious faith, for ‘certainty . . . lurks at the door of faith and threatens to devour it.’ Choosing faith involves suspending reason; it is affirming something higher than reason and making a life commitment. This affirmation and commitment come about through the existential choices an individual must make on a regular, perhaps even constant, basis.”
Class discussion unpacked responses to this philosophy, including the thinking of William James (people are sometimes forced to make a decision to believe when solid evidence is lacking; in appropriate circumstances this decision to believe is better than not believing) and that of W. K. Clifford (a person should not believe something unless he or she had good evidence for the belief).
Participants shared a variety of perspectives on the fideist approach. Stephanie Mirza said that faith is a deeply personal issue that “neither requires justification nor excludes the possibility of it.” Ferit Akova added: “Faith starts with an act of the heart, but reason can help you deepen your understanding.” Charly Pine said he sees faith as a response to what people perceive in the world: “I think it’s not always intellectual or purely rational, but I think there are factors and stimuli that affect the decisions we make.”
“Justification of a faith doesn’t always have to be philosophically sophisticated. Ordinary people also have their own simple and working justifications of their faith.”
While it can be helpful to understand the major arguments people have made for believing in God, Aslan said, it’s ultimately worth noting that Kierkegaard’s approach tracks more closely with the everyday experience of many believers.
“Justification of a faith doesn’t always have to be philosophically sophisticated,” he said. “Ordinary people also have their own simple and working justifications of their faith.”