What is faith?

Question: How do you define faith?

Sam Harris: Well we use the word “faith” in a variety of ways.  And there are certain senses of the term that I think are unobjectionable.  I mean you tell someone to have faith in themselves, for instance.  That is not to recommend a kind of delusional certainty.  It is to recommend a kind of positive attitude in the face of uncertainty.  I think that’s totally healthy and necessary, and we should have that kind of faith.  We shouldn’t confuse that kind of faith with the faith that really is the permission that religious people give one another to believe things strongly on bad evidence.  It’s very explicit things about the nature of the cosmos, what happens after death, the moral structure to this universe.  So you have people believing that they’re gonna get 72 virgins in paradise if they die in the right circumstances – in defense of Islam, in this case.  That is a proposition about metaphysics, about what happens after death, and about what this almighty sadist in the sky wants human beings to do while alive.  And it’s a proposition for which there really is no good evidence.  And so that kind of faith – the faith that says, “It’s okay to believe that,” despite the fact that there’s no good reason to believe it . . . that there’s no good justification to believe that . . . that’s the kind of faith I’m criticizing.

Recorded on: July 4 2007

Harris believes faith is healthy and necessary.

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