THE BLOG
11/29/2016 03:08 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2017

Faith = Credulity ?

Is faith just a pretty word for credulity? Is a person of deep faith just a deeply credulous person? Is gullibility a mark of religiosity? If someone praises a woman saying, 'She is a person of deep faith and a saint!' can that be translated as, "She's so gullible and will believe anything: she's a real saint!'?

Where faith entails believing things that have a low degree of evidence, faith may indeed be credulity. But one woman's credulity is another woman's faith. Here are a few actual religious beliefs that require either faith or credulity to believe:

  • Madame Z has faith that a man walked upon the surface of a deep lake.
  • Mister Q thinks Madame Z is credulous in that belief, but Mister Q has faith that a man flew a great distance upon a winged pony with a peacock's tail.
  • Monsieur Y thinks both Madame Z and Mister Q are deeply credulous, but Monsieur Y has faith that a middle aged woman was turned into a column of sea salt.
  • Señora B snickers into her sleeve when she ponders the credulity of Madame Z, Monsieur Y and Mister Q, but Señora B has faith that a man translated an ancient dead language while jiggling river rocks in his wife's bonnet.
  • Herr J has faith that the very Devil threw an ink horn against a plaster wall, but Herr J breaks into gales of laughter when he discovers what Madame Z, Mister Q, Monsieur Y, Mister Q, and Señora B are gullible enough to believe.

Faith and credulity are invoked when a matter is in doubt. Anyone could doubt any of the things that Madame Z, Mister Q, Monsieur Y, Señora B, and Herr J believe because those things are so out of the ordinary that common sense makes them dubitable. It takes faith or credulity to believe those things. When a thing is in doubt, and when you otherwise wish to believe, you practice faith or credulity. But neither faith nor credulity bring certainty. In fact, faith and credulity are only operative when a mater remains in doubt. The minute a thing becomes certain, faith and credulity are no longer an option. Faith and credulity are methods of assent when evidence is absent or when evidence doesn't command assent.

Faith and credulity cannot be invoked for things made certain by sensual proofs, for instance. We don't need faith or credulity to assent to a belief that a lemon is sour because our tongues confirm that belief, and our tongues command assent to it. We don't need faith or credulity to assent to a belief that concrete is hard because touch establishes it. We don't need faith or credulity to assent to the proposition that a rose smells sweet when our nose makes us certain of that. We don't invoke faith or credulity to assent to the idea that a summer cloudless sky is blue because eyes make us assent.

Faith and credulity are for the fabulous, fantastic, phantasmagoric beliefs that we only find in religions and conspiracy theories. And a person of deep faith, depending on the point of view of the one doing the judging, may only be a deeply credulous person.

And is that admirable?