While I was reading an excellent book on atheism I came across a quote that I thought would be quite useful in this post and its subject matter. The book is Atheism Advanced by David Eller the second volume of a two part series. In it he makes reference to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and the preface to his books second edition Critique of Pure Reason. Here is the quote: " I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith."
I was very moved and impressed greatly by this quote because of its simplicity yet at how effectively it manages to explain a rather complex aspect of fundamentalist belief. From my own personal experience in the ministry I can tell you that faith is what I like to call the ultimate equalizer when it comes to arguments against it. The reason I say this is because most fundies do not rely on knowledge, logic, or reason to validate their beliefs. In fact many of them have never read the Bible from cover to cover much less taken deep philosophical courses or studies on theology. The theology that they have studied is really not theology because it is not philosophical but rather faith based.
The difference between faith and knowledge is that faith does not have to make sense; it just is. It is believed and it is accepted regardless of the absurdity of its claims. Knowledge demands evidence at all times. There are three types of evidence most commonly referred to in philosophical argumentation. Let's review those and define them before going further.
empirical: capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment
objective: of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind
subjective : characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind
Empirical and objective evidence are quite similar in that they are both reliant on observation, experimentation, and experience that can be perceived by all interested parties. Subjective evidence on the other hand is based on the subject meaning the one perceiving. Fundamentalists base their entire belief system on subjective "evidence." Their sense experiences of the so called Holy Spirit etc. serves to validate everything they claim.
I had many of these personal experiences myself and it was these experiences that confirmed to me that God was with me and abiding in me. I spoke in tongues (glossolalia), and basically at one time or another utilized during my ministry one of the 9 gifts of the Spirit as they are outlined in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
When I prayed I felt a tingling sensation coarse throughout my entire body from head to foot. I interpreted this to the presence of God. I prayed in my head and often received responses to my petitions in my own voice. I believed in those days that I was a vessel for God to manifest his power in and through me. Many claimed to have been healed, had prayers answered, been blessed in some way either spiritual or physically through my ministry. I served God sincerely with the utmost integrity that I could muster. I believed everything I did wholeheartedly and was fully committed to the service of the Lord. This is why when I started to doubt and realize that what I had believed was not true I was devastated beyond description. I was angry that I had wasted so much time and energy believing and promoting those beliefs openly and publicly. I think that the more you put into it the harder it is to break free and the more devastating are the effects of that separation.
The bottom line is that the fundamentalist does not come to their beliefs through reason but for the most part through experiences. This is why logical argumentation and reason have no effect on them. They view every attempt to convince them otherwise as an attack against their religion and their God. They are taught by the church elders not to question anything pertaining to beliefs because Satan can use those very doubts to ensnare them and lead them away from the "truth" and God. This is why you hear believers often claim that they are being persecuted by those on the outside. They are completely antagonistic to criticism.
In my opinion it takes an experience or doubt that is so serious that it forces the believer to think about and reassess their beliefs. Sometimes it's a series of experiences that make them question everything that they believed. This is an emotionally painful process and a very difficult time for the believer. No one likes to discover that everything that they have ever believed and committed themselves to turned out to be wrong. Nor to think that they were blinded by their beliefs to these facts.
Every former believer has his or her own journey from theism to atheism or agnosticism. They are all unique and very personal to those that have experienced them. But they all have one thing in common and that is that they are all based on doubt. Something made them all question what was formerly unquestionable. The range of emotions that one feels during this process are difficult to put into words but in my experience fear was the greatest and most powerful experience I had to deal with. I will try to discuss the aspect of fear from a fundamentalist viewpoint on my next post.