Is Faith Rational? It Depends


“How well do CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] and religion mix? CBT is all about rationality, and religion is often about faith. The two seem kind of opposite. … CBT is … grounded in western empiracism and rationality, and faith is something that is very much different.” (Jason M. Satterfield • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain)

Is he right about faith, that it’s the opposite of rationality, that it’s not grounded in empiricism and rationality? It depends on whose faith he’s talking about. Notice that I didn’t say what faith; I said whose faith.

Consider this example. Darlene believes that Jesus died and rose again because that’s what she has believed her whole life and because it gives her comfort. Janie believes that Jesus died and rose again because she has examined the evidence for it and against it — in a sincere pursuit of the truth — and she considers the weight of evidence to point toward that belief.

Even though they believe the same thing, Darlene’s belief is not rational; it is not based on evidence. Janie’s belief is.

What difference does it make?

  • Darlene is not likely to get others to respect or accept her belief. Janie is.
  • Darlene is likely to have her belief shaken when challenges come. Janie isn’t.
  • Darlene is likely to believe things that aren’t true. Janie isn’t.

Those differences are significant! They are worth reading again. Every one of us believes something, so this is universally relevant.

It might be true that, like Darlene, Janie has held this belief since childhood and that it gives her comfort. But, unlike Darlene, that’s not why she believes it. Those realities are not the basis for her belief. Evidence is.

Faith gets a bad rap in a lot of circles. Sometimes it’s warranted, and the Darlenes of the world share some of the responsibility. The Janies of the world must help redeem the reputation of faith. Faith, by definition, is belief without proof, but it does not have to be — nor should it be — belief without evidence.

What would happen if Darlene decided to be like Janie? She would shed beliefs that aren’t sound, she would build beliefs that are both sound and strong, and her belief would garner respect and maybe even some adopters. Wow! That’s powerful.

If you want to be more like Janie, I encourage you to check out my book Building Evidence-based Beliefs. It’s a great way to cultivate skills and traits that help you discern truth from error and establish a habit of building thoughtful, sound beliefs.

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