Krakauer’s accusation that religion is the most potent force for inciting evil (discussed here) is only the beginning of his baseless attacks on all religion.
Later in the prologue to Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer writes:
“Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a crucial component of spiritual devotion.”
In the sixth chapter, he repeats this refrain, saying:
“All religious belief is a function of nonrational faith. And faith, by its very definition, tends to be impervious to intellectual argument or academic criticism.”
Krakauer makes clear that his functional definition of faith is “belief without basis in fact or reality”. If his definition of faith is correct, then his accusations against the faithful are also correct. If this is so, then faith is antithetical to reason and is impervious to intellectual argument and academic criticism.
But is this an accurate representation of faith?
It is not.
Krakauer commits the intellectual fallacy (ultimately a straw man argument) that John Lennox points out in his definition of faith:
“Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”
~John Lennox, quoted by apologetics 315
While I do not know enough of other religions to say that their definitions of faith are similar to the Christian definition, I do know that the Christian definition of faith bears no resemblance to Krakauer’s straw man.
Krakauer’s definition of faith stands in direct contrast to those of Christian thinkers throughout the ages, whose definitions of faith can be concisely summed up in Kenneth Samples’ statement: “Faith is belief in a reliable source.” (See “Faith and Reason” by David Marshall for a collection of quotes from 30 Christian thinkers supporting this summation.)
The Christian faith is a faith that urges believers to “test everything; hold fast what is good.” (I Thessalonians 5:21)
By the Christian definition, the majority of human knowledge is based on faith. Even in our “hardest” sciences, we have axioms that we must simply believe without definitive proof. The rest of our knowledge is then built on these proof-less assumptions. Does this mean that to assert that the sum of two angles forming a linear pair is 180 degrees is illogical? Of course not. That is simple geometry, accepted by all rational people.
But even if we somehow exclude these axioms from the realm of faith, claiming them to be self-evident, we must still admit that most of our knowledge is taken on faith.
I do not objectively know that Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492. I do not know objectively and conclusively that he commanded three ships called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. I do not objectively know that he was funded by the Spanish Crown.
Yet I believe all these things to be true, despite not being alive in 1492, despite not knowing Christopher Columbus, despite never having seen either Spain or the three ships in question.
I believe these things to be true based on the testimony of reliable historians.
Even within my own field of nutrition, most of my knowledge is based on second-hand information. I have not personally determined the calories contained in the foods I serve my residents. I have not personally conducted the research indicating that a particular nutritional treatment is effective or not effective. I believe these things because I have read other people’s research, because I have examined their study methods, and because their conclusions have held true in my own practice.
While some people are more rigorous than others in testing a belief prior to holding it, all humans take things on faith.
Krakauer’s bigotry (his intolerant devotion to his own prejudices) accuses all religious faith of being baseless, while completely ignoring the necessity of faith (as the most prominent religion on earth defines it) for the logic and reason he claims to so admire.