Faith: An Excuse, Not an Answer
When it comes right down to it, most believers (especially Christian believers) claim faith as their ultimate reason for belief. No matter how many paths you wander down, no matter how many apologetic arguments you encounter, no matter how many "proofs" they try to present, when they're backed into a corner, faith is the answer. Faith is the answer for belief without reason. As Mark Twain so notably stated "Faith is believing what you know ain't so". Faith is the excuse that people give for believing in things without evidence, and a large majority of people take faith to a whole new level. They see faith as interchangeable with evidence. They see faith as synonyms to knowledge and understanding, when it is literally anything but. Faith is not a reason to believe in something, and it does not equate to knowledge in the least.
Is All Faith Created Equal?
The problem with faith in a nutshell is that, when employed for one particular belief, there is nothing preventing it from being applied to everything across the board. A theist has faith that their particular god exists, but they're skeptical about the faith of someone from a different religion - or a different denomination of their own. They're skeptical about people who claim to have faith that aliens exist, and they roll their eyes at those that have faith that fairies are real. If faith is good enough to justify belief in a god, isn't it good enough to justify faith in something else? Where does faith fail? When it applies to anything else than the particular god claim that they're making. They scoff at faith when it is presented in a different religion. They scoff at faith in fairies or unicorns or aliens. They scoff at faith when they realize that it is insufficient to justify belief in anything - but turn around and use it to justify their own belief in god without a second thought.
"If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can't be taken on its own merits. It is intellectual bankruptcy. With faith, you don't have to put any work into proving your case. You can "just believe". Truth does not have to be believed. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing "Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I believe in my heart that what goes up must come down, down, down. Amen!" If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it" Dan Barker "Losing Faith in Faith"
What Faith Really Means
When people use faith to justify their religious beliefs to the exclusion of all else, despite the lack of evidence or reasonable arguments or proof, it points to one thing - and one thing only. It points to an insecurity, whether it's one that the theist is likely to admit or not. Think about it momentarily. If you are certain of something, you don't need faith. If you have knowledge, you don't need faith. Faith shows up in the absence of proof, certainty or knowledge. It's the antithesis to these three critical factors that should be present in ANY belief - let alone a belief as important as belief in a god, especially if eternity is truly at stake.
This is exemplified beautifully when you look at the behaviors of tribal peoples throughout history - and even today. Pagans rarely if ever turned to faith to justify the belief in their pantheon of gods. They were certain of them. As Daniel Dennet points out in his book "Breaking the Spell":
"Those who practice a folk religion don't think of themselves as practicing a religion at all. Their 'religious' practices are a seamless part of their practical lives, alongside their hunting and gathering. One way to tell that they really believe in the deities to which they make their sacrifices is that they aren't forever talking about how much they believe in their deities....Where there is no ambient doubt to speak of, there is no need to speak of faith"
When cornering a theist of any stripe, it's not difficult to get them to admit that faith is faulty when it shines the light on any belief other than their own. To most unbelievers, a retreat to faith is an admission of defeat. It means that a believer cannot prove their case or present any evidence whatsoever for the claim that they're making - and faith therefore becomes their last, impenetrable line of defense. It's the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears, covering their eyes and refusing to take the conversation any further. You can't argue with faith - especially when it's a last, die-hard position with no possible defense.
Most believers justify the concept of faith by using it interchangeably with the philosophy of trust. They insist that atheists and non-believers have faith in something unseen as well, even though most of us will admit to trust. The word faith comes with baggage, and this baggage is extremely difficult to overcome when you have journeyed out of a religion and embraced reality with all of its glory. I personally do not like to use the term "faith", particularly because it is often synonymous with the word trust or confidence in the minds of unbelievers. I trust my wife because she has proven to be trustworthy. I believe her when she tells me that she loves me, and she backs up her words with actions. When push comes to shove, I can admit that I have "faith" in her - but it is not blind faith. It is faith based on a proven history, a current reality and the hope for a shared future. I do not have "faith" that the sun will rise tomorrow. It has risen on every day since the dawn of time, and I have no reason to doubt that tomorrow will be any different. I do not have "faith" that my car will start in the morning. I keep up on the maintenance, I service it regularly and I regularly purchase gas. That is not faith - it is confidence, and I fully accept the reality that if I keep this car long enough, one day it will fail to start. My faith will not be shattered - I simply have to take it to a mechanic. What happens, however, when a faith in a god fails or fails to live up to expectations?
Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot
If you truly want to get a grasp of how silly faith seems to a non-believer, consider this quote from Dan Barker when he puts the shoe on the other foot.
"suppose an atheist, refusing to look at any religious claims, were to say 'you must have faith that there is no god. If you believe in your heart...then you will know that atheism is true'. Wouldn't the Christians (and followers of other religions) snicker?"
According to the Bible, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1
I don't have to see something to know that it's real, but by the same token I'm not just going to jump headlong into a belief so important as a religion without anything verifiable. Otherwise it's just a bunch of old stories thrown on a pile of other old stories. If you're willing to accept one by faith alone, what prevents you from accepting all of them? What prevents you from accepting anything without proof at all?