It gets a little long; click below to get the whole thing.
As far as I can tell, the idea of faith basically boils down to this: there's something that you don't conclusively know is true or will happen, but you'd really like for it to be true or for it to happen, for some reason or another. Here are some faith-worthy items which come to mind presently:
- A benevolent God/gods/divine being(s)/etc. is/are real.
- Person X is going to do something for you/to you/in your name.
- Team Y is going to win/cover the spread/throw the game on purpose.
- Elected Politician Z is going to do what they say they'd do/stay faithful to their spouse/stay unfaithful to their spouse.
As I identify myself as an agnostic, and given the book I'm reading, I'm most interested in the faith-test being applied to religion. Piety seems to go together pretty well with faith, at least in my view of the whole thing, so I think it's fair to say that if you're more pious you probably have a stronger faith in your Divine Being(s) of choice as compared with, e.g., a "Christmas Christian" who only goes to church a couple of times a year.
(As someone who went to church nearly every Sunday for the first 16-ish years of my life, I admit I used to look a bit down upon the Christmas Christians — and I doubt this sentiment is unique to me. Point is, if you set foot in a church, you probably believe already, so why the fuss?)
The question of whether or not faith seems to be "justified" seems to be subjective: do you and that other person agree that such a thing/event/situation is true, or at least has a pretty good shot? If you agree, then you'll think their faith is a good thing; if you don't, they're a fool. (Seriously, you thought Northern Iowa had a shot at winning the NCAA tournament, even after they upset Kansas?! You're a moron!)
Mind you, whether you agree or not — or whether or not you actually believe something is true — has absolutely no outcome on the event, unless you (a.) play for that particular basketball team, (b.) are the person who's going to do something for someone else, (c.) are the politician in question, or (d.) are the deity in question.
Just because a particular religion has 12 followers or a billion followers, that doesn't make it the "right" one, although it certainly might feel right to all those people. Hell, a lot of people believed that Kansas would win it all this year (and bet a lot of money on that belief), but that event turned out differently than they believed it would. A lot of Jehovah's Witnesses believed the world would end in 1874, then 1914, then 1918, then 1975; nowadays it could be "real soon," which would really help, because I haven't done my taxes yet, and if it's time for Armageddon, who cares if I don't get a couple hundred bucks back from Revenue Canada?
(Incidentally, when it comes to numbers and religion, initially the JWs only thought there was room for 144,000 people in heaven — and obviously JWs were going to take up all those spots — but they had to re-think their position after their own numbers grew past heaven's fire-code capacity.)
At any rate, the concept of faith pretty much befuddles me these days, and I stay clear of it. I'm not even sure if I fall into the, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice and comforting to have faith?" camp anymore. Granted, faith in a Divine has helped people do things like kick a life of crime and drugs and turn their life around — so it's obviously not a black-and-white issue — so I'm not about to proclaim that it's necessarily a good thing or a bad thing.
I just choose to stay away from the whole topic in my own life, and believe in the one thing I know I can trust.