Rational vs. Irrational Faith

Posted on October 23, 2014 by Robert Ringer


In Erich Fromm’s 1956 classic The Art of Loving, he provides some unique insights into the subject of faith that have given me a lot to think about. Fromm did not believe faith is in opposition to reason or rational thinking. On the contrary, he simply made a distinction between rational faith and irrational faith.

He believed that irrational faith is based on submission to irrational authority, while rational faith is based on one’s own convictions. Rational faith is a character trait that involves one’s whole personality rather than a specific belief.

Rational faith, then, is an important component of rational thinking. In fact, Fromm believed that creative thinking begins with a “rational vision,” a vision that results from study, reflective thinking, and observation.

In other words, rational faith is rooted in one’s own experiences, thoughts, observations, and judgments. Irrational faith, on the other hand, is the acceptance of something as true only because an authority or the majority say it is.

The rational believer must have faith in his core being. He must have trust in himself — know that the person he really is will not change with changing circumstances. If we lose faith in who we are, we become dependent on others and change in ways to gain their approval. Not a good thing.

The belief in power over others is the reverse of faith. There is no rational faith in domination — either for the dominator or the dominated. To be sure, power is an all-encompassing objective for politicians and many religious leaders, but, to their dismay, it is the most unstable of all achievements.

Fromm pointed out that because having faith and having power over others are mutually exclusive objectives, all religious and political systems originally built on rational faith become corrupt and lose their strength. It would be difficult to argue that history has not supported his viewpoint, and over the next several years this will become eminently clear to all Americans save the walking dead.

What Fromm did not address head on, however, is faith in a Higher Being. Is it rational or irrational faith to believe in God? The atheist would say it is irrational, while the believer would come down on the side of rational.

But the individual who believes in a Conscious Universal Power Source could just as easily say that the atheist’s viewpoint is based on irrational faith — faith, perhaps, that the universe somehow created itself. And if the universe could create itself, is the universe not God?

In truth, however, both believers in a Higher Being and atheists can have rational faith in their beliefs, so long as those beliefs are based on study, reflective thinking, and observation. I agree with Viktor Frankl’s view that there is probably not much difference between a so-called atheist and an individual who believes in God. It’s more a matter of semantics than zealous people on both sides might believe.

So, whether it’s faith in yourself, faith in your spouse, faith in a friend, faith in your future, or faith in a Supreme Being, faith is an integral part of the human experience. Make that rational faith. And you will do your children a great service by making sure they understand and believe in the efficacy of rational faith beginning at a very young age.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.