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Posted by on Aug 21, 2012 in Religion, Uncategorized | 8 comments

I Have Faith You’ll Read This Post

I was too tired to write what I intended tonight, so here’s an old Facebook note instead. 

Despite what atheists often say, not all faith is unreasonable. For instance, I have faith that my alarm clock will go off tomorrow at 6AM. This faith is perfectly reasonable, because I have strong evidence that the alarm clock will behave as I expect, even though that evidence is not conclusive. A similar type of faith, though to a lesser degree, can be held in human beings repeating certain behaviors, even though any number of factors can prevent them from doing so. In other words, at times faith is reasonable and can be synonymous with reliance on prior experience, trust, and rational hope.

There’s another type of faith; the type of faith one holds in the complete absence of evidence. For instance, the belief in a deist god requires this type of faith. There’s no evidence that such a god exists (nor is there any actual benefit to believing in such a god), but then again, there’s no evidence that he doesn’t. So, to believe in a deist god takes an act of faith. Personally, I need at least some evidence to believe in a positive assertion, so this type of faith has no meaning for me.  On the other hand, having faith in positive outcomes, when applied to life in general, may lead people to be more optimistic and to act accordingly, which is likely a good thing. Optimism is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, and optimistic people are happier. Again, as in the previous examples, faith becomes intertwined with trust and hope. I respect people who have faith in others and in the goodness that life may bring. And I admire people who face adversity with bravery, determination, and hope. I see nothing wrong with faith that does not contradict the evidence, even though, being a pessimist, this is not something that often works for me.

But finally, there’s religious faith, the bane of my intellectual existence. Belief in any of the Abrahamic gods falls into this category. Religious faith is belief in spite of evidence to the contrary. Religion praises this sort of faith, thus often rewarding the deluded and discouraging the full exploration of science and secular philosophy. Often the more unreasonable a religious person’s beliefs, the more pious he or she is considered to be. This seems like an obvious political ploy to keep people ignorant, while those who have control remain in power. Moreover, this type of faith puts religious tenets and dogmas outside of the realm of scientific testing, since religious faith, almost by definition, runs against reason. After all, god works in nonsensical — I mean, mysterious — ways. But aside from that, this is where faith and hope must part company, because there is no outcome promised by any of the big three religions that a rational person would or should hope for.  I know that if I could have my preference, then I’d take the calm sleep of death over spending an eternity with a god that I consider to be an immoral bully. Dreamless sleep is peaceful and painless. Then again, having no faith or belief in god, I don’t have much to worry about, because all evidence points to the likelihood that I’m going to get exactly what I want in the end.

I don’t believe that religious faith results from the fear of death; I think it results from fear of life. Emotion overrides intelligence. People have an emotional need to hear that everything’s going to be OK, even when it isn’t and it can’t be. Pain and loss are inevitable aspects of our existence. But that’s the problematic reality we must deal with, and praying to false gods won’t make things better during our lifetimes. On the other hand, working together to find solutions may actually help improve the quality and duration of life for many. So please, let’s give up harmful religious fairy tales, since they are detrimental to our own well-being. Instead of dreaming of what might happen after we die, let’s make the best of our lives instead.

  • Reasonably Faithless

    I like this post a lot. I am basically arguing for the same thing in my post “Don’t have enough faith to be an atheist?” (link below). While I would not necessarily use the word “faith” to describe some of the things you mention here, I’m perfectly happy for people to use it in that way, as long as they (like you) understand the difference between this kind of “faith” and the religious type. (Same goes for the various different uses of the words “agnostic” and “atheist” – what matters is the concept, not so much the words used to describe it.) But it bugs me to no end when people say “you have faith your alarm clock will work, so why do you criticise me for having faith that Jesus will return in the clouds to judge the living and the dead?”.

    http://www.skepticblogs.com/reasonablyfaithless/2012/08/06/dont-have-enough-faith-to-be-an-atheist/

  • Lynn123

    “So please, let’s give up harmful religious fairy tales, since they are detrimental to our own well-being.”

    But many, many people do not find them detrimental. They find them essential, giving hope, giving meaning, bringing happiness. They might ask you, “How is my faith detrimental to me? It makes me very happy!”

    I’m wondering if a Christian is to lose his faith, he must first be unhappy or confused or analytical or a reader or an investigator or a pessimist.

    Great post, btw.

    • You make a good point, and that’s one of the reasons I included the word “harmful.” I think that the religious goals to be good, kind, nonjudgmental, and charitable are worthwhile, and if someone is able to practice their religion without hurting others while deriving a personal benefit, can I really be opposed to that?

  • Simply put, faith is only good if it is faith in the right thing. Science, for instance, must put faith in their hypotheses before testing them. The good thing in this case is that if their hypothesis is proven wrong, they abandon them and move on. Religious faith on the other hand…..

  • Edward Clint

    I would never use the word faith where the meaning is ambiguous; in other words, I reserve it for either religious context or else emotional support (you can do it, I have faith in you!).

    While it is entirely correct in english to say “I have faith my alarm clock will ring”, it is ambiguous and perhaps misleading if for no other reason than that religious people think their faith is that kind. But as you note, that kind involves evidence.

    Unlike many atheists, I don’t have this problem with the word “belief”. Some sneer at it, and say things like “evolution is NOT a belief”. I find this neurotic and to be nonsense. Of course it is a belief. Not a religious belief, but a proposition held to be true.

  • On a related note, my atheism is mostly about belief. For example, I lack the belief in a deist god, while I’m agnostic about an ignostic god. On the other hand I believe and would even venture to say, know, to the extent that I know anything, that there is no theist god as contemplated by the major religions.

    I hear too many atheists saying that faith is bad, but faith is too soft and flexible a word for that. Religious faith that runs contrary to the evidence and has harmful consequences to the believer or to others is bad. Then again, any behavior that hurts others when such pain is preventable is bad as well. IMO, of course.

  • Copyleft

    It’s been suggested, and I think there’s some worth to it, that ‘faith’ in the religious sense should be distinguished from ‘confidence’ in the scientific/empirical sense.

    I have faith in democracy; I have confidence that my car will start today. Faith is belief in something subjective, whereas confidence is based on real-world evidence and experience.

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