Originally published to Helium in 2009
Faith is an interesting word, meaning so much to so many different people. For many, the word carries strong Religious Connotations, and it is undeniable that the word applies in that context. Faith however, is not unique to the world of Religion, it is a word that can apply throughout Humanity.
Faith is defined as "A strong Loyal Belief, or trust in a person, idea, or thing" or as an expansion upon that definition can also be defined as a "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or evidence". Personally I believe that Religion is the epitome of the second definition, however, within my family even, were I to proffer either of these meanings as the 'True' Definition of Faith, I would quickly be corrected.
As I mentioned earlier, Faith is a word that has been adopted by the Religious world, and is often now described in very Black and White terms. You either have faith, or you don't. To the religious mind, not having faith means that you are not a religious person. To the more evidence based amongst us, you not having faith probably means that you are concerned about some component of a hypothesis, or an experiment. Thats not to say that Atheists and Agnostics are all scientists, however you can apply some of the activities of a Science lab to many aspects of life, life is one big experiment. You can hypothesise about how it's going to turn out, and why you are here, but without conducting the experiment you cannot support the hypothesis!
So what exactly does faith represent to me? As an Atheist I don't recognise the Religous comparmentalisation of the word, and as such I view it more as a statement of belief that can be applied to anything. You can have faith in a concept, a person, or an item without needing to believe in God. I have strong faith in the concept that everything around us can exist without requiring the presence of an omnipotent deity. In fact, I have very strong faith in the idea that Religion is simply a device previously created to explain the unanswerable questions, as science has developed the number of those questions has been reduced.
Faith has become a very, very personal term to many, and the devout followers of Religion would probably like to restrict its use to represent religious connotations, but unfortunately it's not their word to claim.
So what do I, an Atheist think of the Religous Faith? How do I view it? Do I condone it? Am I Against it?
These are all good questions, and many will already believe they know the answers. But there is something of a stereotype used when discussing Atheist views, which tilt the 'moral bias' firmly in the direction of the church.
The true answers are that I cannot scientifically support the underpinning assumption of most religions, that is to say that I cannot find measurable evidence that there is or was a Deity to control and create the earth. In fact, I believe that the evidence available to us is quite contradictory of the religous Hypotheses. I respect the strength of faith shown by many religious people, as I would respect strong faith shown in any other environment. However, unshakable faith is not always a good quality, I make assessments based on evidence, and I respect others who make similar judgements, dis-regarding the evidence in order to continue your faith in a hypothesis is the antithey of all development. For that reason I personally believe that many Religious teachers are fooling themselves into believing a theory that has not a shred of evidenciary support.
So now you know my view of Religous faith, the question is do I condone such beliefs? Whilst I believe there is a certain foolhardyness in many of the Religous beliefs, I cannot state that I do not condone religion. This decision is not based on any belief that Religion has done good things in the world, but more that I cannot condone a world where we are told what to think, and what not to think. For me Religion is a paradox, I could not get rid of it for the reasons mentioned before, yet Religion satisfies those criteria in itself. By taking action (were it even possible) I would be creating the very world that I don't want, but by not taking action, I allow Religion to try and re-claim that world.
Religion does set strict rules on morality, and this is definitely a good thing. However, contrary to many claims, we do not need Religion in order to have morality. Especially damaging for the reputation of Religion (in my eyes at least) is the willingness of the more devout to overlook these morals in order to spread their 'one' religion. Be this the crusades, the IRA, or Al Quaeda, terrible things have been done under the guise of Religion. Many will claim that these organisations are not true members of their Religious Facade, but this is irrelevant, Religion has been used as justification for some terrible acts.
Regardless of what strictures a Religion lays down, there will always be those who believe that propogation of the Religion is more important than the strictures that form the very foundation of that belief. These atrocities are committed in the very name of Religion, often regardless of the true agenda. Without Religion, there is one less excuse for these atrocities to happen.
I don't deny that atrocities would continue without religion, but it would provide one less facade for murderers to hide behind, and Religion is still seen as a powerful flag to be riding behind.
So am I against Religion? The answer is neither a simple yes or a simple no. I am against the acts committed in the name of religion, and I believe the only way to prevent them is to rid ourselves of these Religious Fairy Stories. On the other hand, I am also against telling people what they can think and what they can do, so ridding the earth of religion would not make me feel any better. It would take a very concerted Dictator like effort to truly rid the planet of Religious beliefs, and that cannot be condoned.
I am strongly against people trying to convert me to their religion, I detect an amazing level of arrogance in their belief that thier theory is the only right one. I do not try to covnert people away from religion, so please repay the favour. I have always been more than happy to discuss my belief with anybody that's interested, and have had some very interesting conversations. Unfortunately, Religion can make that debate quite difficult, it is very very hard to maintain a civilised conversation when the evidence that you are referencing is effectively questioning the strong belief held by the other person.
And of course, when talking to certain religions, any question of evidence that xxx happened, will normally lead to you being given a quote from their book of choice. A belief that the contents of a book are true, being supported by the fact that the book exists has always been an interesting one for me. Yes, we can measure that the book exists (it has mass etc.) but how does this prove that the contents are the word of God/Allah?
I'll leave you to puzzle over that one!