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In the discussion thread: Can an Atheist Value Faith? [View all]

Response to rug (Original post)

Mon Jun 27, 2016, 02:25 PM

4. I kind of love this question.

Non-believer here (okay atheist, but it's a stupidly loaded term at this point):

Faith, according to this piece (which says the Bible backs this up) is:

"Belief in something without evidence."

I've been interested for a while in the idea that faith (defined as above) is considered by many to be a virtue. In the harshest terms, in order to be a good idea, faith would have to somehow turn out to be well-founded and true. It's hard to find a way to think a false belief is a good idea after all. If there is no (fill in the god) aren't people at the least wasting a lot of energy, and at worst, making a lot of decisions and voicing a lot of opinions based on nonsense?

The only way I can make that work for me is to undermine the definition a little, and allow for faith to be either philosophy (for which I suppose there is theoretical rhetorical "evidence" e.g.,

"Forgiveness is better than vengeance," (because it ultimately works better) Can't be proven, but there is an internal logic in play, so it's not random, or just based on tradition or social conformity, or a desire to self-delude.

Or you could posit faith as a kind of semi-conscious metaphorical tool, like

"I choose to live as though we were all governed by a supernatural being who has given us guidance through ancient writings," etc. That gets a little trickier though, because unless there's some self-awareness mixed in, that's pretty close to embracing cognitive dissonance, and that doesn't seem like a good idea.

Sometimes faith gets mixed up with hope, which I think is a viable psychological tool for survival:

"There probably isn't an oasis over the next sand dune, but let's imagine it's possible and keep crawling." Nothing wrong with that. You're basically using imagination to get to the best possible state of mind. Sitting there dying of thirst because there's probably no point in going on is a bad use of empirical evidence.

I guess what I can't get behind is the idea of either

a) acculturating children to feel comfortable with religious belief (and uncomfortable without it) by sheer dint of repetition and family pressure, without any examination of why we should or shouldn't do that or

b) rational adults deliberately short-circuiting the thinking process they would apply to anything else in their lives, including the question of anyone else's religious beliefs, to hold on to something that, if examined honestly, doesn't really make any sense. I think there's a danger in leaping in and out of critical thinking that way.

It's not all quite that simple, but that's where I've come down after a number years thinking along these lines.

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