Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Faith is a bad word

I have been an atheist for as long as I can remember, but it's only in the past few years that I have become open and vocal about it. This blog is meant to be about the every day experience of being an atheist, reflecting on the joys, challenges and humour by which it is so often accompanied. Still, because this is such a new space, I also want to take some time to explore some different issues surrounding the religious debate in a more general sense.

By day, I am a high school English teacher, which is perhaps why I assign an enormous value to the power of language. Certain words or phrases can become so entrenched in our lexicon that we fail to question the effect they have. (War on Terror, anyone?) Today's word is one that I consider to be both perplexing and dangerous: faith.

In conversations about religion, faith is something that almost inevitably comes up. It seems to me, though, that faith is a pretty weak argument for someone to use, since it presents a kind of paradox that even the most devout believers would be hard pressed to deny.

One of the things that infuriates me about many religious people is what apparently constitutes as "proof" for them of god's existence. The bible, miracles, unadulterated ignorance, it's all the same. Here is where the cracks begin to show. If you have proof that gives you absolute certainty of god's existence, why all the talk of faith? Faith, by definition, implies a belief in something that cannot be proven, but in which you choose to believe anyway. By having faith, religion admits that a willing suspension of disbelief is required to swallow the b.s. they are feeding you. That is the perplexing part. Now on to the fun stuff - danger!

Why is faith dangerous? Mostly because when you decide that all you need for something to exist is to believe it does, you are opening Pandora's box to unleash a whole whack of crazy. I have faith in my ability to fly... perhaps I'll go jump from a tall building and see how that goes. And until I hit the ground, can anyone really convince me that I'm wrong? Believers will argue that atheists can't disprove the existence of god, therefore god exists. But absence of proof is not sufficient proof! I can't prove that Santa doesn't exist, although I'm pretty sure he doesn't. Faith implies a certain presumption and arrogance that I see all the time in religion: I have faith so I must have access to some kind of higher knowledge that people without faith just can't have. I have faith so I can answer the questions that others can't answer.

This is just silly. We should never presume to have all the answers to life's questions. Science prides itself on asking questions, doubting itself, and trying to improve its own findings. There is no need for faith to fill in the gaps, because the gaps are good! The gaps are what make the world interesting and they are what keep us searching for new knowledge. Let's replace faith with reason! Having faith in god and religion only serves to limit rational thought, scientific progress and enlightened growth. And remember to choose your words carefully.


  1. You've got a fantastic blog going here Jatheist. I particularly enjoyed this post. Faith is one of those words that I have little use for as an atheist. Others include sin (there is no such thing as sin because there is nothing to sin against) and belief (I do not "believe" anything, I understand or know inasmuch as it is possible to at this point in my life given human knowledge and science). Cheers!

    Visit my site over at The Serenity of Reason if you get the chance.

  2. Thanks, csm!

    I just checked out The Serenity of Reason and it's really great. At some point I'd like to get a blogroll going on here... just have to find the time!