Apparently, we don’t understand faith

Oh wounded Christians, when will you stop your belly-aching and stop acting like you are the victims of atheist aggression? It seems like every other day I have to read some theist’s article about how atheists are either 1) way too mean, 2) clueless about religion, and 3) completely dogmatic about their non-belief. While I could accept the first (in my case, although I’m one of the few very vitriolic ones), the second and third seems to completely ignore the fact that a significant number of non-believers were, at one time or another, believers.

A fan of the site sent me a link to this article, entitled “atheists: can we get along or whatever”, a follow-up to another article he had written called “Dear Atheists: most of us don’t care what you think”. As you might have guessed, after writing the latter (a long diatribe about how faith is unshakable and immutable), he was inundated by comments from non-believers, and decided that more clarification was needed. He was, apparently, unaware that the internet is made up mostly of malcontents like you and me, and felt that we didn’t really understand his religion enough to critique it.

The thesis of my story was this: that debates between the religious and atheists are useless because most atheists do not understand religion, particularly the idea of religious faith.

I’m getting a little tired of the accusation that atheists simple don’t understand religion. It’s obvious from most surveys that we are, in fact, on average much more educated about faith than our religious counterparts. This is usually ignored. We may understand the minutia of faith, but to religionists, our lack of belief must mean that we don’t actually “get it”. Why else would we refuse to accept God into our lives?

But faith is different. It is private. It touches on a different reality that either you get or you do not. Faith is like love and how do you debate love? Faith has driven untold millions, billions, of people through history and cannot be dismissed so easily.

I’ve always hated this line of argument. You might as well just say that millions of people used to believe that the earth was flat as a debate tactic. Simply because tons of human beings choose to believe in absurd things, and feel motivated to do things because of such absurdities does not in fact condon these ideas. If anything, it shows the profound vulnerability of ignorant humans to invent answers and explination when there are no certainties. This is not something we should be especially proud of.

I have no doubt that “faith” is a lot more difficult to hold on to than I can imagine. Objective reality does not conform with religious instructions, which is why faith is so important to guys like Charles Lewis. And while religionists want to pat themselves on the back for believing in the absurd, the rest of us just shake our heads in disbelief, saying simply: it would be a lot easier on you if you just stopped trusting in the nonsense you’ve been fed your whole life, pal.

Faith is not up for debate. I do not care whether Christopher Hitchens or the guy who sits three rows away thinks I am living in a fantasy. Why would I care? If faith could be broken by mindless criticism then it would not be faith.

I agree, which is why we find faith so troubling. If you cannot debate something, than what value does it have? It’s further proof that those with faith are secretly afraid of revealing even their inner-most doubts, out of fear that they may inadvertantly stop believing once they finally begin to question their deeply held assumptions. Any individual who refuses to question even his/her most cherished beliefs is not only weak minded; they are also cowards. If you think it takes more bravery to believe in the absurd, then I honestly feel sorry for you.

Comments (6)

  • avatar

    Bryan Elliott

    “The thesis of my story was this: that debates between the religious and atheists are useless because most atheists do not understand religion, particularly the idea of religious faith.”

    Those of us that started out religious understood religion and faith at one point. However, the more educated you get, the less sense is made by either concept, and the more they look like the foolishness of childhood.

    It’s like, yeah, I remember when I believed in god. Going back further, I remember having full conversations with my imaginary friend as a five year old, too.

    Faith is gullibility for the sake of comfort. Stay there if you like, but don’t criticize we who have gotten over it.

  • avatar


    Bryan, I would agree. I also used to believe in the easter bunny, santa, and ghosts, etc. Does this mean that because I believed in them they were REAL? Well, in that case, I will start believing that I can live forever, that I am invincible, and that I have god-like powers! Well… that’s odd. I feel exactly the same… but I *believe* that I have these powers… I just don’t get it, apparently.

    I genuinely feel ‘connected’ to people as a default position, and always make it my attempt to help those who are in need of help. The religious are, to me, like the fools that we cannot convince. You show them the evidence, you even give them a logical argument for/against something, but they hold steadfast to their belief. You first feel sadness for them, but this eventually turns into annoyance.

    The religious make very particular claims about REALITY. They harm not only themselves, but others, BECAUSE of their belief. While it can/has been argued that ‘faith’ (not necessarily its progeny, religion) has evolutionary benefit (which I am inclined to accept the evidences for), it strips us from what we are capable of; knowing through empirical observation and experimentation.

  • avatar


    I do think the word faith needs to be reclaimed. I have faith that my mate will meet me in the pub on time as he is a good friend who has never (rarely) let me down. Nothing to do with proof, rationality or anything like that, but this is an entirely appropriate usage of the word ‘faith’.
    Whereas the religious form of faith… it is based on absolute nothingness, on sheer phantoms.

  • avatar

    Men's Battle Plan

    “You show them the evidence, you even give them a logical argument for/against something, but they hold steadfast to their belief. ”
    You show us the evidence? I’m not sure I’ve seen evidence to disprove God.

  • avatar



    If I implied that the ‘evidence’ in my previous comment was particular with respect to proving/disproving a god(s), then I apologize. It was a generalization about many scientific principles, theories, and laws. Of course we have not (yet) been able to prove or disprove the existence of a god(s). However, to cover that subject, there are vast quantities of data which would favor the improbability of such a being(s), but I expect that any intellectually honest person would change their minds if enough ‘evidence’ were supplied. Although, to be honest, I would still find it difficult. As Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I am inclined to support this ‘law’. The point being, that the best the ‘religious’ can truly hope for is a deistic approach to the problem, but this says much about specific religions and their memetics. There is as much evidence for any particular religion’s god(s) as there is for Zeus, Thor, or any other character we wish to imagine. Simply because a religion is more than 2,000 years in he making gives it no credibility without vast quantities of evidence; beliefs are tenacious.

  • avatar

    Eric K


    “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” – Hitchens

    Come up with some evidence FOR something supernatural and then you can start to make demands for evidence against.

    But just for fun I can give you an argument against a god
    A main tenant of most religions is that God is perfect.
    Something perfect would not suffer from desires or needs
    Why then would a perfect God want or need to create people.

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