On faith and the lack of it.

So, earlier this evening I reblogged something on my personal Tumblr and added some tags about my feelings regarding atheism and faith.

#this is why i dislike about 70% of other atheists#YOU MAKE ME LOOK LIKE AN ARSEHOLE #I’M NOT! #I JUST DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD #having faith in something greater than yourself that cannot be quantified is one of the bravest things you can do in my book #so tearing that shit down because it doesn’t work for you is just fucking bullshit #our lack of faith or belief in an omnipotent being does not make us more intellectual #it does not make us more compassionate #it makes us nothing other than people who do not believe in god #that’s fucking it #end of #wine me the strength #sorry i have a lot of angry atheist feelings #BECAUSE AS A GROUP THERE IS A TENDENCY TOWARDS ELITIST DICKHEAD BEHAVIOUR #AND I HAVE NO TIME FOR IT OKAY #NO #FUCKING #TIME #i haven’t believe in god since i was eight years old and sat in church and realised it didn’t make any sense to me #but that’s me #and my disbelief #my absence of faith #does not qualify me as a better person than someone of faith #it says nothing about me other than i do not believe #it’s not hard #people having religious and spiritual faith is not stupid or offensive #the things that surround it can be #but the faith? #the act of believing? #is brave

My greatest mistake was probably a) putting it in the atheism tag over on Tumblr but also b) capslock. I’ll admit, that was down to some vodka and tonic. But for the most part, I still think that’s pretty dead on. A couple of people reblogged it with tags and I’ve actually been talking to people about it and it’s fostered discussion that I love. As someone who has not had faith for a very, very long time but whose friends are 90% religious/of faith, I do talk about it a fair amount. Mainly because I am always anxious to prove that not every atheist is going to be militant or knee-jerk aggressive, but also because I find faith fascinating especially as someone who does not have it. Sadly however, some people just like to show me up.

A reblog response to my tags was:

saying believing in god is brave is like saying believing in fairies is brave. it’s not brave it’s ignorant. it’s not brave to continue believing an idea that has been pounded into you since you could comprehend what your parents say. and it is hardly brave to have the majority opinion. there is nothing wrong with asking a religious person to explain why they believe what they believe. there is nothing wrong with finding it amusing that they have no compelling answer. I don’t think it takes a particularly intelligent person to be an atheist, but faith is illogical. and it does offend me that people believe dumb things without any evidence. because when bad things happen it is usually the result of ignorance. there is a difference between being an asshole and wanting to have a legitimate discussion. because I honestly think religious people are wrong and they honestly believe that I am wrong and since this is a discussion regarding the nature and reason for the universe why shouldn’t we try to change each other’s minds? religious people are in the majority and they are often the people in power so they are in no way oppressed for believing in a god. in America, the group people trust the least is nonbelievers. nonbelievers are the least represented minority in politics in America even though we make up at least 10% of the population. so excuse me if I don’t find belief brave. you know what else isn’t brave? putting all of your opinions in the tags instead of the goddamn post.

This right here is why I hate bringing up my atheism. I’m aware that I am apparently on the fringes of this, where being an okay human who doesn’t think raging about ignorance and fairies is a good move is rare. But listen Stephanie and the rest of you, we have a problem.

First of all, we have to deal with this “saying believing in god is brave is like saying believing in fairies is brave”  bullshit. Can I just put a moratorium on comparing someone’s religious or spiritual belief to fairies? Or teapots or flying pigs or whatever the new gross simile is? No matter what much of atheist rhetoric tells you, the two are not the same. It’s an argument that I don’t think is interesting or clever; it’s just reductive and childish. Not to mention insulting and that’s never a way to begin a debate.

Next up: belief is not in and of itself ignorant. The dogma that surrounds it can be; a refusal to move with the times often is. Belief, the act of belief, is not. I’m sorry but I honestly cannot begin with people who think this is the case. We also need to stop making assumptions about why and how people have faith. Having faith in is an incredibly personal thing. You have absolutely no idea how or why people believe. Some people do believe because their parents did, because they were raised that way. Some people lose it and regain it for whatever circumstances. Some people seek it out, others have it come to them.

Now, I think I need to explain what I mean when I say that “faith is an act of courage” because it seems I wasn’t clear enough. I deliberately use the word faith here because I seperate faith from religious dogma because one is not necessarily the other. I think that distinction is important and necessary to acknowledge. But what I am talking about is the personal act of faith. Nothing else but that. When I say that I, as an atheist, view the act of faith as brave, it is because it requires you to believe in something you cannot quantify. Faith asks you to trust in something you cannot prove. It requires wrestling with doubt. So when I say it’s brave, that’s what I’m talking about: the personal act of faith. Not belonging to a religion or a majority, not the dogma, but the thing that requires you to believe in something bigger than you, that cannot always be explained, that doesn’t appear rational. If you can do that, if you can believe in the face of doubt, in the face of people like you who just deem it ignorant, and can still have a personal connection to faith then yes, I do think it’s brave. Because I can’t do that.

I don’t have faith. I cannot believe in the idea of a god, or any deity. I haven’t since I was eight years old and I sat in a church with my school for Christmas and realised that I didn’t think this was true because it didn’t make sense. That realisation was horrifying. In that moment the world became a much colder place for an eight year old girl. I couldn’t put faith in the unknowable, the untouchable, the unquantifiable. I can’t do that. I’ve tried since then but I simply do not have that quality within me, I don’t have the strength to trust in something outside of myself. So, if you can, I think that’s admirable.

There is nothing wrong with asking a religious person to explain why they believe what they believe. Most people are happy to get into a conversation with you, but we have to remember that first and foremost religion and faith are predominantly private matters. Sometimes they might not want to talk to us about that. But sometimes they might not want to talk precisely because of people like you, or Richard Dawkins or anyone else who thinks that is somehow acceptable to sneer and laugh at someone’s personal beliefs because they are not compelling to you. And that’s the key. It’s not compelling to you. Clearly it is to them or they wouldn’t believe it. It is a subjective thing, it is entirely personal and placing your judgements and beliefs about the lack of belief on someone is fundamentally flawed. Because we atheists don’t have any proof either.

I’d also like to quickly address this whole “Atheists are oppressed” business. Because yes atheists are not hugely represented in American politics – as an English person I’m not particularly equipped to comment on those statistics I’ll admit. But people honestly believe that atheists are oppressed for not believing in God? I’ve heard the argument before and, frankly, I think it’s a little ridiculous since in terms of oppression I am pretty sure there are much larger swathes of underrepresented people in American politics, politics in general, other than people who don’t believe in God. As a group of people we do not experience systematic oppression. We may well have suffered through shit for not believing, everyone has their own story. But as a group, especially in say the US and the UK? We are not an oppressed minority. Merely a minority.

So thank you Stephanie for responding the way you did because it made me put this all down. I’ve been having conversations like this for years but never really thought to put it out there. This isn’t the most eloquent post, but thank you for making me do that.

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One thought on “On faith and the lack of it.

  1. I happened upon your post through some Googling as I was thinking through the issue of faith and lack there-of. I myself am a person of faith (entering school to become a rabbi), though I did not arrive at this point without considerable struggle. From my own experience, it seems that faith (or the openness to faith or belief) is something that one either has or doesn’t have. And if it is not something people can choose, what right do I or anyone else have to tell someone who doesn’t believe in God that they are hopelessly wrong? (Thankfully, most Jews aren’t in the habit of condemning others to an eternity of hellfire and damnation.) I appreciate your respect for people of faith and hope that your post encourages mutual respect and civil dialogue.

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