December 19, 2014 Leave a comment
This piece was written for the Wednesday Dec. 24, 2014 edition of the Boyne City Gazette (which has not yet gone to print).
Generally, my partner and the paper’s publisher write the opinion pieces for our faith page, but I thought I would make an unlikely appearance.
an unapologetic atheist
What good is faith to an atheist?
Along with hope and ambition, faith—in its many forms—may be one of the most integral nouns in the human psyche.
There are all kinds of faith, and they help us perform all sorts of functions, from making future plans, to feeling trust among friends and co-workers, feeling loved by relatives and, for some, assuaging fears of the unknown.
Faith can mean very different things to different people. For me, faith means reasoned confidence based on past performance. If the bus stopped on my corner every day at 2 p.m. last week, I have faith it will continue to do so. It also allows me to make decisions based on evident observable probability. Does this person seem trustworthy? Well, they exhibit behaviors that would suggest that, so the risk seems low that they would betray you. Of course, that doesn’t mean observable likelihoods are always correct predictors of future performance. So, you have to have faith that X, Y, or Z is going to occur.
Without certain types of faith, we would all be paralyzed by apprehensive inaction.
For some, faith means absolute belief and devotion to an idea that may not be empirically evident.
The two most common arenas for use of the word faith seem to be marriage and religion. Is your spouse faithful? Are you faithful to your wife? Do you have faith in god, God or gods? Heck, George Michael even wrote a tasty jam about the word.
If you’re like my wife—a devout Christian by even the most stringent standards—the word “faith” means more than mere belief and hope. For her, faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ. (I also have faith that I am in big trouble for discussing publicly something she views as a private matter.)
But enough about her, let’s talk about me, the lifelong heathen.
Say the word “atheist” and crowds gasp, mothers clutch their children (and purses) and people tend to cast the same dubious grimace with which one views an invasive species. But, before you clip my philosophical phragmites, consider this: we’re not so different you and me.
We all want 99 percent of the same things: safe neighborhoods, lower taxes, healthy children, understanding wives, a playoff berth for the Lions.
The biggest question I field as one without dogma—other than that old gem about morality—is how I sustain myself without the promise of eternal life or an everlasting celestial caregiver.
After all, at first glance, Blaise Pascal’s famous wager seems like a Biblical no-brainer. For the uninitiated, Pascal’s Wager is a fairly famous axiom. It states, in a nutshell, that one is wiser to believe in and worship a god than to not because, if God(s) does not/do not exist, you’ve lost nothing. However, if he/she/it does exist, and you didn’t worship him/her/it, you might find yourself in big trouble … especially if it’s one of those gods who demand compulsory praise.
As one who has never revered nor accepted the premise of magical omniscient-omnipotent-omnipresent beings (other than, for a short time, Santa, Easter Bunny and Tom Cruise) I have never felt compelled to pretend to believe in such. I say “pretend” because you cannot believe in something if you don’t believe in it. I could do as some say they do and, despite disbelief, hope for the best while going through the motions—what some consider faith—but I would be lying to myself and everyone around me, and that’s not fair or fruitful to anyone.
Besides, going back to our pal Pascal, even if God(s) did exist, I should have nothing to fear from my neglect of them because I find it difficult to believe that an all-knowing, all powerful, altruistic deity would spend even a moment punishing lower life forms because they did not kiss its big celestial butt enough. The desire of the powerful to be worshiped, obeyed and feared is the behavior one expects of petulant, impotent, unimaginative creatures.
But, back to metaphysical sustenance. What sustains any of us who do not find solace in the spiritual?
Conversations with those willing to admit to their secularism reveal many common themes—the same commonalities one finds when discussing ideas, life changes and family matters with those of religious affiliation.
We cherish relationships with family and friends, grow by mentors, improve with good advice and are enriched in our exposure to nature.
What sustains us is everything from a blade of grass below to the blue sky above. And, we benefit most when we are beneficial to the mental and physical well-being of others. While an afterlife seems unlikely to the irreligious, we can enjoy eternal life in the ripples of our actions, because a kindness begets a kindness begets a kindness.
Ultimately, I have faith that teaching my kids to do the right thing will help make the world a better place.
I have faith that I have done more good than harm in this life.
I have faith we may all realize a more fulfilling, productive and peaceful existence by having a little more faith in each other.
Anyone interested should e-mail their mailing address to email@example.com and I will get a copy out with next week’s shipment. (NOTE: I no longer mail books outside of the United States because it’s too dang expensive.)
If you prefer a digital copy, you can download it here: https://unapologeticatheist.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/the-moral-superiority-of-atheism-web-copy.pdf