The Faith Of An Atheist.

Atheists do not have “faith” in atheism (as atheism is a non-belief) and theists who say “it takes more faith to be an atheist are, as I have said in the past, just adults saying “I know you are but what am I”.  But while I do not have faith that there is or isn’t a god, I do experience something similar.  Faith is often a means to an end, and this is apparent in how apologists often treat it, saying that without faith you can’t have a sense of meaning, morality, purpose, beauty etc – and while this isn’t the case at all it does show that much is often derived from faith by the faithful.  And much of that is emotional – a sense of security, solace, a feeling of justice when faced with injustice, hope for the future when times are at their darkest, and on the more positive end of the spectrum the type of euphoria and beautified way of looking at things people sometimes experience via faith (or philosophy).  So faith can be viewed as a belief held without evidence or rational proof (and sometimes despite proof to the opposite) which gives the holder positive emotional feedback.  Interestingly every atheist I know has experienced this many, many times.  But not with regards to their worldview or their ideology.  I experience it every time I watch a movie or read a fictional story or play a videogame.  I convince my brain that what I’m perceiving is in a sense real in order to achieve the emotional payout.

The best movies, stories and videogames are the ones that suck them in the most completely, thus getting the biggest emotional payout.  You need to think the character is real and care about them in order to hope for them to save the day or get the girl, or in the case of tragedies, feel sad when they die.  Similarly you have to believe jesus died for your sins or loves you or exists at all to get the kinds of emotional payouts the faithful get.

There are two main differences between this and religious faith that I can see.  One is that the faith of an atheist is temporary – when the movie is over or the last page of the story turns or the videogame console powers down the atheist always wakes up and realizes it wasn’t real (as do theists, with cinema etc).  Religious faith is generally maintained in perpetuity. 

The second difference is that people do not generally base their morals, ideology, who they vote for etc on cinema or other fictional media.

But I thought it might be interesting to point out the similarities between the two modes of consciousness.  I think this can be called faith – though it isn’t quite the same thing and doesn’t at all have the same effect on the world.

[cue torches and pitchforks]


About agnophilo

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14 Responses to The Faith Of An Atheist.

  1. YouToMe says:

    I appreciate your sharing your views, Mrkwrth. Insightful analogies.

  2. opticalnoise says:

    Well, there’s not a perfect parallel, but it is worth noting that the phenomena you describe is generally referred to as “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

  3. whyzat says:

    This is interesting and I agree. I wish I could get more engrossed in TV shows and movies, but whenever I see a continuity issue or the writing is really bad, the illusion is lost. I guess I keep tuning in because of some unjustified faith that the writers will go to school.

  4. EXACTLY.All this “when good things happen it is evidence of God” can only be said if one even THINKS to attribute it to God. You know, biologically we evolved an array of emotional spectrum. It’s evident in those who take certain drugs which alter neurological functioning, can in turn have altered emotions and perceptions. I’ve been Agnostic/Atheist mostly since I was 11 years old, (with a few years of forced conversion inbetween), but when I OD’d on an otc medication which can induce psychotic effects that I will not name, I started preaching Jesus to everyone. Same thing when I was 18 and had a panic attack. It was all CIRCUMSTANTIAL of my biological state, not of REALITY. Something which exists through only faith is fantasy and/or supernatural, until it stands up to the burden of proof. Until then, people can play with words to make it seem different, but that’s about the only result achievable in the meantime.

  5. SisterMae says:

    Interesting thanks for the time you put in this post to share with us

  6. Interesting.  I haven’t flushed it all out yet, but I think it’s a solid analogy.

  7. Aloysius_son says:

    I know you are but what am I?

  8. What about our faith in Science?  Or the law?  Isn’t that kind of the same thing?  

  9. Doitean says:

    @crazygrampastuey – Not at all. You could have faith in justice, and believe that the wrongful will always be punished, etc., but that isn’t faith in the law. The law is something which unarguably exists (so what you have is not faith in the law, but rather faith that the law is right, which is very different).The same goes for science. I think Randall Munroe said it best: “The wonderful thing about science is that it doesn’t ask for your faith, it just asks for your eyes.”

  10. I believe in love ‘n people. There’s no need for anything else when we have fun together! Everyday is amazing! If believing in something makes you happy, that’s cool too!

  11. Nous_Apeiron says:

    I think this a really interesting comparison between provisionally held beliefs and permanently held beliefs.  Also, it speaks to an important part of human belief formation.If you don’t mind, I’d like to do a blog in response and discuss belief formation as it relates to the theist/atheist dichotomy and maybe even a bit about the ethics of belief.Would it bother you if I linked to this entry and tagged you?

  12. striemmy says:

    For old time’s sake and because I couldn’t not say anything, if you have ever expressed trust in another human being to perform vague and as yet undefined positive actions for you in the future, or to not perform vague and as yet undefined negative actions towards you in the future, then you’ve experienced faith. Don’t respond. You know I’m not really back lmao.

  13. agnophilo says:

    @YouToMe – Thanks : )@opticalnoise – True dat.@whyzat – I let stuff slide sometimes but sometimes not so much.@DrummingMediocrity – I agree, and good comment.  Hope you’re not ODing on anything lately though.@SisterMae – You’re welcome : )@ItsWhatEyeKnow – I agree with you agreeing with me.@Aloysius_son – Okay…@crazygrampastuey – Someone may irrationally have faith in either but neither system operates on faith.  Science is a process for empirically testing a hypothesis that doesn’t rely on faith and laws are a fallible human construct – we know both exist.@Doitean – Good quote.@milky_vampyre – You’re a very up person : )@Nous_Apeiron – Go nuts : )@striemmy – Well that’s more of a social contract, I wouldn’t say it’s the equivalent of believing in an invisible being.  The instincts that make most humans want to work together toward common goals and generally not screw each other over aren’t an article of faith, we know they exist.  And while we may in a sense be rolling the dice on people each time the odds they will live up to their end aren’t abysmal, otherwise the world would fall apart.

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