Monday, 29 July 2013


Faith: I know what it is like. I can say what faith meant for me when I was a believer. Faith was a struggle. It was squeezing my eyes shut and trying to listen to the darkness to hear a voice – anything – even a whisper, some sign of a response from someone; from something. Faith was constantly trying to tell myself what I should believe. Internal apologetics, excuses for ignoring inconsistencies in scripture, defences against logical impossibilities, apologetics that always ended with me saying sorry to myself for coming up empty.

I have to admit that I'm a lazy atheist, which is fortunate because atheism doesn't need any effort. There is no struggle to look for reasons to not have belief. There aren't any atheist apologetics because when it comes to belief because there are no scriptures to recite, no prayers to say, nothing to work at. Because I'm lazy, when I want to find something out, I ask those who know about that thing. The best way to do this is to find those whose ideas work:

If I want to know why the Earth orbits the Sun, I ask a physicist. I ask a physicist because physicists come up with miracles that work, everyday miracles that work so often we stop calling them miracles. Time and space twist in Relativity, but I don't need to have faith in them because my SatNav works.

If I want to know how life evolved I ask a biologist. I ask a biologist because a biologist shows us magic that is real. The sparks of mutation fuel the explosion of evolution, and the results are millions of species. Evolution happens so often that I don't need to have faith it in biology, I just need to wait and watch the species appear, both from the rocks and in the world around us.

If I want to know about mind I ask a neuroscientist. I ask a neuroscientist because a neuroscientist watches the threads of neurons as they weave the tapestry of mind on a fabric of little grey cells. A neuroscientist shows us the soul in action. I don't need to have faith in neuroscience, I can watch the MRI scan read minds.

If I want to understand meaning I ask a philosopher. I ask a philosopher because philosophy is fun, and shows how magnificent the human mind can be at exploring its own abilities and limitations. I adore the fluent sarcasm of Hume, the dry wit of Russell, the intensity of Kant, the precision of Dennett. I don't need to have faith in philosophy, because philosophy is words and words exist (whatever Derrida says).

At no time do I ask a theologian. It's just too much effort. I don't want to have to work at faith with all the bother of apologetics and the struggle for meaning, and the hunting down of the correct verses and the historical interpretations. I don't want to have to go back to wishing with all my wishing cells that the communion wafer really was some sort of body of Christ, that prayers did get to heaven, that the Pope would actually start to say reasonable things about sex and love.

I understand faith. Faith is the scaffolding that helps build hope, hope for things unseen. Hope for life after death, for ultimate justice, for celestial meaning. But, faith does tend to falter, and with good reason. Faith is its own antidote for many – that faith is needed is evidence against that which is hoped for. Some people – many, many people – learn to treasure life and don't need the hope for more. We realise we have to make our own justice, our own meaning, because justice and meaning that are real are better than those which are hoped for.

Perhaps it's just me: faith uses up energy. I'm too lazy to even be the kind of atheist that others often are. I have other uses of that energy: meals to cook, books to write, games to play, people to love.

1 comment:

Quine said...

Here Steve, I think you will like this: Kant & Hume