Faith & Atheism

I recently read a great post by John Remy at regarding the criticism about atheists also having “faith” as a fundamental tenant of their world view. I can see why this criticism is annoying – the atheist (loose or strict) relies on evidence and rationality for their world view, and to be told their fundamental beliefs are (surprise!) just based on blind faith, will see this as an insult.

As there are many versions of atheists, there are probably many versions of theists. To use Sam Harris’ argument – just because a theist believes in God does not mean he will by blind faith believe a person who tells him his wife is cheating on him – he will quite naturally require proof. My guess is that most theists try run their lives by the same principles as atheists – by upholding logic and reason as ideals. But Harris would argue that although the theist is quite rational, they are not consistently so. They separate an area of their life called “religion” from these standards, and believe all kinds of unprovable and irrational ideas that if held to the same scrutiny they would in most other everyday matters, would fall apart. A good argument, especially in the light of how badly religion seems to have treated humanity since the dawn of time.

However, a closer study of God in the OT and the meaning of the Hebrew word “faith” needs to be done before this faith debate goes on much further, the Christian critics being the instigators. Before we start throwing around the term “faith” we all should understand what it means, or else the disagreement will stem entirely from semantics. I have this nagging feeling that the biblical concept of faith (I don’t care about any other concept) and the atheist ideals of rationality and proof are synonymous, or at least completely harmonious. I see the word “faith” (as used in pop-Christianity) as just another religious buzzword that has no clear meaning when used, like “holy” or “worship” or “glorify.” Many Christians may take it to mean “belief in what cannot be known,” but this isn’t biblical. Biblically, it probably means something more like “trust in what has <i>already</i> been proven to be true.” In a biblical sense, trust or “faith” in God was something that was built up over time – built upon proof after proof that God was who he said he was. Any other concept of faith proposed by Christians is non-biblical and deserves to be criticized by those within and outside as nonsensical and irrational.

At this point, I will call the Christian that understands faith to be truth grounded in evidence as a “rational/biblical” Christian. I am not saying all Christians are rational or biblical, but I am just trying to label this group for clarity in my later discussion.

The rational/biblical Christian and the atheist at this point are in agreement, but will not be so for long. How a truth is “proven” will become the permanent arena of disagreement. The Christian will see the reality of God’s existence backed up by daily interaction on a spiritual level. The atheist will see these “intuitions” and “feelings” as either something chemical or as simply unexplainable with current scientific knowledge, but whose origins are undoubtedly of the physical dimension.

As a Christian, I do not know why God does not make a physical or aural appearance to doubting people, but I have a feeling that if it was effective, he would do it all the time, for everyone. Setting aside the gigantic problems that behavior like that would have on man’s free-will, proving to people that he (God) exists is more difficult than simply appearing, which can easily be dismissed as a hallucination. The proof must be cemented on a deeper level – Seeing an image of a person does not mean they are alive, or even real at all – some additional form of proof is needed – something deeper. If my wife died, and I started seeing her walking around but no one else did, would I not think myself insane? Proof of this kind is complex, usually involving all kinds of factors – of course the senses are involved, but there are social ones as well as internal leanings/feelings/sensations that are hard to describe.

So it appears to me if we are only talking about the logical grounds for disagreement, that the dividing line between the rational Christian and the rational atheist comes down to one in belief of a supernatural reality or realm. This is probably an oversimplification too – maybe a better way to word it is a disagreement with at least the Judeo-Christian concept of supernatural reality, but even that description may be only accurate in the context of American society and culture.

My continual purpose of this website is as vehemently as possible remind people (Christians first, others second) that we are not logical, but instead are a bumbling mess of emotions, traditions, and colorful pasts that taint the logical grounding behind our beliefs. So while the debate rages on, instead of taking a side and making fun of the opposite one, I acknowledge that I do not know all the answers, and the beliefs I have are based on a little logic, my upbringing, and the few certain ones that God himself taught me.

    One Response to “Faith & Atheism”

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