An Essay on the Faith of an Atheist

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An Essay on the Faith of an Atheist

As I was perusing the shelves of my local bookstore, I found a book written by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek entitled, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.”  I have read many Christian authors and engaged in many discussions in which atheists are claimed to require faith for their beliefs.  We atheists claim that our position is the elevation of evidence for our beliefs over authority and intuition.  However, I feel that there are different realms in the atheist worldview that require faith, and I am willing to accept this issue.  The atheist may scoff at me for claiming that we require faith in anything, but I think that careful scrutiny of all that the atheist worldview entails will lead one to the same conclusion.


Firstly, I must state that in the realm of existence for intelligent entities and beings such as gods, humans, or aliens; reason, not faith, is mandatory.  The existence of these things can be examined both by empirical evidence and a priori logical reasoning.  I make this statement because some Christians chastize atheists for claiming that we only give merit to experience as a good method for acquiring knowledge.  I find this to be a gross distortion of the atheist position, as I gladly employ logical argumentation in my indictment of theism, and these arguments require no experimentation or experience. 


Faith on insufficient evidence for imaginary beings is silly, absurd, and at worst, dangerous.  But I do have faith in something I know to exist.  Rejecting solipsism, the idea that you may only know of the existence of yourself, the atheist acknowledges the existence of other people, the grotesqueries and triumphs of human thought, and hope for the future that our reach may actually meet our grasp.


That said, I have faith in humanity.  I have faith in people.  And this faith is far more reasonable than faith in a being for which I have insufficient evidence for its very existence.  People exist, and not only should we have faith in people, but we must.


The theist may claim that the atheist has no ultimate basis for ethics, meaning of life, or even a reason for living without God.  To this I say, “So what?”  If there is no ultimate basis for morality or set meaning of life, then that is simply a fact; we must not invent imaginary beings to rescue us from the perceived barren desolation of intellectual facts that displease us.  But is this fact really so depressing?


If humans are responsible for inventing their own codes of morality and their own purpose in life, is that such a bad thing?  Must we be intellectually dishonest and impose our will on others without proper justification?  I have faith in humanity not only because I know humanity to actually exist, but I know that the overwhelming diversity of the human species requires broad intellectual discourse and consensus on an international scale.  Reason has the power to unite in the secular realm.  Reason need not conform to religion, but religion better damn well conform to reason.


No law can be passed and no political action can be taken without a degree of reasonableness that is independent of religious influence.  I ask you, place your faith in humanity.  I know that people are dissappointing.  People can be shits.  One of my favorite philosophers once claimed, “Hell is other people.”  But the sad fact is that other people are all we’ve got.  People may be capable of devlish things, but when folly obscures the goodness and optimism we have in our friends and neighbors, we must dig for the better part of humanity with renewed hope and faith in each other.


As an atheist, I do have faith.  I have faith in myself and humanity as a whole.  In a raging tempest, there may be a small opening in the sky in the eye of the storm where light seethes in, providing warmth and sanctuary from the chaos and injustice of the world.  It lies in each of us, not some mystical realm.  I would rather look at the world with a clear, unaltered view and accept it for all of the hard truths it has to offer.  I would rather navigate in this raging tempest in the waters of realism than place my faith in a paradise fantasy world created by looking at the world with rose-tinted spectacles.  The atheist has the courage and honesty to navigate through life on the only ship that exists:  humanity.  Whether the hull be leaky, the sails tattered, and the crew uncooperative and mutinous, this is the only ship we have, and without it, we all sink to the bottom with the myriad of extinct species that have ever lived.


Whether we are claimed tomorrow by a massive falling star from the heavens, a burst of radiation from a distant star commencing a new beginning, or we manage to survive up to several billion years from now when the sun consumes us all, it is highly likely that all our history will be wiped clean one day and that humanity will be no more.


And perhaps the waters we sail on in this imperfect ship offer us no final reward and no destination.  Every step in our journey; however, is the journey itself.  And it’s all we have.


If every day it rained, would you stay inside and create a world of make-believe for yourself?  Or would you one day venture into the rain, let it soak you, and become at peace with it?  I not only venture into the rain, I dance in it.  Why?  Because this is reality and we must rely on each other to make the best of it.  Do I know that atheism offers us something better?  Do I pretend to know that if everyone were like me, the world would be a better place?  No.  I don’t know these things.


I do have faith in people, though; and I wish those who didn’t agree with me simply had faith in me too.  It’s not so much that I want everyone at the table to eat the same things as me, but I’d at least like a spot at the table without revulsion and flippancy.  Despite our differences, I would hope that we place more faith in people we know to be tangible and real than mystical, intangible nonsense that has no bearing on the cooperation and success of our species as a whole.


I am reminded of a Christian claim that the existence of martyrs in the early days of Christianity provides good evidence for the truth of their convictions.  Why would someone die for something he or she didn’t believe in?  Illustrating the fact that there are martyrs in many religions of differing religious persuasions equally solid in their convictions is beside the point.  The atheist is an atheist not for wonder and majesty, but because it is the only reality that makes any sense.  Questions do not have easy answers for atheists.  We must search harder and turn over far more rocks than the theist in order to find peace and solace in this mad, mad world.  We do not choose atheism for the bounty it provides, rather we accept the destination that our reason leads us to and cope with everything else.


Who risks more?  A Christian martyr who believes that in death, he is offered eternal reward; or the atheist who accepts his demise with courage?  If this is all we have, every day is more precious.  Every moment must be truly lived as though there was nothing but that moment.  For whatever reason, I have faith that life is a good thing even if I and many others in my predicament have considered premature defeat.  And because I have faith that my life is a good thing without concrete philosophical justification, and because I have faith that I can provide meaning and purpose in my life; I have faith that humanity is a good thing too, and I will fight to protect it peacefully with my voice, pen, and keystrokes.


Yes, atheists have faith.  The ultimate mysteries of life are not certain to us once we accept disbelief.  But such is the way of the healthy skeptic when you couple it with optimism in the human condition and the realization that the good in the world starts with you, not an imaginary friend.  Atheism is not so much rejection of something supernatural on intellectual grounds as it is the act of embracing your own flaws and strengths.  When you make mistakes, it is up to you to fix them not by picking up an inane book filled with mystical mumbo-jumbo, but by picking yourself up by the bootstraps and relying on yourself.  When you suceed, you owe it to yourself.  Why does the theist blame only themselves for his mistakes, but then credit God for anything good?  It’s a two-way street, and we are the only ones capable of accepting the responsibility for both.  Bask in the darkness of your defeats and the glory of your successes.  You alone are responsible for yourself and the freedom that atheism forces upon you.


If we do not have enough faith to be atheists, it is because we don’t have enough faith in ourselves and humanity.  It’s because we lack the courage to place our trust in each other, and we project our vision for something better on specters and phantoms, as if these idols will provide better justification for the things we need to believe in to make our existence tolerable.  I have faith in peace, love, and optimism.  I may not have good reasons for having faith in these things, but I choose to nonetheless. 


I leave you with the wisdom of a zen sage.  “The true miracle is not in walking on water or flying through the air, but in walking on the earth.”  Let us walk this earth with courage, honesty, integrity, and hope in ourselves and others.