Articles of faith
The New Atheists or scientists, as I like to call them, don’t just have a problem with organised religion. They have a problem with the very concept of faith.
In science’s language, the definition of faith is this – living your life as though human-created stories are real things in the world.
Making concepts real is what faith does, and all concepts, by definition, are human-created. Faith is simply a belief that a belief is real.
I, for example, have faith in the existence of love. I know it cannot be explained as the causal link between two brains or organisms. I know love only exists because I believe it’s existence is real. But I also know that my faith in love, along with everyone elses, is all that keeps love in existence. I could inspect as many brains as I like, and I will not find love, only the brain parts which make the concept possible.
So how can I have faith in something’s being real, at the same time as knowing that it only exists as a concept? Doesn’t this make it an illusion?
This all depends how you want to define reality. There is no absolute rule stating that you have to restrict the concept of reality to exclude concepts. You may choose to believe that there is such a rule, and you can make your arguments around assuming that rule is true, just as many atheists do. That just isn’t a good way to argue (to assume your answer).
Personally, I wouldn’t want my concept of reality itself not be real – for me that would be confusing. If you think it works, let me know how.
So if you allow conceptual as well as material reality in, what then?
Well you have to accept that things like love, happiness, joy, freedom, responsibility and community are real, but only in so much as we believe in them.
Actually, the relationship is much more complex than that, we’re not talking about twinkerbell here. Faith, defined as a belief that a belief is real, is a necessary condition for the existence of our conceptual reality. But the articles of faith still have to acted upon to make them real. It’s no good believing love is real when no-one is actually in love.
Now here’s the crunch. Communal conceptual realities (or you could call them faith communities I guess, or folks that share the same story) that do not include the discoveries of science don’t personally suit me. I’m an atheist, and always have been.
And there is no doubt that literalist religious conceptual systems can cause harm in some cases – the intelligent design lab biologist for example, or the Al Qu’aida bomber. However, most people who believe in concepts that massively contradict material reality – that the world is young, the people go to a special place after death and so on – lead pretty normal lives, considering.
The point is that there is so much more besides, which fits in just perfectly with the material reality, but which still make use of our ability to live our lives within complex and beautiful narratives. Here are just a few examples:
Awe and wonder. Richard Dawkins prefered conceptual reality, built on our emotional (concept) reaction to beautiful(concept) natural (concept) scenes.
Golden Rule. Love thy neighbour. Perfect consequentialist rule of thumb.
Humanism. Ain’t life great. Couldn’t it be great for everyone.
Humanitarianism. Ain’t life shit. Couldn’t it be great for everyone?
Progress. I believe there will be a situation in the future, which could be better or worse depending what I do now.
History. What I am now is because of great-great-great-great-great grandpa’s awesomeness.
Evolution. How brilliant is it that complex life, or life itself, even exists. How great that the ancestors survived and changed.
Freedom. I can do anything.
Community. We can do anything.
Creativity. I can improve the world by making interesting and beautiful things.
and last of all Depth. There are such things as shallow and deep experiences, and the deeper ones are often better.
There are tons more, let me know your favourite.