James Walsh

This disease called ‘Faith’

Image by Gabriel Saldana (Flickr)

First, a short quiz…

Who am I?

  • I attend small groups alongside those with similar convictions, and yet also massive conferences where international speakers celebrate and justify our shared beliefs.
  • I have a whole bookshelf in my house dedicated to literature supporting the beliefs I adhere to, quote passages from books to show others where they are going wrong in life, and devote myself to the promotion and expansion of my beliefs by converting those around me.
  • I even annoy my friends on Facebook with status updates and sometimes humorous, sometimes not-so humorous pictures/memes that justify my position of faith.

If you guessed ‘a Christian’...you’re wrong.

If you chose ‘an atheist’, give the lady a cigar!

Yup, atheists are just as dogmatic about their beliefs…their faith…as the most fundamental Christian. So why, may I ask, do Christians cop such a beating over their beliefs when atheists rarely do?

Go to any website that even hints at ‘God’ and sooner or later you will find the comments section degenerating into a war-zone of hyperbole and condescending self-righteous dogma (on both sides of the argument) between the ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers.’  Much like the schoolyard, it doesn’t take long for the name calling to begin, with ‘mental illness’, ‘idiot’, ‘infidel’, and ‘ignorant moron’ being thrown around…and those are the more pleasant terms…

Allow me to be upfront here – I believed in God from a young age. When I was younger I used to go to church and served in the ministry, and I still try and live my life based on biblical principals.

It may surprise you to know that I don’t drive down the freeway with my eyes closed safe in the knowledge that the Lord will guide me. Nor have I sold all my possessions in case the rapture happens tomorrow. And you might need to take a seat so you don’t fall over when you find out I don’t actually know what happens to someone after they die.

I am offended because due to my beliefs, some think of me as mentally ill or delusional in some way. I don’t think of myself as a dumbass that goes through life with my eyes closed to the real world, clapping my hands and singing about rainbows and bluebirds.

I like to think that I use the brain God gave me on a daily basis to learn new and interesting things.

And one of the things I have learnt with my God-given brain is that atheists are just the same as me – suffering from the same ‘mental illness’ and ‘ignorance’ commonly referred to as ‘Faith’.

Bertrand Russell, one of the great philosophers of our time, said: The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubt.

The thing I like most about my faith is that it’s not absolute – there is room for doubt and the ‘what if?’ scenario.

In every belief system you get your nut-jobs so enamoured with dogma and strict beliefs that they will actively repress the thoughts and actions of others under the guise of living by their convictions, while actually taking it upon themselves to make sure the world lives by their beliefs, no matter the cost.

Regardless of one’s beliefs, I think we can all agree that suicide bombers, holy wars, genocide, religious persecution and abuse under the statute of doing the bidding of a higher power is wrong on every level. So when you consider that we have become a world where radical Buddhists violently persecute Muslims, led proudly by a monk calling himself the ‘Burmese Bin Laden‘, you know we’re in some kind of strife.

It would be easy for an Atheist to draw examples of evil people justifying their actions with religion, but what about all the good things in the world because of religion? The Salvation Army, Red Cross, World Vision and Compassion are just some companies that enrich the world with the work and help they give. Mother Theresa, Buddha and the Dalai Lama are just some examples of specific religious people that promote peace, charity and compassion.

Crazy comes in all shapes and sizes, but you also need to give credit where credit is due.

My brand of Christianity promotes and even encourages open thought and doubt. Romans 12:2 encourages me to renew my mind daily, taking stock of what I think I might know and then put those thoughts to the test to sift what may be bullcrap and what might be truth. Many atheists assert their absolute truth – ‘there is no god’, with science as their bedrock, championing the gospel of ‘Logic and Truth’.

T.H Huxley (known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog) and Stephen Jay Gould (paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and historian of science) both state that the scientific method cannot adequately settle and adjudicate the problem of the existence of a God.

The popular arguments are that:

  1. It has not been proven that God exists THEREFORE God does not exist.
  2. It has not been proven that God does not exist, THEREFORE God must exist.

Atheists and theists alike love to argue about upon whom the onus of proof falls, but lack of proof neither confirms nor denies a proposition. Both sides hold equal responsibility to justify their beliefs. It can’t just be about proving the other person wrong. It must be balanced out with testing your own faith – about trying to prove yourself wrong.

For me, this is the only reasonable way to approach the concept of ‘belief’ and ‘faith’.

This idea was fleshed out in a June 2013 ‘TED’ Talk by Lesley Hazelton.

For those who don’t know about ‘TED’, it is a non-profit organisation that, in its own words, is devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading.’ Hazelton’s talk, The Doubt Essential to Faith, had as its central premise the idea that without constantly challenging one’s core beliefs, extremist fundamentalism has the space to propagate and spread.

It follows from this that questioning one’s faith is the only way to avoid extremism and is vital in creating a world where differing faiths can exist alongside one another.

Let’s face it – no-one actually has all the answers in life, and I’m pretty sure atheists are not privy to some infinite absolute knowledge about life that the rest of the world is not. If they are, then they’re stuck in a bit of a pickled paradox where they themselves are something of an ‘Infinite Being’ and co-incidentally wouldn’t believe in themselves.

At best, an atheist is just an agnostic wearing a different hat, suffering, like the rest of us, this disease called ‘faith.’

James Walsh

James has completed a Bachelor of Music, Masters of Secondary Education and is close to completing a Bachelor of Behavioral Studies. A student of life who thinks everything is interesting and is always looking to learn something new.

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17 Comments

  1. Bill said:

    Beautifully put Joel, and you saved me a whole lot of time.. if you can’t see him, hear him, feel him or touch him, but you keep insisting he’s there, then you have a bit of explaining to do, or you’re insane. If you really really really want to believe it then that’s fine, but leave me and my children out of it.

  2. Lisa Kolie said:

    You should Write more on topics such as these, fantastic article and very well rounded. Great job.

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  4. Andre said:

    There’s something’s that cannot be explained and for me means there’s a higher power at work, the unexplained the miraculous. That doesn’t mean I’m right it just means for me it’s real.

  5. James Walsh said:

    If only that were true, but in the global scale of things there is a different picture being painted. I don’t know if you’re aware but there are “Atheist Churches” being planted around the world;

    https://sslcam.news.com.au/cam/authorise?channel=pc&url=http%3a%2f%2fwww.adelaidenow.com.au%2fnews%2fsouth-australia%2fatheist-church-movement-the-sunday-assembly-holds-first-adelaide-gathering-on-wednesday%2fstory-fni6uo1m-1226762869736

    http://www.news.com.au/national/atheist-megachurch-coming-to-oz/story-fncynjr2-1226757725802

    Where you get churches (any religion) you get dogma and once you start a church you have a religion. While these global “Atheists” don’t share the same beliefs as you, your tarred with
    the same brush as them as they use Atheism’s name in vain.

  6. James Walsh said:

    “Our argument is this: you have not presented sufficient evidence for your claims, therefore we do not believe them.” Isn’t this just the same as “It has not been proven that God exists THEREFORE God does not exist.”? It seems you are making the same argument only worded differently? So its kind of a valid reflection of the arguments I was referring to.

    I also am not a fervent believer, no matter what. I am just from the opposite side of the coin from you. If I was also offered compelling information I would also change my beliefs like you.

  7. James Walsh said:

    There is a wide and varied community of atheists globally, much like there is with christianity. I’m not aware if you know but there are Atheist churches being planted around the world – http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/atheist-church-movement-the-sunday-assembly-holds-first-adelaide-gathering-on-wednesday/story-fni6uo1m-1226762869736

    http://www.news.com.au/national/atheist-megachurch-coming-to-oz/story-fncynjr2-1226757725802

    Where you get churches (any religion) you get dogma. These atheists may be giving you a bad name. I am not talking about you as an individual, but the global community.

  8. Julie Zommers said:

    GREAT article James … I have to say I agreed with you on every single point. I particularly liked this bit: ‘Both sides hold equal responsibility to justify their beliefs. It can’t just be about proving the other person wrong. It must be balanced out with testing your own faith – about trying to prove yourself wrong.” It’s all about what you believe, and trusting other people to make their own choices. As long as its always about peace and love… That’s all that matters. Very thought provoking, thanks!

  9. julian said:

    Great article! I like the way its written, wether people agree or not its great to once again have a piece that allows us to take heed of our own thoughts and beliefs and start a conversation. atheism is a belief system and Christianity is a belief system so I totally understand the point you were trying to make. Good work james, thanks for this! and thanks TBS for creating this avenue

  10. younahmean said:

    Anybody who can be accurately called an Atheist simply makes no claim in the exist of supernatural beings. That’s all. A person who actually claims that no such being exists would more accurately be called an ‘anti-theist’, as they are actively arguing the non-existence of god or gods. Atheists do not do this. Atheism is simply the absence of religious belief. In most cases it is not dogmatic in the slightest, and requires no ‘faith’ as no claim is being made. James please try to understand what atheism really means before making these kinds of statements.

  11. Joel said:

    This article is largely based on a semantic trick, conflating two different uses of the word “faith”.

    “I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow” – meaning that I trust that this will happen because experience and education tell me so.

    “I have faith that Jesus will save my soul” – meaning that I believe a whole set of supernatural claims and dogma.

    They are two different things, but this article treats them as if they were the same in order to make a point which simply isn’t true. So let’s clarify by only using the second meaning of the word.

    Religious faith, by definition, is believing in something without evidence for it.

    As an atheist, I do not have “faith” in my position. I have a reasonable belief, based on the evidence presented to me. And should new compelling evidence be presented to me, then I will change my belief.

    That’s the difference between our positions. You have faith – believing fervently, no matter what. I follow the evidence and believe what’s reasonable.

    So please don’t tell atheists that we have faith like yours. We don’t. We have a completely different world view and it insults us to pretend otherwise.

    And by the way, neither of your “popular arguments” reflects the view of any atheist I know. Our argument is this: you have not presented sufficient evidence for your claims, therefore we do not believe them.

    The time for believing things is after they have been shown to be true. And I’m sure you apply this logic in every other part of your life. If not, I have an invisible Rolls Royce to sell you.

  12. Priuslover said:

    Christians don’t want to be labelled as mentally ill yet they want to believe in a deity to have a moral code. Sounds a bit mental to me.

  13. chatman24601 said:

    “Yup, atheists are just as dogmatic about their beliefs…their faith…as the most fundamental Christian. ”

    Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence. Having grown up with fundamentalist Christians, I can tell that it’s absolutely not true of even the most strident atheist.

    “Both sides hold equal responsibility to justify their beliefs. It can’t just be about proving the other person wrong.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot

    “but what about all the good things in the world because of religion? The Salvation Army, Red Cross…”

    OK, this annoys me as a long time member of the Red Cross. The Red Cross (and Red Crescent) are entirely secular and always have been. The Red Cross emblem was not meant to represent Christianity but was a colour reversal of the Swiss flag.

    There are many very good religious charities, just as there are many very good secular charities. Undoubtedly religion can inspire charitable acts. But would those people cease giving to charity if all of a sudden they had a crisis of faith? If so, what would that say about them?

    “1.It has not been proven that God exists THEREFORE God does not exist.”

    Nobody, not even Richard Dawkins, uses this argument. The argument is much more along the lines of point 6 on the Dawkins scale: “I cannot know for certain [that there isn’t a God] but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

  14. Marzipan said:

    Jeez, I need to learn how to write more succinctly. Sorry for the word spill!

  15. Pete said:

    Not to be argumentative but I wouldn’t call it arrogant. I think its good and important that people have convictions because they keep you grounded in life – and from those convictions you can assess how you want to live your life without being swayed by every new fickle concept that comes along. I relate convictions to managing emotions in that way – if you have a strong grip on who you are, you won’t fall victim every time a new emotion pulls you in a different direction – for instance, you won’t find yourself giving up any time something feels slightly too hard. and thats just about keeping yourself stable. To call anyone arrogant for their conviction robs everyone, including yourself, of the right to learn, explore and adopt a belief. In my opinion, it doesn’t threaten you or your own belief. But its probably a matter of how someone expresses those beliefs that could make them appear arrogant.

    Great article, James! I’ve thought about this a lot as well and it was great to see it written out so well.

  16. grooviechickie said:

    Atheism is called ‘payback’. Thousands of years of repression, death and destruction under the name of God means that it’s now time for another religion, an anti-biblical religion. I don’t agree with either side, and they’re both still beliefs. Atheists have a fervent belief in not-believing. I’m a fence-sitter. We really don’t know, so saying that you think you do is arrogant. Let it be.

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