In an attempt to encourage less religious backed belief, promote the separation of church and state, and remove backward thinking from our political landscape, atheists will often attack religion as a source for much of these problems. Christians trying to drive out evolution from class rooms, Catholics demonizing the use of contraceptives, both trying to legislate away women’s rights, the list goes on. There is something from pretty much any religion that someone not of that religion, or someone that tries to be more rational than others, can pick out as problematic and try to counter. However, there is one important point that I want to make as someone active in the atheist community. The root of these problems, the bad legislation, the hate speech, the removal of rights, and fear based ideology; they aren’t summed up by “The Church” or “Religion” in general. No, the answer is much simpler and much more problematic-the problem is faith itself.
The belief in things without evidence, the idea that you “know” something because you simply “know” it and that this idea is unassailable and to do so is the gravest of insults, this is faith. This idea of faith lies at the heart of so many bad decisions and actions throughout human history it’s ridiculous that faith isn’t an epithet in our modern vernacular.
Now, faith doesn’t have to be specifically faith in a religion to be harmful, faith is harmful in nearly all instances. How so? Well, let’s take a look at patriotism as a prime example. “America is the best country therefor our actions are justified” or “America is God’s country, therefor policy X is correct” or even “America is the land of the free and liberty is priority number one, so the US would never have used conquest, subjugation, or shady means to prosper”. These are all ideas that may or not be commonly held but that are actively harmful because they rely on a presupposition that the individual just “knows” their statements to be true. They are actively harmful because they foster the idea that in this case America is the best and any possible evidence that violates these beliefs will become immediately suspect or outright denied because hey-this individual has faith that they are right. You’re a fool to question their faith in this case.
This applies to anything though, not just patriotism, but rather, ANY –ism. Racism, sexism, capitalism, socialism, patriotism are all examples that can and have been taken to extremes, not based on evidence, but based on a blind intrinsic belief that they are correct. So when I say faith, I mean it in a broad sense, believing something to be true without rational evidence based approaches and a presupposition of certain things to reach an end argument.
So to turn this back to why this is important for rational individuals to consider I will point out that rationalism is the opposite of faith. Why does a rational person believe something? Because they have evidence to show that it is more than likely true, not because they just accept it to be true alone and without question. The reason the idea of faith can muddy the water when attempting to counter religious dogma is because rationally, atheists know that religious beliefs are fundamentally hollow. Since religious beliefs rest upon faith, but manifest themselves through religion, faith is the foundation of these dogmatic religious teachings. This is why we must separate the two if we are to make any progress in the long term against religious crusaders and bigotry. We must separate and discuss not only religious dogma, but faith itself.
Faith is the true problem in our church/state issue. Faith is the true problem with the same sex marriage attacks from the religious right. Faith is the true problem with the proliferation of AIDS and the withholding of contraceptives. Faith is the true problem with the movement to deny women’s rights in concern to her own body. We can attack religious belief as long as we like, and we’ll be 100% correct in saying that the Bible or Koran or Torah is inconsistent and contradictory. You will have no argument from me on the ridiculousness of religious belief. However, in order to actually make progress, in order to actually get people to see just how hateful or wrong they are, we need to not point out the flaws of religion, but point out the folly that is faith.
Believing in things without evidence is not a virtue. Faith is not a good thing; faith is a very bad thing. Whether it is faith that your car will never break, faith that your favored political system is better than others, or faith in an old man in the sky, none of these are good things for the individual or society. Rationality and consequence based reasoning are the cure to this nonsensical approach to life. Otherwise why do people change their oil? March for social change? Not believe in ALL old men in the sky stories? Because we know that rationality is important, we’re just afraid to get people to apply it to their religious faith. Faith is the ultimate surrender of your mind, the ultimate capitulation of reason.
So remember, pointing out the flaws in religion is necessary and important, but we must also remember to denounce faith as well. When someone says “just take it on faith” or “this is my personal faith”, you know that person has simply run out of answers and the willpower to find them. They’ve given up a bit of their personhood in order to feel better about themselves, and the sooner we end this nonsense; the sooner we end religious nonsense as well.