Atheism Is Not A Faith

Morning coffee not yet entirely digested, I flipped through the news. Brain set to autopilot, I somehow found myself participating in a competition for tickets to the new movie: The Golden Compass, a fantasy adventure starring Nicole Kidman. To win tickets, I had to answer the following question (loosely translated):

To which faith does The Golden Compass subscribe?

A: Atheism

B: Christianity

C: Buddhism

Krhshhhtspschhhhh. That’s the sound of the autopilot breaking. “Wait a minute”, my brain said: “Atheism is not a faith!”. Sure, it sounds like a faith, but so does xenophobia. The popular understanding is that atheists believe there is no god: that’s a belief, right? Right? Not quite.

Atheism comes from the Greek language: “a-theos” means “without-god”. Atheism means the lack of belief in god or gods. Let’s throw that up in the air and taste it a little bit: the lack of belief. Being atheist doesn’t require you to believe in anything, it doesn’t require you to dress in a special way, it doesn’t have any leaders and it makes no demands. In fact you could say it’s a default position. A fresh baby, born straight out of its mothers womb: mind is a clean slate. Atheist by default. One cute little cuddly, laughing eating and pooping atheist.

Faith is a label that’s tacked on to the baby later on. Sometimes at the christening, sometimes when they’re told of the easter bunny Jebus Thor God. Atheism is not a faith. Atheism is making the best of your life, here and now. There’s no promise of eternal life and there are no answers to be found in books. There’s only the marvel of the complexity of the world, the universe and tiny poop-machines called babies. Atheist babies.

There’s no atheist doctrine that says there cannot be a god or gods. It’s just a healthily skeptical view of the world that says that unless you can actually prove that a god or gods exist, it’s equally likely that god is a spaghetti monster or the easter bunny.

Ultimately, I answered “atheism” and moved on. The author of the quiz was probably just lazy and on a deadline. He’d probably forgotten that he was an atheist himself at one time.

14 thoughts on “Atheism Is Not A Faith”

  1. lm says:

    well all you said about atheism only proves that it is a faith.

    “Atheism means the lack of belief in god or gods.” you’ve said , but further:

    “Atheism is making the best of your life, here and now.” – making the best based on what? Atheists replace the faith in god with the faith in something else – money, ideas, Steve Jobs and so on. Babies believe that somebody will comfort them and give some food to survive, otherwise they cry.

    When people dont believe in anything, they got depressed and use drugs, alcoghol or become obsessive with cleaning or whatever just to switch the brains off.

    • it was my coffee aftermath 😀
  2. Joen says:

    Hmm, well said.

    I realize now that I should have written: atheism is not a religion. That would would have communicated better.

    However, I am not the founder of atheism, and just because I mention that I personally think atheism is about making the best of your life here and now, doesn’t mean that that’s somehow a formalized procedure for atheists.

    The point is: being an atheist doesn’t require anything of you. You don’t have to make the best of your life. You don’t have to believe there is no god. In fact, if you don’t do anything at all, you’re an atheist. You can be entirely faithless and atheist.

    Religion, which I find is usually referred to as “faith”, does require something of you. It requires the suspension of disbelief: there is an invisible being higher than yourself that does things. Some religions require women to veil themselves. Others require you to pray daily. Most people pick and choose what to believe in their specific religion, but common to all of is that you have to believe.

    Again, atheism doesn’t require anything of you. That’s the main difference.

    When people dont believe in anything, they got depressed and use drugs, alcoghol or become obsessive with cleaning or whatever just to switch the brains off.

    I disagree. Just because you don’t “believe” in something that’s not necessarily true, doesn’t mean you suddenly get depressed and alcoholic.

  3. Rob Mientjes says:

    Again, atheism doesn

  4. lm says:

    ok lets have a religion – faith pair.

    Religion is an institution so when you belong to it you must comply. Atheism is an institution of the man self i agree.

    “atheism doesn

  5. Joen says:

    lm,

    Some of the things you say are right on. Yes you can impose a self-invented religion upon yourself, yes a religion is an institution.

    But atheism is not an institution. I’m sure the baby hasn’t thought about becoming an atheist. Why? Because you are an atheist until you actually decide to become something else. Atheist is the clean slate — nothing is imposed on you at all.

    My coffee has also stopped working 🙂

  6. Robin says:

    Atheism is the faith of lack of religion?

    There we go. Heh.

  7. lm says:

    “Atheist is the clean slate

  8. Joen says:

    Well, ofg, I see what you mean, but I still think you’re just rendering the popular misconception what an atheist is.

    Let’s discuss the semantics and definitions first, though, because there are many definitions.

    Atheism,

    Atheism, as a philosophical view, is the position that either affirms the nonexistence of gods or rejects theism. When defined more broadly, atheism is the absence of belief in deities, alternatively called nontheism. Although atheism is often equated with irreligion, some religious philosophies, such as secular theology and some varieties of Theravada Buddhism, also lack belief in a personal god.

    That’s a more broad definition. So, let’s chop that up. It can mean:

    1. I have thought about it, and I believe there is no god.
    2. I have thought about it, but I don’t see the reason to believe there’s a god.
    3. I haven’t thought about it, so I have no belief.

    Despite them being similarly looking, 1 and 2 are actually different. One believes, the other doesn’t. The third example is the baby. Obviously the baby hasn’t thought about god, because it’s a rather complex concept, what with the fact that we can’t point at him or prove him or demonstrate his (her? their?) power.

    Agnosticism,

    Agnostics claim either that it is not possible to have absolute or certain knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of God or gods; or, alternatively, that while individual certainty may be possible, they personally have no knowledge. Agnosticism in both cases involves some form of skepticism. There are, however, some agnostics who believe in a god.

    A lot of people I know are agnostics. I used to be one myself. Bottomline with agnostics: they don’t know, but they’re saying maybe.

    Faith,

    To trust [..]

    To believe without reason […]

    A means to obtain something […]

    In either case, faith is based upon the interpretation of the intangible (feelings, emotions, etc.) instead of the physically tangible and is primarily associated with religion in modern times.

    According to the Bible, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, New International Version).

    And finally:

    Religion,

    A religion is a set of common beliefs and practices generally held by a group of people, often codified as prayer, ritual, and religious law. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and mystic experience. The term “religion” refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.

    So, after all these definitions, I’d like to sort of explain why I still think atheism is the default stance, and why everyone at some point were atheists.

    What is god? What does a baby believe? When do we start believing? What are we until we start believing?

    If we have to use a word for it, atheist will do fine. There’s no reason to believe a baby is born with an inherent knowledge of a god. God is always presented to the child at a later point, and most all religious people today share the religion of their parents, i.e. the religion of the one that brought them up. To me that points to the fact that god is something to be learned.

    Not having learned this, the baby must be atheist.

    Should the baby grow up in a nonreligious family and be presented with the concept of god in school or elsewhere, and the child rejects it, then the child has made an informed decision: I have no reason to believe god. It’s still not a belief, because it is simply an informed lack of belief. Finally, should the child grow up on a very religious world, become a scientist and be really really annoyed with religious people trying to stop his/her work, the child might become angry at the concept of god, and start believing there is no god. Then it becomes a belief, but no stronger a belief than how I’m currently believing that I would like some breakfast soon.

    It is by no means a faith or a form of religion. Why? Because if the child, who has now grown into a scientist, is one day presented with absolute, irrefutable proof of god, he/she is ever so free (and likely) to say: “Wow, God exists. Now I know.”

    Faith, on the other hand, is a word which in religious context usually means “to believe without reason”. So when I say “Atheism is not a Faith”, I still mean it. 1) Atheists don’t have to believe. 2) If they do choose to believe there is no god, they usually have tangible reasons they can point to.

    Agnostics, on the other hand, are closer to theists than atheists. I usually joke by saying that MAYBE! is the motto of agnostics. The difference between atheists and agnostics is that, despite the total and utter lack of proof for the existence of god, agnostics still think — well, there’ might still be a god, sure, it’s possible. Of course that’s a gross simplification as agnosticism is more of a philosophical view, stating that “we cannot know”.

    As I mentioned, I used to be one myself. I thought a lot about philosophy — do we even exist? Or is this just an elaborate illusion setup by someone? I remember moving on, thanks to Descartes famous words:

    I think, therefore I am.

    For me, that meant: move on, you exist already, now get to work!

    So, to make a really long and complex story short: atheists can live side by side with theists, just fine. It’s just not a religion, so don’t classify us the same.

  9. Dave Child says:

    ofg, you just picked the first of the two definitions listed on dictionary.com in order to support your own views! It says, right under the bit yoiu parroted:

    disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings

    Joen, you’re quite right. Atheism is lack of belief in gods … nice and simple. No faith required because there’s nothing to have faith in.

  10. I can recommend the Philip Pullman books on which this movie is based – they are quite good.

  11. Joen says:

    So I guess what I

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