Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | Everyone Has A Religion (Part 2)

Due to another week of camp craziness, I'm once again pleased to feature the work of my good friend Ethan Foster on my column. I've found this article, a sequel to an article he wrote a year ago and which we published a month ago on our blog, to be a clear, rigorous analysis of the problems atheism and agnosticism face when dealing with faith. Enjoy!
Nick Barden

One year has passed since I published, “Everyone has a Religion." In that time, a number of comments, questions, and objections have come to my attention. Naturally, the greatest objection has centered on my definition of “faith,” and, by extension, my definition of “religion.” One atheist explained to me that religion is a lot like watching television, with each channel representing a different belief. He claimed that atheism is a refusal to turn on the television of faith altogether. This represents a common view of atheists, but I respectfully disagree with the claim.

Before I make any arguments I need to offer some important distinctions. When I speak of “faith” in the lower-case, I refer to belief in the absence of certainty. In other words, faith is a belief in those presuppositions that cannot be demonstrated but by which we attempt to live and demonstrate other things. For now, it is important to build on what my earlier article proved: everyone has this little “faith.” In fact, it is impossible to build any sort of method, ideology, or worldview on anything short of “faith.” Without faith, nothing is believable, not even the scientific method. Nevertheless, atheists argue that lower-case “faith” is different from capital “Faith,” because it is not religious. For the sake of clarity, I denote big “Faith” as an active sort that invokes a supernatural “Religion,” a created order, and usually a fixed moral framework. Little “faith” may remain inactive, refusing to turn on the television.

Atheists dispute the idea that men are homo religiosus, humans as religious beings. The non-Religious man, however, is not free from religion. Religion is just as inescapable as “faith.” If my earlier logic is sound, then little “faith” is a common currency of mankind, and may be invested in an active “Faith- based Religion” or an inactive “faith-based religion.” What constitutes an inactive “faith-based religion?” Most of today’s “-isms” are manifestations of little “faith-based religions:” secular humanism, nihilism, existentialism, materialism, the list goes on. As Christian denominations recombine and take on a host of appearances, so do godless “faith-based religions.” Such religions have the godless equivalent of a calling, commission, or ministry. However, these “faith-based religions” are dangerous ideologies. I will devote future discussions to the subject. For now, the mass of godless faiths can be swept into two religions: agnosticism and atheism.

The television analogy is useful when examining agnosticism and atheism. The agnostic refuses to turn on the television, but he does so out of apathy, indecision, and some degree of discomfort. The standard agnostic is like a couch potato who not only refuses to turn on the television, but he neglects the book on the coffee table. He sits on the couch, plagued by the question of how he should best invest his time. The result is sad. The occasional thoughtful agnostic says of the television, “Even if I tried to turn it on, I am still uncertain what channel I should watch!” This is the agnostic who says, “Even if God exists, there is no way I can know him and be certain that I worship the right God.” However, the agnostic who refuses the TV Guide and the power button will never realize that all of the channels are commercial channels (save one) and the choice is less difficult than he imagines. The fear of the unknown is his paralysis and undoing. By not making a choice, he chooses his current state. The agnostic is not nonreligious; he wastes the faith he has.

The atheist is a far more interesting person because he is not indecisive. He is not a paralyzed couch potato, plagued by the itch of boredom. Like the agnostic, he refuses to turn on the television. However, I have not met an atheist who does not spend his time in some manner. He might read a humanist newsletter, plant an ideological garden, or possibly graze on Epicureanism. At any rate, there are a number of ways to refuse to turn on the television, but all of them take time. The agnostic does not apply himself to anything. The atheist actively rejects the television. In other words, he refuses capital “Faith,” and spends his “faith” elsewhere. However, faith is not the belief itself; otherwise an atheist could escape it. Rather, faith is the act of believing in something. Like time, faith is the common lot of man. Try living without time, and perhaps there is a way to live without faith. I have not found it.

Why does the subject of faith unnerve the atheist? Perhaps it has something to do with his reasons for rejecting the television. Perhaps he believes that every channel contains infomercials, or perhaps he thinks that the television is useless. In both cases, he refuses to flip to the news channel where he can hear about the impending disaster tearing through his neighborhood. The phrase, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” is bosh. Few men know death, but it certainly can hurt you. Thus, I suspect that the atheist’s fear of death links to his discomfort with faith. Faith is a spiritual currency because it requires a statement of spiritual belief. The atheist’s spirit convinces itself that it does not exist. Thus, faith is an uncomfortable thing. Faith is a universal part of human living, but it is not on speaking terms with atheism. The atheist is already aware of the coming disaster, but he prefers “life as usual” to a news channel detailing the horrors of the storm and the evacuation plans for his neighborhood. If faith exists only for religious people, then atheists need not contend with the question, “What if I’m wrong?” However, the atheist has faith that God does not exist, and this is a hefty wager indeed.

by Ethan Foster
Originally published on Animus Crypta.
Clipart from ClipartHeaven

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