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Thu Apr 24 21:12:28 SAST 2014

We all believe in something: an atheist view on faith

Nikita Ramkissoon | 04 April, 2012 13:04
A sign stating an opinion about religion hangs near displays showing nativity scenes at Palisades Park in Santa Monica
A sign stating an opinion about religion hangs near displays showing the nativity scene at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, California.
Image by: DANNY MOLOSHOK / REUTERS

I saw a photo of a notice board outside a church reading ‘God prefers kind atheists to hateful Christians’, and it got me thinking about our prejudices against each other.

Like religious people hold atheists as ‘the other’, atheists do the same to them.

Religion, by nature, is an alienating structure of society that generally pegs other beliefs as wrong and unacceptable.

Atheists, in embracing scientific truth as their truth (as opposed to divinity) should be smart and understanding enough to realise there is no absolute truth, and every person has a truth of their own.

I am in a constant battle with my atheist friends, that as atheists, as much as we are anti-organised religion, we should not be anti-faith.

A person who has faith is someone who draws strength from the knowledge that something is greater than them – be it a God or science or whatever – and gives them a place in the world. It’s just a way of not only understanding their world, but coming to terms with life, death and everything in between.

Faith, I believe, is a beautiful thing. Religion may be flawed – as man is flawed – but faith is different. Faith has nothing to do with what a religious organisation says. A person who has true faith does not need a pastor to guide them, or a community to affirm their beliefs.

Now, I make religious jokes that more often than not offend people. But those jokes are just jokes – jibes at creationists and fundamentalists, really. But I truly believe that faith in something greater is a beautiful thing that I sadly don’t have.

When my cousin (who was like a sister to me) passed away after years of having leukemia, the rest of my family took solace in their belief that she was in a better place, long gone from her constant pain and suffering. I did not find any solace, because for me, with my knowledge that she just died and had turned to dust, she was gone forever and not in a better place. I was – and still am – heartbroken that her life had just ended. To everyone else, the rest of her life had just begun.

To those people guided by their faith, doing good doesn’t come from a priest saying they should or fear that they will be reprimanded in the afterlife. They do good, not as service to God, but as service to humanity to keep God’s world a beautiful place.

If faith is what guides a person to do what is right, why chastise them?

It’s not faith that guides people who do wrong. It’s religion. As an institution, religion conditions people to be prejudiced and hateful – like those people outside courts crying ‘ban abortion’ or persecuting those who don’t believe what they believe. They mistake this conditioning for absolute faith. But that’s not it.

Faith is a personal thing. It doesn’t have anything to do with a book, a prophet or profit. It has to do with the self.

Atheists are defining a religion of their own by excluding these people who are just living their lives, guided by something other than science. Usually, people with true faith concede that the science is correct. The two most dedicated Christians I know are also evolutionists and think that Carl Sagan is a tremendously smart man. They have faith. They don’t subscribe to religion. They have faith that a God is there, guiding them, giving them strength to do what they do best. They’re not doing things in the name of God. They’re doing things with the knowledge that if they stumble, God is there to direct them.

Atheism isn’t a belief in all things considered unholy. It is a rejection – a non belief – in the existence of God and the practice of religion. In fact, atheists who are prejudiced against those who aren’t are just as bad as those hateful fundamentalists calling for the death of gays.

Tolerance is the key.

I don’t agree with religion and some of the things it preaches, like ritual, exercising specism, intolerance and imposition of beliefs on others, inconsiderateness towards others – including animals and the environment – and staying ‘in line’ out of fear of going to hell.

But faith I can deal with. Faith, I can embrace. Because we all believe in something. Something greater that allows us to make sense of our world.

Faith and wanting to understand our world are universal concepts. It is merely our means of comprehension that is arbitrary.

Whether you go to church or to a synagogue; whether you study the Quran or subatomic particles, it all comes down to us searching for truth which is greater than ourselves.

I think we need coexist with the basic human need and want for love, and exercise it for each other and our world.

The Beatles, “bigger than Jesus Christ”, got it right. Love is all you need.

But the Bible, for all its criticism, also has it right in parts.

1 Corinthians reads: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

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Thu Apr 24 21:12:28 SAST 2014 ::