Is Atheism a Faith?

I was involved in interfaith work for quite some time, and I’ve quoted atheist Chris Stedman who has been very active in interfaith groups and wrote a book called Faithiest. One question that often comes up is whether atheism is a “faith,” and I’ve recently read some wise words about this issue from the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist blogger James Ford.

Ford mentioned an interfaith meeting at which “a colleague I really like offered how she told a mutual friend who is a prominent local Humanist that he has a “faith” as well. … Her description of faith was something I was familiar with from seminary. Faith is a verb, it speaks to an active engagement with one’s experience. … I offered that she had re-defined that word faith in that very attractive way, but also one that ignored ordinary use. And by ordinary use, … our mutual friend is not a “person of faith.”

Rev. Ford concludes that pinning the “faith” label on someone who doesn’t want it blocks “any hope of genuine understanding …”

James’ post includes a lot of other ideas which are well worth reading. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/monkeymind/2013/04/faith-of-a-liberal-buddhist.html.

So what do you think? Should we redefine faith more broadly? My main comment is that whenever we use incredibly vague terms from religion and philosophy, it’s important to clarify what we mean with a brief elaboration or a helpful example.

Yes, this takes more time. But it saves SO much wasted breath by lessening the chance that people will experience the illusion of communication when actually they’re talking right past each other!

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Is Atheism a Faith?

  1. In my view, I feel “faith” is tired, overused, somewhat cliche word. I usually use “religion” or “belief” as in someone holds a “belief” regarding a religion.

    I’m sure we’ve heard before atheism isn’t a faith (or religion), it is simply the lack of a faith/religion. Some people prefer to self-identify as atheist. I tend not to. Atheism tells us what we don’t believe in, but I’m more interested in what we do believe in. As you know, many atheists choose to identify by what the do believe in, often Unitarian Universalism, or Humanism, and on occasion Jainism or Buddhist.

    Belief is a better word than faith. To me, faith has too much baggage. Faith often mean confidence or trust in something without proof. As me if I have faith, I’ll probably say no because I value evidence-based beliefs based in reason and logic. Ask me what I believe, and I’ll answer that I believe in the values of Humanism and the principals of Unitarian Universalism.

    • Dear James,

      What you’ve written is a helpful example of the way people respond to vague religiously-connected terms in ways that feel right to them. If someone asks you to redefine these words, they are asking you to do a rewiring project on your own brain, and none of us know how to do that. We can be somewhat flexible and let our definitions change over time, but mostly I just think we need to respect each other’s responses to religious and philosophical terminology. Thanks for your comment.

      Roger Schriner

  2. The basic premise of the term “faith” is a belief in that which can not be scientifically proven. I think what must be understood is that there are two different forms of “faith”. There is the obvious religious faith but there is also a more secular understanding of this word. For example a husband may put faith in his wife that she will not go with another man behind his back. He has no evidence that she will not commit adultery but he puts faith in her. A person in a burning building puts faith that the fireman will catch her when he says jump. When the father says to his daughter who takes the car out “don’t text” he puts faith in her that she won’t. When ever someone says “trust me” , and has no scientific evidence for that trust we do so with faith.
    Likewise when a atheist says – believe in what I say – I have no scientific proof to offer you but trust me – this is faith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s