S., a frank and intelligent man, told me as follows how he ceased to believe:-
He was twenty-six years old when one day on a hunting expedition, the time for sleep having come, he set himself to pray according to the custom he had held from childhood.
His brother, who was hunting with him, lay upon the hay and looked at him. When S. had finished his prayer and was turning to sleep, the brother said, ‘Do you still keep up that thing?’ Nothing more was said. But since that day, now more than thirty years ago, S. has never prayed again; he never takes communion, and does not go to church. All this, not because he became acquainted with convictions of his brother which he then and there adopted; not because he made any new resolution in his soul, but merely because the words spoken by his brother were like the light push of a finger against a leaning wall already about to tumble by its own weight. These words but showed him that the place wherein he supposed religion dwelt in him had long been empty, and that the sentences he uttered, the crosses and bows which he made during his prayer, were actions with no inner sense. Having once seized their absurdity, he could no longer keep them up.
~Tolstoy, quoted in William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence. Faith is a kind of knowledge claim predicated on a particular brand of epistemology: faith-based epistemology. Peter Boghossian has offered a challenge for anyone who thinks faith is synonymous with hope:
In my May 6, 2012 public lecture for the Humanists of Greater Portland, I further underscored the difference between faith and hope by issuing the following thought challenge:
Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.
To date, nobody has answered the thought challenge. I don’t think it can be answered because faith and hope are not synonyms.
Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change minds. In fact, quite the opposite…when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely change their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Fact…were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”
~Joe Keohane, “How Facts Backfire”, quoted in Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists
“September came. The air thinned, the undergraduates returned, and classes began. Noam and his colleagues reluctantly resumed the yoke of teaching and grumbled over the numerous distractions from research that the students presented. It’s amusing how outsiders thinking teaching is the job of professors and ignorantly exclaim over how few hours academics have to work. Just last week Noam’s gastroenterologist (we’ve discovered an ulcer) asked him how many hours a week he has to teach and then laughed smugly.
“Three hours? That’s all you guys have to work a week?” (Noam’s teaching load is much light than the average-one of the lures Princeton had used to attract him.) ” And with summers off? Boy, you people are really overworked.” And he was the man treating Noam for an ulcer. Noam didn’t – never does – bother to correct the man’s faulty inference from three hours of teaching to three hours of work. What does he care what such people think?
~Rebecca Goldstein, The Mind-body Problem
p.s. Although the quote implies otherwise, ulcers are caused by bacteria, not stress.
Filed under Atheism, Books
“This is a kind of madness of the will in psychic cruelty that has absolutely no equal: the will of man to find himself guilty and reprehensible to the point that it cannot be atoned for; his will imagine himself punished without the possibility of the punishment ever becoming equivalent to the guilt; his will to infect and make poisonous the deepest ground of things with the problem of punishment and guilt in order to cut off the way out of this labyrinth of “idees fixes” once and for all; his will to erect an ideal – that of the “holy God” – in order, in the face of the same, to be tangibly certain of his absolute unworthiness. Oh, this insane sad beast man! What ideas occur to it, what anti-nature, what paroxysms of nonsense; what bestiality of idea immediately breaks forth when it is hindered only a little from being a beast of deed!…All of this is interesting to the point of excess, but also of such black gloomy unnerving sadness that one must forcibly forbid oneself to look too long into these abysses. Here there is sickness, beyond all doubt, the most terrible sickness that has thus far raged in man”
~Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality
“If believers think atheism is a religion, then they need to provide a definition of religion that applies both to supernaturalism and its denial. Any definition of religion that includes atheism will either deny the inherent supernaturalism of religion or end up describing religion as a social grouping of some kind.”
~John Loftus, The Outsider Test of Faith
I rarely read fiction, but when I do, I hope it’s as interestingly intelligent as Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. Part of the appeal, to me at least, is that Goldstein fills her fictional world with intellectuals and academics from elite East Coast universities who are continuously having conversations peppered with high-level concepts ranging from philosophy, science, to game theory and beyond. I’m a sucker for novels of this sort in part because it lowers my feelings of guilt for indulging in fiction. The book has some bad reviews on amazon I’m guessing because of the protagonist (a “famous” atheist), the intellectual content, and the target audience. Knowing the academic buzzwords will probably go a long way towards rendering Goldstein’s work enjoyable, but I imagine for many it will still come off as pretentious. I never got that feeling, but then again, as an academic atheist philosopher interested in the psychology of religion, I probably instantiate the Platonic form of Goldstein’s target audience. For a novel that revolves around New Atheism, I was pleasantly surprised that the theological discussions were always at a respectably high level of sophistication and the arguments for and against God’s existence were never dumbed down (quite the opposite!). The protagonist is often described as an “atheist with a soul”, and accordingly I think the book itself deserves a similar description: Intelligent Fiction for the Atheist’s Soul.