Atheist Faith – Atheist Reason
Reflections on Atheist Faith and Reason -- As I drove back to Colorado Springs from Denver today, the fog was so thick I could barely see the car ahead of me, much less the usual splendor of the Rocky Mountains to the west. I was listening to Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, who made some interesting points about the nature of faith. In the ongoing dialogue between theists and atheists that permeates society today, theists are often said to rely on faith while atheists rely on reason in the formation of their respective worldviews. Yet, such a stark dichotomy is too simplistic and out of touch with reality.
Atheist Faith vs. Religious Faith
Adherents to both Atheist Faith and Religious Faith, arrive at their beliefs through a combination of faith and reason. Neither the atheist nor the theist relies solely on reason. Both rely on a component of faith. For that matter, there are very few beliefs any of us hold that do not involve faith to some degree. The simple act of driving through a green light requires faith that nearby drivers who are faced with a red light will actually stop.
Oxford biologist and author Richard Dawkins suggests that religious "faith" is a "virus of the mind." In his 1991 article entitled "Viruses of the Mind," he states that, "Like some computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are a victim of one, the chances are that you won't know it, and may even vigorously deny it." So, sufferers of the memetic virus of religious faith may not even know they have been affected by an outside agent.
Conversely, the apostle Paul wrote of non-believers that, "their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ" (2 Corinthians 3:14). According to Christianity, Richard Dawkins may have been similarly blinded; a viral virgin infected by a God who disdains his arrogant air of superiority.
Atheist Faith – Faith is Common in the Human Experience
But here's the rub on Atheist Faith and Religious Faith. It wasn't the fact that faith exists within all of us that beguiled Dr. Keller; it was how each of us expresses our faith that captured his imagination. Think about it. By virtue of our various worldviews, each of us discovers a sense of belonging. Whether you are a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu, or a Freethinker, you will find other people who share your belief system. You will also soon appreciate that there are many more people who disagree with your beliefs and consider them simply wrong. What is common to all of us is the tendency to marginalize those who don't believe as we do; to consider ourselves better than those who haven't been similarly enlightened.
In this sense, we can't help but agree with Christopher Hitchens. Religion does poison everything. And he certainly made that point clearly in his debate with Frank Turek. Christopher emoted, "Isn't it as plain as could be that those who commit the most callous, the most cruel, the most brutal, the most indiscriminate atrocities of all, do so precisely because they believe they have divine permission?" In many cases, we must humbly admit, he is correct. However, wasn't Pol Pot cruel and indiscriminate? Wasn't Joseph Stalin callous and brutal? Stalin was also indiscriminate. He copiously murdered people of all religions.
Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, suggests that while these men were indeed atheists, it wasn't their atheism that drove them to commit such atrocities. Stalin's atheism may not have led him to murder had it not been that his atheism first led him to marginalize the masses. His atheism led to self-supremacy and the marginalization of others, which in turn led to his genocidal acts. In his Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx described religion as the "opiate of the masses." Supremacist thoughts would come easily to someone convinced that everyone else is walking around in a metaphorical drug-induced stupor. When it comes to atrocities, all religions, and even atheism, are in a dead heat.
But why is this so?
Atheist Faith – The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that people are not led to commit atrocities by either Atheist Faith or Religious Faith, but rather by the insidious seduction of power and the serpentine invasiveness of pride. These lead to a misguided sense of moral superiority. When an individual of one group sees himself as superior to those of another group — as more deserving, more enlightened, more noble — he is bound to subjugate outsiders mentally, verbally, and eventually physically. When religion leads people to view others as lower than themselves, then it does spoil everything.