2005-06-07 05:58:27 UTC
the time. I was taught in school that any letter I addressed to somebody
for the first time must start yours faithfully. Usually there is an
implication that it is in some way a good thing. But it is not.
Faith is the biggest single obstacle we face in our quest to make the
world a better place.
Belief is necessary for action. With no beliefs a man cannot function.
Even the most hardened existentialist will have to make a huge number of
basic assumptions each day simply to avoid dying. I often get Christians
chiding me for my faith in things, for my hypocrisy for having faith in
the universe and denying that I have a faith in the non-existence of
God. That argument is specious. There is a difference between belief and
faith. I believe there is no God, it is not a faith, it is a belief. I
believe thousands of other things too with varying degrees of resistance
to changing my opinion. I believe that matter does not normally come
into existence in my everyday life but I also believe that whiteholes in
space may exist and that particle physicists regularly observe pairs of
particles appearing out of the vacuum. My beliefs in such things as
these, of which I have no first hand knowledge, is not the same as my
beliefs in things which I do have first hand knowledge. If I read a
piece in a newspaper describing a new proof that whiteholes do not exist
I would be prepared to believe it if it seemed to come from a reliable
source but if somebody tried to tell me that I live north of Manchester
rather than south of it I would not believe it, I have far too much
evidence of my own personal experience that supports my belief that
Manchester is a city to the north of my home. Such a belief is strong
and backed by documentary evidence, second hand evidence and first hand
evidence. But it is still only a belief, not a faith. For it to be a
faith I would have to take that belief as being a good belief to have
with or without evidence, to be a faith I would have to believe that
such a belief was worthy to hold, not because it was true but because it
was a worthy article of faith, and that faith is a virtue.
Faith is a perfect defence against disproof. If an idea is held with
faith it cannot be disproved. To try to mix faith and science is absurd.
Science relies on the idea that any concept is open to question and open
to disproof. How can any university be truly credible if it allows
people through its doors who believe that holding a belief without proof
can be in any way worthy?
Belief in God or Allah or any other faith is not a recipe for either
good or evil behaviour. Faith allows other ideas to become stronger and
irresistible. Whether faith is a force for good or evil depends entirely
on the ideas it is added to. Faith has no moral flavour, it is a moral
flavour enhancer. Add faith to a desire to do good and great good will
come of it. Harness faith to a small minded prejudice or hatred and
pursue with violence and great evil will come of it. Faith is the idea
that belief in an idea is good and that doubt is bad. It is the ultimate
Catch 22 as it also applies to itself. Faith is belief in a belief with
faith which is a virtue. It is a very simple idea to understand and a
very simple idea to feel correct. Faith relies heavily on feeling rather
than rationality. If you know an idea is right you can feel it is right,
have faith in it and be confident that that faith is well placed and is
a virtue. Looking at that idea with rationality is then interpreted as
doubt, which is a sin. So faith allows an idea to bed down in your brain
in an unassailable position, protected because protecting it makes the
person feel better, protecting the article of faith from doubt (reason)
is a virtue, and virtue is its own reward.
Keep the faith, it makes you feel better. Don't think about it, doubting
is a sin, keep the faith, it will make you feel good, but unlike the
other things that make you feel good this one is socially approved, it
will not make you fat, blind, pregnant or destroy your brain, it will
make you a respected and respectable member of society.
Faith is salvation for all. You may rank in the bottom 3 billion in the
great human race on every count that matters but you can gain salvation
through faith. Simply by holding on to an idea you can make yourself
better, you can feel better and be seen as better. Is it any wonder then
that faith is so popular? Hold the faith and by doing so you go up in
your own estimation of yourself and in the eyes of your community as
well. Where is the catch?
The catch is that the faith meme is morally and logically neutral, or
even morally vacuous. It can make any idea an article of faith merely by
practice of mind. There is no reason why any article of faith has to be
true, right, good, fair or in the common good. The only requirement is
that it is capable of holding a person's concentration for long enough
to be imprinted in their thought patterns. Once imprinted it is
unassailable because it is literally immune from logical challenge.
Articles of faith are generally associated with religions but faith can
go wider. Here a few widely held secular articles of faith:-
1] The human race is special
2] All men are (created) equal
3] Women can do everything a man can, except the things that are not
4] Democracy is a good thing
5] Freedom is a good thing, more freedom is always better
6] My people are the best people
7] My government is run by evil people
There are a surprising number of people who manage to hold on to
virtually all those articles of faith at the same time.
Most faith though is of the religious type. Religions are defined by
their faith. Religions have rites, practices and customs but it is only
the beliefs which are held with faith that actually define what the
religion is. Catholicism is not the Mass, priests and the vestments, it
is the faith in the one church of the crucified three-in-one God made
man. There are many layers of trappings of custom and belief but also a
hard core of inner beliefs held by faith, it is the universal central
dogmas held by faith which define what it is to be Catholic. The faith
defines the church or the cult.
Powerful and strong religions have grown up strong because they have
enough ambiguity to allow many people to find different things within
them. Socialists, homosexuals, racists, bigots, nationalists, pacifists,
slave owners, abolitionists, fascists and liberals can all find a
comfortable home within Christianity. Islam too allows many
interpretations, it is also a broad church. The faith in any god can be
used as ammunition in any fight, from the noblest endeavours our species
has ever undertaken with the lives of men like Martin Luther King to the
foulest acts of depravity and persecution. Pogroms, crusades and
holocausts have all been prosecuted by men of the strongest faith.
Faith is a powerful tool and a powerful weapon. My contention is that
good can still happen without faith, but the vilest evils cannot, and so
faith is best put aside.
Faith has never moved a single mountain (disagree? send me the map
references) but it has destroyed billions of lives. Wars have been made
possible by faith, or made worse by it. A man not afraid to die is
willing to fight in a way no rational man can. The man of faith will
leap over the top to death and glory, or dive his aircraft into a
building with the utter certainty of his place in paradise. Faith is a
powerful form of belief that will override other ideas, including self
preservation, that is why it is so dangerous. Only those who want to
spread their own beliefs call faith a virtue. Or in other words only
We are all equal, we all have an equal capacity to act in accordance
with faith, if by some genuine miracle it could be engineered that faith
was never misplaced or abused then faith would indeed be a virtue, but
in this world faith is a trick of the mind that can be used to justify
any idea that can hold a man's attention for long enough to become
imprinted with some form of legitimacy. Once a man has faith he knows he
is right and he knows his faith is right. Every other idea he has goes
through this idea, every single idea in a man's head gets tagged by it
and linked through it. Faith is good, doubt is bad, or evil, or
possession by evil spirits, doubt is utterly wrong because faith is a
virtue. That cycle of ideas can go through a believer's head ten times
per second, by practice and repetition it becomes burned into the
synapses of the brain. The man can become thoroughly taken over by faith
(which is good, which is a virtue, to doubt it is sin) and the idea of
faith becomes central to every conscious thought.
Christianity is not a belief, it is a faith. It requires no proof (proof
implies doubt, doubt is a sin, faith is a virtue) it needs no evidence
to support it.
Faith is often misplaced. Even if you are one of the glorious bigots of
the faith you must be able to see that other people hold other beliefs
with a stubbornness that has all the hallmarks of true faith. Holy men
of all religions have burned themselves to death at times to show their
faith and their determination. It proves nothing about the legitimacy of
their faith while it speaks volumes about the power of the mind. Showing
the power of your faith says nothing at all about whether that faith is
A few decades ago firewalking was a bizarre tribal custom that white men
observed from afar. Now thousands of people have demonstrated that it
requires no special prayers or incantations, no faith at all, belief and
courage will suffice. Rationalists make very good firewalkers.
Faith makes people happy and fulfilled. People can be content and
fulfilled by any faith, and history is full of examples of weird and
wonderful beliefs that have been supported by faith, beliefs that have
helped people to be happy and fulfilled, beliefs that require no proof,
beliefs that cannot be doubted. Some of these have died out and we feel
free to mock them. Others linger on and are protected by the tit-for-tat
rule of you don't make fun of my faith and I won't make fun of yours.
The only way the world can be at peace is either for all to have the
same religion or for all to accept that they will not have the same
religion. As long as some people will not accept others having different
beliefs there will be constant conflict. Osama bin Laden and his ilk
want to unite the world under the true faith. So do hundreds of other
religious and politico-religious leaders. The only drawback is that each
is equally fanatically committed to mutually antagonistic one true
faiths in different one true gods.
Each faith is a true faith, equally blind to reason, equally empowered
by the idea that their pig headed dogmatism is the highest form of human
virtue. They each constantly remind each other that it is their faith
that is the key, any setback means they should have greater faith, pray
harder, doubt less.
As long as people believe this central dogma that faith is the ultimate
virtue they will continue to gleefully murder each other in the name of
their loving god.
History is full of examples of people supremely confident in the
rightness of their cause doing unspeakably evil things in the name of
their faith in a higher cause; whether that be God, nation, leader or
their political cause. The idea that God is the ultimate expression of
goodness is of course one of the central articles of religious faiths.
“The ultimate” is a powerful idea, it has a hold on people. The idea is
very strong as can be evidenced by the number of arguments about who is
the greatest guitarist, hitter of home runs or historical figure, and
the passion involved. Is this desire to know and appreciate the ultimate
something that is born in us or does it develop? I don't know but it
does seem to be widespread.
Faith is good, God is good, [insert absolutely anything here], doubt is
evil, faith is good, pain is weakness, doubt is temptation from Satan,
faith is the highest expression of my value as a person…
Can’t you see how bloody dangerous that single line of code “faith is a
virtue” can be? It can allow people to be used by ideas and become tools
of them, and willing tools, rejoicing in the honour of being asked to
test their faith! That chain of thought shown above would work with any
idea in place of the phrase in italics, faith can support any action.
Once your brain has been programed with faith and the virtue of it any
idea can be justified through it.
The Bible is full of this stuff. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his
son and he is made out to be a huge hero for it. Thomas shows a very
reasonable degree of scientific scepticism and is branded as weak.
Saints and martyrs proved their faith was more important to them than
their own life, and instead of being seen as sick and dangerous deviants
they are held up as the perfect role model. This is going on in
Palestine to this day, little boys look at photographs of their martyred
brothers and long for the opportunity to join them in paradise.
Faith is the key meme that holds religions together. Faith is what
defines religions. The single most powerful virus ever generated. The
greatest single cause of evil the world has ever known.
Faith cannot be reconciled with a different faith. It is a sick joke to
try to unite people with different ultimate beliefs in a fundamentally
different exclusive ultimate reality while simultaneously allowing them
to retain faith. As long as you hold that faith is a virtue your prison
cell is complete, you are stuck in that frame of reference and every
idea you have must first be checked against this central dogma. If
something undermines my faith it is evil, if it reinforces it then that
thing is good. Doubt hurts, it causes distress, but FAITH KILLS. It has
done for millennia.
Wars are a constant fact of life in our species. On the small scale of
the band they make perfect evolutionary sense. Wars are fought for
women. Just as the only other intelligent animals on this planet,
chimpanzees and dolphins, warfare is conducted by alliances of males to
secure females. That is how warfare developed. An inevitable price to
pay for intelligence and cunning. If you have a brain capable of social
interaction, sufficient memory of individuals and the capacity to see
your interests and imagine the actions of others then your species will
develop war, if you have a sex structure in your population that has
reproductive success limited essentially by the numbers of one of the
sexes then the other sex will band together to acquire more members of
the more valuable sex. Banding together to fight for females makes
perfect sense, so the skills of warfare must develop in any species that
has intelligence and a reproductive system that is limited by the
relative scarcity of one sex. If men were the limiting factor the
Amazons would fight for them, as has happened in many men's fantasies
for millennia, from ancient Greece to Carry on up the Jungle.
Where we differ from chimpanzees and dolphins, who have both been
observed to form male alliances and start wars, is in the degree to
which we can think abstractly. Only we have the power to develop more
complicated concepts such as duty and faith. It is these ideas that turn
our innate capacity to fight in male dominated war parties into the
phenomena we know as war, crusade, Jihad, terrorism and pogrom. Such
ideas are inevitable. They do not need a Satan or a God to spread them.
They are ideas that are reinvented all the time and they have been found
in every culture anthropologists have ever encountered. Perhaps they are
inevitable from the structure of our brains, perhaps they are simply
inevitable in the same way the ratio of the radius to the circumference
of a circle simply must be, if you develop a brain capable of logic,
memory, grammar, love, care and respect then honour, duty and faith will
inevitably occur sometime along the way. Because of the catch 22 nature
of the concept of faith it only needs to be invented once, because its
reproductive future is inevitable.
Faith is its own reward. Faith makes the faithful feel better for having
it, and makes them feel better for noticing that they feel better for
having it, and it makes them feel better for telling others that they
feel better for having it and it makes them feel supremely happy when
they can convince other people to share this idea with them, not just
happy, but a special guilt free form of happiness. Faith isn't heroin,
it isn't even sugar coated heroin with a cherry on top, it is sugar
coated heroin with a cherry on top that makes you feel better for being
happy to take it and it makes you feel guilty for not sharing it with
others, but don't worry, it's free! You can give it away and you don't
have less of it, you actually have more, and it now tastes even sweeter!
And you feel so much better for sharing, and that feeling is guilt free
too... etc. etc.
Faith is such a simple idea that it has been invented over and over
again in different cultures and is constantly reinvented. Faith was used
by Nazis and Communists and has fuelled personal crusades, careers and
obsessions. Faith is a coupling of a positive mental attitude to the
holding of a belief, and then patching that idea back on itself so every
time the idea is thought it increases the sense of well being and self
worth, the final twist is to patch the brain so that it not only does
not notice the short circuit but actually feels better for having it.
Churches and cults teach this form of cerebral masturbation, often to
children, and they succeed in infusing the atmosphere with so much
self-generated euphoria that we actually admire them for doing it. There
are times I am ashamed to be human.
If there was one single idea I could purge from the repertoire of
humanity it would not be Jesus, God or racism, it would be the idea that
faith is a virtue. Faith is a snare, a weakness and a frailty, a failing
of the mind, a surrender of the mind to an alien idea. Faith makes
people the willing vectors of alien ideas.
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}| |} }| 14 June 2005
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