A week ago I came up with the title to this blog post.
The next day I wrote a comment in reply to someone who goes by "In Search Of" that ended up being a good start to explaining why I consider that atheist me has more faith than religious believers.
Here it is.
Following my comment you'll find excerpts from one of my first Church of the Churchless blog posts from way back in 2004, "Just have faith." I'm pleased that while I've become more of an atheist over the past fifteen years, my basic faith in reality hasn't changed.
In Search Of, you asked: "Brian, help me out here. Am I being unreasonable? Why can't I get an intelligent response to my question? Are we unable to differentiate between logic and faith? Or are the two at opposite poles? Is this the real question we're trying to answer? And is it an answerable question?"
Great questions. Interestingly, I came up with the title of a future blog post yesterday that I wrote down for future reference: "I'm an atheist with more faith than any religious believer." In brief, here's what came to mind that led to the idea for this blog post.
I have faith in reality.
Not just bits and pieces of reality, but reality as a whole -- the entire unimaginably vast cosmos, including the aspects that we humans currently know about and also the parts that remain a mystery. Sure, I also have faith in discrete entities. My doctors. Scientists. My VW GTI. My MacBook Pro.
But it isn't possible to have 100% faith in anything discrete.
For example, every finding of science is open to revision if new facts are revealed. Ditto for my faith in my car, which has had defects that needed to be fixed. And certainly ditto for religious leaders, even those like Gurinder Singh Dhillon that are supposedly "perfect masters."
Yet even given all that, I believe in a cosmos that operates according to some beautiful laws of cause and effect.
This applies at the quantum level also, though the laws appear to be more probabilistic than deterministic. Still, probability is a law, or quantum mechanics wouldn't be such a precise science that's responsible for much of our modern technology.
So my mantra is: "I open myself to reality, however it may appear." I wrote a blog post about this: "An atheist meditation that pleases God."
Where I went astray during many of my 35 years of being devoted to RSSB and the Sant Mat meditation practice was having undue faith in a particular aspect of reality. Namely, RSSB and the gurus in that tradition. My observation is that many others fall into the same trap.
They ignore evidence that doesn't fit into their mental model of what reality is like.
But reality doesn't give a shit about our mental models. Reality is simply what it is: reality. As another favorite saying of mine from Philip K. Dick puts it, "Reality is that which, when we stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
The guru's financial dealings/wrongdoing aren't a matter of belief. They're well documented. But RSSB devotees are so used to relying on belief, they aren't able to accept that no matter what they believe, reality remains.
So no, I don't believe that faith and reason are opposed.
At least, not in how I view faith: as trust in a reality that exists independent of our beliefs about it. Thus my view is that it's up to us humans to do our best to understand reality, not for reality to comport with our beliefs about it. That latter option leads to magical thinking.
I see it all the time in comments on this blog. RSSB devotees feel that if they only scream loudly enough into cyberspace, "The guru did nothing wrong! The guru is God! Stop criticizing the guru!", somehow this will change the reality of the guru's behavior.
All of our mental models are false to some extent.
However, we get so attached to them, often there is no crack in the mental model armor where greater and more accurate knowledge can enter.
Religious people are especially prone to this, because their need to believe that not only this life, but also their afterlife, is in the hands of a higher power is so strong, so compelling, so desperate, their reluctance to adjust their mental religious model is equally strong.
With my VW GTI, which I like a lot but am not hugely devoted to, I still found it difficult to accept that a creaking in the sunroof really was a major defect. I tried quite a few ways to fix it before it finally dawned on me, and my dealership, that the whole thing needed to be replaced, basically. See: "My VW had a creaky sunroof. Here's the tale of a 5-week repair."
There's an analogy here.
Sometimes an entire mental model needs major refurbishing, or even replacement. That's what happened with me and the RSSB teachings. Well, looks like I just wrote a good portion of the above-mentioned planned post. Thanks for giving me that head start.
And here's the excerpts from the above-mentioned "Just have faith" post.
Faith is wonderful.
Faith is all we need to be spiritual.
Just faith. Faith alone.
So we shouldn't have faith in anything other than pure, naked, empty faith.
...Here's how to tell the difference between true faith and false faith:
Imagine that you are standing in the middle of a bare windowless room. Two doors lead out of the room. Both are closed, but can be opened with a turn of the doorknob. The doors are marked with signs that describe what awaits on the other side: (A) Reality, (B) Belief
After you open a door, you have to walk through it. The door then will shut and you never will be able to leave the place you have entered.
Choose Reality and you will know things as they really are, from top to bottom of the cosmos.
You will know whether or not God exists and, if so, the nature of this ultimate divinity. You will know whether death is the final end of your existence or if it is the beginning of another form of life. You will know whether there is a meaning to the universe beyond what human beings ascribe to it.
Or, choose Belief and you will know only what lies within the confines of your current suppositions about the nature of the cosmos.
For the rest of your life you will be confident that what you believe to be true, really is. Any evidence to the contrary will not make an impact on your mind. You will remain doubt-free, faithful to the beliefs you now hold about God, creation, life, death, and the purpose of human existence.
Which door would you choose to walk through?
Before answering, consider carefully the potential ramifications of your choice. Reality is an unknown, a mystery. It could be frightening or fabulous, painful or pleasurable, warmly loving or coldly uncaring. Do you want to embrace absolutely real reality? Or would you rather hold on to your beliefs about what is real?
Someone with the type of faith extolled by the Church of the Churchless would unhesitatingly choose Door A and boldly stride into Reality. For their faith is not in anything particular, but is a faith that truth can be known, should be known, and, indeed, must be known.