Claim: Atheism is a faith

david-horowitzThe right-wing intellectual David Horowitz, previously a left-wing intellectual who changed his mind in the mid 80s, makes a rather strange religious claim …

Atheists are closed to faith. Or to put it more accurately, atheists are devotees of a faith that God does not exist. The atheist faith fosters contempt for religious belief and denies itself the ability to understand why religious people believe as they do other than that they are credulous or mentally disturbed.

Since atheism is also a faith, the only meaningful question is how this faith – or any faith – affects the lives of its believers. Does it enrich or diminish them? Atheism constricts the vision of its adherents and flattens their thought, denying them access to many inexplicable dimensions of human experience. Agnosticism is skeptical but also keeps the mind open, making its adherents curious about the impact religious faith can have on the meanings of individual lives.

I confess that somebody who is touted as an intellectual should be so astonishingly ignorant, and yet at the same time so certain about it in a manner that is quite condescending towards those that do not actually believe, the very essence of hostility seeps and flows from the cracks between the words.

OK, let’s be clear about this, if he is indeed shy about actually talking to people who do not believe and instead actually bothered to grab a dictionary to look up the word “atheist”, then he would discover that it simply means a lack of belief in a god, and this is indeed distinctly different than the fanatical embrace of a cultural myth as “truth”, and is not some variation of faith.

He does get some things right, and so within the same article he writes …

I am an agnostic, a believer in mysteries that we cannot solve. Being an agnostic does not mean I am closed to faith. On the contrary, it is the humility to recognize that we do not know the answer to the fundamental questions of our existence – whether there is a Divinity that shapes our ends or whether life has no meaning other than that it stops.

… and so he might perhaps be astonished to discover that the vast majority of those that would identify with the label “atheist”, would agree and so would also deploy the label “agnostic” along with the label “atheist”.

It is a rather astonishing discovery to some that words such as “atheist” and “agnostic” describe distinctly different things and so they are not mutually  exclusive terms, because the deployment of one does not preclude an equal adherence to the other. It works like this …

  • I am an atheist – I do not have a belief that there is a god. I am aware that there are people who do believe, and I truly do understand that because I once also believed and can remember that.
  • I am an agnostic – I do not know that there is or is not a god, I have no knowledge either way.

In other words, I’m an agnostic atheist.

Ah but those are terms that simply describe my views when it comes to one specific question : is there a god – and says nothing about anything else. So in addition to the confusion that “Atheism is a faith” and the promotion of the strange but popular idea that “atheism” and “agnosticism” are mutually exclusive words, we also have the assertion that those that reject cultural ideas that don’t have a jot of evidence are embracing an idea that … “flattens their thought, denying them access to many inexplicable dimensions of human experience”.

What are we to conclude except perhaps to ponder about the thickness of the walls of the bubble that Mr Horowitz resides within, because such words have no scope to flatten thinking or deny access to the vast dimensions of the human experience.

When it comes to Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Hera, or Poseidon, I would assume that Mr Horowitz is in reality an Atheist, and yet at the same time is perhaps also an agnostic because he cannot truly “know” that such entities do not actually exist and so can’t state that with 100% certainty, but would indeed find the concept to be highly improbable, and yet does that in any way “flatten his thinking“, or “deny him access to dimensions of human experience“? The Song of Ilium is accessible and inspirational to all regardless of any thoughts we might have regarding the reality of the divine actions of the gods described within.

When it comes to the currently popular god concept within the prevailing western culture, is it any different?

Additionally, beyond labels such as “atheist” and “agnostic”, which I would argue have a very narrow scope, there is a vast diversity of inspiration that is accessible universally … poetry, art, philosophy and the amazing progress that the scientific methodology is yielding. The sky above does not yield different shades of blue depending upon the specific belief or lack of one, and so nor does the assertion that people who reject specific cultural myths imply that they cannot find inspiration, poetry, and beauty all around

9 thoughts on “Claim: Atheism is a faith”

  1. Funny, I could swear I don’t do things ‘in the name of Atheism’, that my disbelief is simply from, you know, just not buying it, and that I don’t think about Atheism except when the subject of religion comes up, at all, you know, unlike religions, where people think WWJD or Buddha guide me, or things of that nature all the time. Who knew I was ‘atheisting’ wrong this whole time?!

  2. Agnostic- a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

    The definition of the term itself contradicts with the terms “agnostic theist” or “agnostic atheist”, as your stance on belief is purely neutral rather than belief either way.

    Confusion of terms is the quickest way to reach the wrong conclusion.

    • I didn’t follow your point. Are you saying there are no one on Earth who says “I don’t know for certain, but I believe” and no one who says “I don’t know and I don’t believe”?

      Because that’s just plain wrong. Those people do exist. As I said I’m one of them (don’t know and don’t believe) although I go a step further and I ask for a definition, which would make me an “igtheist”. Dave Gamble here also says “don’t know and don’t believe”. So you have two people here who are what you say it’s impossible to be. You are demonstrably wrong.

      Or are you complaining about the terms only? If you like, we can drop the word “agnostic” altogether and use whatever word suits better in your view. Maybe “shrubbles”? So they are shrubbles theist and shrubbles atheists. It doesn’t matter which word you use, the fact doesn’t chance: those people exist.

      But I would go as far as disagreeing with you on your definition for agnostic: gnosis is a greek word that means knowledge. “A” is a greek prefix that means “no”. So agnostic means, plain and simple, “no knowledge”.

      In any case, the simple fact that we can’t agree on the definition of the terms just shows that this discussion lacks any grounds whatsoever. Hence my ignosticism.

      • Daniel is actually correct in his agnostic/gnostic atheist/theist definitions and terminology, though yes, there are colloquial uses of the words, just as the word theory means something completely different than the way most people use it. I prefer the proper uses and definitions, myself, but, then, I try and be a rational and reasonable agnostic atheist.

      • What you are intending to say is fine, but traditionally (and by dictionary) the terms “atheist”, “agnostic” and “deist” may not mesh. Since agnosticism will claim neither faith nor disbelief: it is the true “I don’t know stance”

        • So you are making a “no true scotsman” argument. Claims one makes about beliefs is not what determines if one is agnostic or not. It’s the claims one makes about knowledge that do it.

          Let’s put it this way: I’m agnostic about the existence of aliens. I’m not an atheist about it, I’m just agnostic. And that is because of one simple reason: aliens is a well defined concept: life forms born on another planet. You can come up with a good argument for how probable is the existence of aliens, based on how many planets are there. You can statistically calculate how many planets may fall into a habitable zone for some kind of life form and how many of those planets may have statistically harbored life. Increase the information you have about the universe and you will decrease the margin of error in your calculus. You can’t however state that they exist for certain, nor can you state that they don’t exist, unless you have evidence either way.

          For gods, on the other hand, you can’t elaborate an argument for how probably some god exists. There is no math to be made, because god is not a well defined concept. You can’t calculate how probable something is if you don’t know what that something is. So claiming some god probably exists is a meaningless statement. I’m not just agnostic about this claim: I don’t believe in it because it’s meaningless.

  3. I had the same argument with my father, who believes in spiritism. He argues that atheism is a faith and I simply pointed to a dictionary to show it’s a lack of faith. I also used the “then ‘off’ is a TV channel” reply. He then went on to used the “opened mind” routine to which I answered that having an opened mind doesn’t mean to accept any claim as being true. I’ll accept any claim as being true, as long you provide me the evidence. And that is what it is to have an opened mind: follow the evidence wherever it leads.

    Furthermore, agnostic is a word that makes reference to knowledge, while atheism makes reference to faith. They are not overlapping each other. Being agnostic means you have no knowledge. Being atheist means you have no faith. You can be an agnostic theist (you don’t know, but you believe), a gnostic theist (you say you know there is a god), a gnostic atheist (you say you know there are no gods) or an agnostic atheist (you don’t know and you don’t believe). So I totally agreed that making these two words sound mutually exclusive is a mistake. But I go a step further than that. If you ask me “is there a god?”, my answer will not be “I don’t know and I don’t believe”. My answer will be “define god”. I can only discuss the existence of something if that something is well defined. And that goes for anything, not just gods. The concept of god is simply not well defined. And when someone tries to define it they usually end up with a contradiction. Or they end up with a broad definition that doesn’t mean anything, like saying “god is love” or “god is a force”, to which you can only shrug, since usually they don’t believe themselves in broad definitions, but in precise ones like Jehova or Allah.

    So provide me with a good, well-defined, concept that is not a contradiction, and I’ll gladly discuss it further.

  4. I urge you to google the definitions of Atheist and Agnostic and you will see the juxtaposition.


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