Is faith/belief an opinion?

(137 Posts)

Just that, really.

I was recently having a really interesting discussion with a friend of mine who is a Christian in which he tried to explain to me (a non-believer) about why he was a Christian, believed in God, etc.

I struggled to see his opinion that there was a God as any different than, say, someone's opinion that men and women should have equal rights, or someone's opinion that homosexuality is right/wrong. And I thought it should therefore be subject to the same sort of questioning as any other opinion that someone expresses publicly.

He, however, kept falling back on "that's my faith, though" as if it was in a different category. He also said that nothing anyone could say to him would ever change it, which seemed strange to me because I'm always checking and questioning my 'beliefs' to make sure I'm holding them for the right reason and am not mistaken. I would hate to start out from a position of 'nobody is ever going to change my mind about this'.

What do other believers think? Obviously someone's opinion about the existence of God can be much more personal and important than other opinions they hold. But isn't your decision to believe/not believe essentially the same process as many other decisions you make about what you think about any number of other issues in life?

DioneTheDiabolist Sun 22-Jun-14 11:14:03

Have you always not believed OP, or did you previously believe and then stop once you thought about it?

specialsubject Sun 22-Jun-14 12:30:43

faith is indeed an opinion - and as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, should be tolerated as should any opinion.

by definition, faith will not be affected by evidence or questioning. That is why it can cause so much trouble.

deepbluetr Sun 22-Jun-14 13:05:05

Faith is an emotional schema, more than simply an opinion.

gingerdodger Sun 22-Jun-14 13:55:52

I think faith is much more like a deep conviction. I can only speak for own experience which is that my faith is a deep conviction I can't ignore. I don't actually feel the need to have total evidence for the existence of God in the traditional sense of evidence ie I have never actually seen God, however I do see signs of the existence of God in my everyday life. I know there are also horrible things that happen to people (including me) I don't really understand why they do and can't explain them but still my faith remains a deep conviction.

My opinions on things have altered over time. Life's events have made me look at things differently. I suppose I have a conviction for certain things I believe to be right or wrong (probably not totally divorced from my faith if I am honest as I believe Jesus also had a key message of social justice).

In terms of whether I think faith should be not be subject to 'questioning'. I have no issue with people asking me about my faith. I quite enjoy it. I do hope they listen and don't try to belittle it or to assume that I am not bright enough to question it myself. I wouldn't assume that any of my answers would alter their beliefs or lack of.

However it is also unlikely that their questioning would make me doubt my faith because, as I said above, this is based on a deep underlying conviction. To be honest I think this is hard for non believers to understand. Some appear to view my lack of requirement for physical evidence as a lack of ability to question or consider other viewpoints. I can see why they think this but faith does not need this as it comes from deep within.

niminypiminy Sun 22-Jun-14 16:18:29

I agree with what gingerdodger says about faith being a deep conviction. It's more than an opinion because it's more than simply cognitive -- faith isn't just a series of propositions along the lines of 'I believe that...'.

Faith, more than anything else, is a practice. Faith is what you do, not what you think. If it is any one thing it is an orientation -- orienting your life towards God, opening yourself to his presence in prayer and worship, being transformed (very gradually, in my case at least) by his presence in my life. People talk about faith as if it is something that you have, but it is truer to say that it is something that you do.

I don't mind people challenging me on my faith, and have been on debate threads on here fairly often. But these conversations are quite often happening at cross purposes, because there are completely different understandings about how people come to have beliefs at work. My experience is that people often over-estimate how much of what they believe/think is reasoned from first principles and subjected to rigorous testing, and under-estimate how much is rooted in emotional commitments, received ideas and inherited thought-systems. Those who have/do religious faith are charged with irrationality and uncritical acceptance of received ideas, whereas those who are atheist tend to see themselves as rigorous critical thinkers.

Neither is entirely true. As the (atheist) philosopher Betrand Russell observed, most people would rather die than think, and that goes for atheists as well as the faithful. But faith is not the same as certainty -- most believers are more at home with doubt than atheists give them credit for, and most people who have a deep faith have passed through periods of questioning and looking for evidence. And, sadly, it is rarely the case that atheists who demand of believers that they submit their faith to critical questioning are in turn willing to submit their atheism to a trial of the practice of faith, that is, to try their hand at prayer and worship.

deepbluetr Mon 23-Jun-14 06:57:23

nimin, but we can all have critical reasoning, whether we have faith or not, so it's quite reasonable for for both parties to analyse their view in that way.

It is not possible though to have an atheist "try their hand at prayer and worship". Atheists by definition can't pray and worship. I can sing a song, I can mutter some words, but that's all it is. By definition it wouldn't be prayer or worship. The intention isn't there because we don't believe. It would all be meaningless. I could recite the Lord's prayer but I may as well be reciting Ba Ba Blacksheep. It wouldn't be worship, it would just be a meaningless collection of words.

You can't ask an atheist to "try their hand at worship". You can't "try the practice of faith" if you don't believe.

Lovelydiscusfish Mon 23-Jun-14 07:08:55

But deepblue, an atheist could go along with the forms of prayer and worship. They could, for example, attend church, say the creeds, during prayer contemplate what they would like to say to God, if one existed. Because of course, many atheists do this, for example accompanying a partner who does have faith to their place of worship. And some find, through this, that they do start to believe. While others, of course, don't.

deepbluetr Mon 23-Jun-14 07:13:24

It's not worship though if you don't believe. It's just singing the songs and saying random words. Nimin was suggesting that atheists should "try their hand at worship" - it's not something I could physically do. I could say the words but it would be meaningless.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 09:33:55

deepbluetr you've just proved my point for me!

There are all sorts of things that you try not knowing if you can do and thinking you can't do -- you don't know that you can successfully jump into a swimming pool before you do it, and you may well think you can't do it before you take the jump. Overcoming your feeling that 'I can't do it' is an essential part of trying new things.

What you are describing is a refusal to do something, which is quite different. You can try worshipping, and you can try prayer -- as Lovelydiscusfish says, during prayer you can contemplate what you would like to say to God, if one existed, you can use mindfulness techniques, you can simply open yourself to the universe. You can try praising whatever might be there for the amazingness of the universe, and you can search within yourself for those things that you wish you hadn't done and bring them to light. All those things are things that any atheist can do.

And as for saying meaningless words, if they are truly meaningless then you have lost nothing by saying them, no?

deepbluetr Mon 23-Jun-14 09:40:00

No- it doesn't work like that.
No amount of praying will overcome the intellectual hurdles I have about the existance of god.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 09:47:39

"No amount of praying will overcome the intellectual hurdles I have about the existance of god"

I'm not sure how you can say this without having tried it, but in any case, that isn't the point. The point is that to understand that faith is not simply just a set of propositions, and thus to understand the thing that you do not share, it's desirable, necessary even, to try the practices that are its heart.

As I said in my first post, discussions between believers and atheists are hampered because they have different ideas about what belief is. If atheists were more willing to try prayer and worship -- that is, submit their atheism to the test -- then their demands that believers submit their faith to the power of 'critical thinking' would have more purchase.

Meow75 Mon 23-Jun-14 10:03:13

I agree with deepblue

I've had my time sat in churches, mostly as a child but on a few occasions as an adult.

Even at primary school in the eighties, when sat in assembly and the teacher would say let us pray, I would sit there wondering what everyone else was thinking about. That never changed once I got to secondary school, and my thoughts about the existence of any god(s) has been the same for over 20 years.

For some, the "presence" of a god in their lives has been, to me, like having an invisible friend.

For the record, since my mum died in 1998, I've often thought that there being an afterlife would be great, and that Mum might be watching somewhere, but it's just wishful thinking.

My scientific knowledge simply doesn't allow that to be possible. And similarly, how and why would there be some "being" supervising us, supposedly supporting some person in the United Kingdom, perhaps praying for healing for their friend who has cancer, or is having a bad time at the moment, or has lost their keys and yet leaves all the struggles of those living in poverty and destitution, drinking water from rivers that others upstream are using for their toileting?

There's just so much cognitive dissonance on the subject that I don't understand how anyone reaches adulthood in the modern world, still having a genuine religious conviction. I don't mean that in a derogatory manner; I mean I've done the thinking throughout my nearly 39 years, and reached the position of being very very strongly atheist.

I understand the popularity of religious faith in times gone by, when our understanding of the world, our place in it, and it's place in the universe were all limited, but given modern comprehension ... why?!

Meow75 Mon 23-Jun-14 10:05:38

Niminy, submit atheism to what test? Do you still think that's possible for me considering my first post?!

I totally do not - I have not arrived at my current position blindly.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 10:08:57

"I mean I've done the thinking throughout my nearly 39 years, and reached the position of being very very strongly atheist."

-- that is, you've taken out your prejudices and looked at them over your nearly 39 years and not allowed any real thinking to disturb them.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 10:15:02

I apologise for that post, it was snarky. I get irritated when atheists assume that believers are simply irrational, benighted fools who have an imaginary friend to compensate for their lack of intellectual firepower. As if, you know, theodicy and the problem of evil have never ever been considered in the history of religious thought.

My point was, however, that atheists assume they know what faith is about -- that it's a series of propositions that (in their view) fall before the superior propositional power of scientific materialism -- when they often have little understanding of what faith actually is and less willingness to find out.

Sorry I was out all day yesterday and haven’t had a chance to return to the thread until now. Some really interesting points have been made.

Dione: Have you always not believed OP, or did you previously believe and then stop once you thought about it?

Good question. I was brought up a catholic – so went to Catholic Primary and Secondary schools. My parents are still practising Catholics. I went along with worshipping, going to church, praying etc. during my primary school years and I think I believed in the way that children do, just because I had been told it all as a fact by my parents, teachers, nuns and priests, etc. Shortly after starting secondary school, I had a real think about it, and came to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support the ‘facts’ I had been told and began to doubt the things that my teachers were saying. I used to question my RE teacher a lot in lessons – I’ll never forget the time he asked my parents at parents’ evening if I hated him (just because I didn’t automatically accept the things he said, I think). So, in answer to your question I suppose I believed as a child (if a child can really be said to have faith, which I’m not sure about) but my realisation that it was all not true was pretty much instant as soon as I properly thought about it.

That leads me to wonder if faith is some sort of innate thing that some people just have and some don’t. Something in the structure or chemistry of the brain maybe? When I talk to people of faith, it never seems to be that they had a long think, weighed up both sides and came to the conclusion that God exists. It seems much more intrinsically part of who they are than that, and to be much more of an emotional than a rational thing. And that is probably why non-believers find it so hard to grasp – it comes from a place that they just can’t understand. To me, the question, when talking to people who do believe is less about is there a God / isn’t there a God and much more ‘Is it ok to base a strong opinion or belief on no evidence?’. I want to treat their belief like any other opinion as that’s all that I can relate to, but it seems that I shouldn’t.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 10:46:37

"When I talk to people of faith, it never seems to be that they had a long think, weighed up both sides and came to the conclusion that God exists."

Perhaps you are talking to the wrong people of faith. See, for example this thread.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 10:48:27

Also, are you so sure that your atheism comes entirely from a rational place? How do you know this?

Hakluyt Mon 23-Jun-14 10:52:55

"And as for saying meaningless words, if they are truly meaningless then you have lost nothing by saying them, no?"

I have far too much respect for people of faith to do any such thing.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 10:56:13

"I have far too much respect for people of faith to do any such thing."

Have you seriously asked people of faith whether they would mind you saying the Lord's Prayer without believing it? You haven't, but we wouldn't.

I have too much respect for atheists to read Richard Dawkins without agreeing with him. That wouldn't wash either, and rightly so.

Appletini Mon 23-Jun-14 11:02:46

"When I talk to people of faith, it never seems to be that they had a long think, weighed up both sides and came to the conclusion that God exists."

I did. So did my local vicar, who became a Christian in his teens. It's not necessarily blind faith.

I have no objection to you saying the Lord's Prayer if you want to.

Personally I think it's not quite an opinion, though opinion is involved. It's like a relationship: it's not just an opinion that I'm in love with or in a relationship with my DH, and it's not just an opinion that he exists or that I love him.

Personally I feel I have experienced God's presence in my life. I don't just think or hope he exists, I know he does. That's not just an opinion.

Hakluyt Mon 23-Jun-14 11:06:46

There's a big difference between reading a book, and actually praying. I won't say "Our Father which Art in Heaven" when he isn't or "I believe in God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth"when I don't.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Jun-14 11:14:31

Well done, Hakluyt, you too have proved my point, that atheists aren't willing to find out what faith means to people of faith, but want to conduct the debate entirely on their own terms.

Meow75 Mon 23-Jun-14 11:28:32

Niminy, you seem to be similarly fixed in the idea that atheists are not willing to engage.

I have heard it said that each person's experience of religious faith is different, so how can it be possible to do what you are suggesting we are so keen to avoid.

Doesn't the difference in experience strengthen the position of religion/God being a purely human construct and there is no ... I can't think of a better term ... supernatural side?

I didn't explain that very well. Hopefully you understand what I mean ... because your God cannot be seen, it's not that much of a stretch for others to think that it is a figment of your imagination.

After all, in any other situation, you speak to people that aren't really there results in a diagnosis of mental health issues. Why is religious faith different?

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