The ex-Christian pastor Jerry deWitt says that faith is pretending to believe.

Do you think so?

I've never understood how someone comes to accept an elaborate doctrine.  I can see why people think there's a supernatural entity, because of their own experience. 

But I don't see how someone has an intense emotional experience in the context of Catholicism, say - and then comes to believe all sorts of detailed doctrine, about saints and miracles etc. etc. 

Christopher Hitchens said that he'd talked to lots of Christians and with many of them, he couldn't figure out what if anything they believed.  They weren't willing to be explicit I guess. 

I wonder how much religious people pretend to believe, using the human facility for role-playing, for acting and for art to convey something that deep down, they don't believe. 

"Fake it till you make it" as the motto of entire communities. 

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I don't agree with ex-Pastor deWitt's use of the word "pretending". I'd argue that faith in the doctrine is only possible through ignorance toward the doctrine itself, which I find ironic. I say this because if anyone were to read the Bible academically they would come to the conclusion that it is riddled with contradictions. This we know. Perhaps I am too optimistic about humanity but I fail to believe that anyone who understand the Bible in its entirety can follow, let alone live by it.

In my experience many Christians and Catholics I have spoken to seem to have faith in the Bible because they ignore many of the contradictions and moral atrocities within it. There is no need for "pretending" if one is not aware of the need to act. In the absence of their own self ignorance many Christians (I hope) would come to realize that the God they follow is a morally challenged entity. Not the characteristics of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving God. Sadly many believers carry this ignorance toward their own doctrine and it fosters their own self-indoctrination. This has more so to do with environmental factors than anything else. Generally religious parents focus on the "good" side of God and self ignorance begins at a young age.

So I'd say I agree with ex-Pastor deWitt for the most part.

I agree with you. In my experience (limited as it may be) I find that there are two main types of religious believers, the religious scholar and the uneducated follower. Each of which should be examined separately, in regards to the original question.

In regards to the former group, you are absolutely correct. Pretending, and through it acting, is a much more appropriate term. As you have stated, members of this group have academically studied the Bible and currently attempt to live by it. Due to this I shall assume that they are aware of the morally and ethically questionable nature of the Bible. As you have put it so eloquently, they "...are not comfortable with the alternative" and must act as if these inconsistencies are not present in order to maintain their faith.

As for the latter group however, ignorance in their doctrine is the reason for their faith. Both this group and the former are intertwined. The religious scholars, who act as if the Bible is of no questionable nature, are generally the leaders within the Church. As such, what they pretend the Bible to be is preached as truth to the masses. I find that many Christians don't study (let alone fully read) the Bible. Many of the books they do read are those "Prayer a Day" types which are generally authored by religious scholars. Ignorance of their doctrine naturally follows which allows them to hold faith. "Ignorance is bliss" in terms of Christianity.

Some may state that members of this group do read the Bible. I would agree, but I would make the distinction that they do not study the Bible in an academic sense. Those who can be classified as such remain ignorant toward their doctrine, albeit in a different way. They are ignorant to the lack of reason within the Bible, no longer simply being unaware, which is only uncovered via academic investigation. I come from a fairly religious family and in my experience this holds true. Cousins and uncles, who have read the Bible, would speak of the "Bad Assness" of God as they retold the stories of Samson and the destruction of God's enemies. All the while never understanding the moral conflicts these stories created. At the very least, the make good fiction.

Ultimately, pretending/acting is a necessary action for religious scholars and leaders. Unfortunately this leads directly to the ignorance of the masses who either lack the ability or urge to examine the doctrine they are given. This is why religion has been such an effective tool in the hands of the few to control the masses.

I apologize Kalliope. My response was much longer than intended. These are my thoughts on this topic and I do admit it is based on several assumptions.

I noticed that Jerry deWitt is actually a member of this website.

About believing doctrine, one thing that comes to mind is that belief in the holiness and authority of the church and sacred texts could create belief in all sorts of doctrine. 

And that this belief in the church and sacred texts is transferred from children's natural admiration, imitation and trust in their parents, when they're brought up in a religion. 

I wasn't brought up religious, so I don't personally know about that. 

How about pretending to believe in a being out there that can work the world like a giant pinball machine? 

I've never been religious, but I used to talk about God a lot, kind of as a figure of speech.  A way to make goodness shine.  A name for a kind of shining in my mind. 

Then I read that 70% of Americans believe in God.  I had a moment of feeling comfortable, like isn't it nice being in the majority?  I've hardly ever been in a majority.  Then I became uncomfortable, and asked myself, do I really believe in God, as some active entity out there?  I decided no I didn't. 

Mark Twain said, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect)."

I would have given people the impression I was religious - whatever they associate with "God" - without really being so. 

There's a lot of this in religion, people talking about things that actually happen, doing rituals, etc., with God as the context.  So the supernatural part, the actual supernatural assumptions, are in the background. 

Maybe a pastor would be especially likely to feel they're pretending to believe, since they would spend a lot of time doing things related to belief in God, and after awhile it would get boring and repetitious. 

Similarly many people in religious communities, who spend a lot of time on rituals, probably come to feel they're just pretending, and only keep on doing the rituals so they'll be accepted. 

Is this a question about the definition of a word? That's a pretty tricky question. The English language has seen many changes over the years and is also a language without any official form of regulation so at this point the meaning of "faith" as with any other word within the English lexicon is subjective.

That said, in practice, the word faith is defined as confidence or trust and to some extent, belief.

An example of this is can be found in the descriptive variations of the word such as.

" She is a faithful woman." or " She is a faithless bitch."

another more direct example can be found in the statements

"I have faith in you." and "They have served his purpose with unrelenting faith."

Therefore; for the sake of some form of consistency within the English language, I object to the pastors aforementioned remarks regarding the subject of the definition of faith.

One would have to include unconsciously pretending of course. 

I read the website of someone who converted to Catholicism as an adult.  She said she believed in it because Catholicism made sense out of life, and although this wasn't proof enough for a laboratory scientist it was good enough for her. 

So is someone like that, pretending to believe? 

I have sometimes entertained fantasies, that's probably similar to religious thinking.  The fantasies suited me, even though if someone asked if I really believed them, I would have said no. 

Similarly with a conspiracy theorist I knew - someone who was a 9/11 "truther" and thought that almost every big assassination had been done by the CIA.  If you asked him whether he actually believed those things, he would have said he wasn't sure.  But he sure was obsessed with suspecting the U.S. government of doing those things. 

The reason I brought up "faith is pretending to believe" is because it sounds like simply pandering to atheist cynicism about religion.

Once in a skeptical forum I asked what people thought is going on in the head of faith healers who do faked healings.  Jim Jones was like that, probably Jesus was also.  How can one make sense out of these healers being very religious, full of high ideals, but also deceiving people? 

Someone answered "they're just charlatans" - just pretending.  But it's more complicated than that, often.  For Jim Jones, apparently the faked healings were rationalized, because everyone thought he actually had miraculous powers, so it was OK to fake healings, it would strengthen people's faith. 

People can be very complicated.  CS Lewis posed his famous "trilemma":  Was Jesus lunatic, liar or Lord?  I would say, he was complicated:  all of those things at the same time, where the Lord part = high idealism. 

I wonder if Jerry deWitt is thinking of the stage he went through just before coming out as an atheist - when he really was pretending to believe.  It might be hard to remember a complicated state of compartmentalizing one's disbelief, suppressing it by regarding it as diabolically inspired :) 

The "respect" people have for religion is there to prevent them from asking questions that would expose this complicated state, so that the compartmentalizing can continue. 

I concede, the definition of a word is defined by those that use it most.

However, I don't believe that those that profess "faith" mean to use the word in the way the pastor described.

Perhaps it is possible that I am confusing the apparent practical reality of the conditions of the "faithful" with the abstract theoretical definition of a word "faith".

If what the pastor means to share by the quote " faith is pretending to believe"

translates to: Followers of any religion who stake a claim to faith are in reality attempting to convince themselves and those around them of a genuine presence of faith.

Then it is no longer a matter of the words definition. But an attempt to put in to words, a theory about the mentality of the religious individual.

In this case, I can neither agree nor disagree, partly because I can not test the theory as there is no practical way for me to read peoples minds. And also because I find it illogical to assume that all religious individuals approach their doctrines with the same mentality.

Perhaps it is possible that I am confusing the apparent practical reality of the conditions of the "faithful" with the abstract theoretical definition of a word "faith".

Right, what he's doing is making a claim about what is really going on with people who have religious faith. 

Sorry, taken out of context it's ambiguous.  Jerry deWitt said that in the middle of talking about his process of deconversion and coming out as an atheist.  There are various videos of his speeches on Youtube. 

Richard Dawkins started the "Clergy Project" to help clergy people who no longer believed, and Jerry deWitt took part in it.  It's especially difficult for a clergy person because their whole life and livelihood is wrapped up in religion. 

According to the website, there are now 385 members!

I honestly think that at least at some level, the vast majority of so-called believers realize the absurdity of their belief systems.

It's about the only way I can explain the reaction I get when I tell a believer that I'm an atheist (that of a petulant five-year-old who's just been told there's no Santa Clause).

How would religious believers act differently if they really believed the things they say they do?

I don't understand your example about petulance (= sudden impatient irritation, especially over some trifling annoyance, according to a dictionary).  I've never encountered that reaction.  When I tell religious people that I'm not a believer, they usually tell me how useful religious faith is to them. 

A long time ago I had a friend who was a devout Christian.  I found him interesting and admired him because he radiated a sense of God.  He believed that God was micromanaging his finances - he was working for a missionary center and living on people's contributions, and he felt that support checks miraculously arrived just when he needed them. 

He also felt that as a matter of faith, he shouldn't use birth control.  He wanted to get married, and another Christian told me wryly that he was having a hard time finding someone to marry him, because even Christian women weren't willing to forgo birth control.  At least, the young women couldn't stomach the idea of having 10 or 20 children, popping out babies year after year, even if each one was God's will. 

But if everything that happens is God's will and one should trust in God, then one shouldn't worry about birth control.  It would all be for the best. 

So this is perhaps an example of "believers" not really deep down believing. 

He did eventually get married, but I think he may have married an older woman close to menopause. 

In this age of science, true believers exist in a manufacured fantasy world.  Practitioners of Orthodoxy typically seclude themselves from anything that might pose a challenge to their beliefs, which are constantly reinforced by fellow believers.

But what of the majority of people in Western countries, many of whom are educated enough to know better?  They do religious things for a variety of reasons: social pressure, ethnic ties, the fleeting thought that it might be true...and yes, out-and-out pretense, which could be "fake it till you make it" or just a reluctance to make waves. 

Don't look for rationalism here.   One three-day-a-year Jew told me he attends High Holiday services because he likes the davening (Hebrew prayer/chant).

I do know how shallow I sound by giving an analogy but I believe believers are on a psychological road map.  They are speaking through what they know that brings them to social acceptance in their community and anything that seems to go against that is immediately rejected.

Just a tiny interjection into this well rouded discussion.


I was raised a Catholic. Within the Catholicism there is a dogma held dear, called, "The Mystery of Faith". It refers to the bread and wine taken at Mass. Catholics are to believe the bread and wine they are consuming has literally- not figuratively, as other churches believe- become the body and blood of Christ. What this means is that they have to believe it, even though they can see with their own eyes (and could, of course prove with scientific means), that they are not eating 2000 year old corpse. The church accepts the logical conumdrum, and in response has made a spiritual rite out of putting that conundrum out of the mind, and accepting it as a "mystery". Catholics must, "take it on faith", as such. It's a very solemn and serious part of the whole mass, and is as a rule, sung, not spoken, by the priest, to give it extra mysticism.

So could this be the type of faith deWitt was speaking of? Not a definition of faith which equals belief, but more of a definition of faith which means "I promise not to question things that really don't make sense to me, and that in itself is a very special spiritual rite". Very importantly to this, is that you CONSCIOUSLY concede to stop thinking, and just accept it. Jesus wants it to be a mystery, and so that's special. In this sense, faith becomes part of the ritual of believing. You have faith, so that you can believe.

So this type of faith IS pretending to believe. It's pretending to yourself to believe, made ok because everyone else is doing it, and besides, it makes it more special that way.

Is anyone following me? Or did that make more sense in my head?

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