Crisis of confidence can lead to epiphany

The Swedish government has hit the nail on the head. They have announced plans to prevent religious beliefs being taught as facts. It is important to hold beliefs up to the highest standards of proof, and religion fails all tests.

A common chestnut hurled (ow!) at the atheist is 'It takes a great leap of faith to be an atheist;' that atheism is somehow a similar but opposing 'belief' to theism. Of course this is nonsense. Atheism does not require faith. I won't bother enumerating the reasons here.

Thinking about it further, I realized don't truly 'believe' anything. I just have a mental map of the world based on years of observation and confirmed hypotheses–all of which is open to radical alteration based on any new evidence.  Is that all belief is? I don't think so.

Belief is faith-based. It requires no proof. And most disturbingly, cannot be shaken even when confronted with contradictory evidence. For this reason, I believe in nothing, and am proud not to.

On an seemingly unconnected train of thought, I was curious about the nature of personal confidence. Be confident. we're always told. Confidence is attractive and inspires people. But why am I often lacking in it?

What exactly is confidence anyway? I thought about its Latin stem fidere, which means 'faith'. Drat! Can a person of no faith ever be confident? It seemed a contradiction of the definition. So I checked the dictionary.

Confidence, c.1430, from L. confidentia, from confidentem, prp. of confidere, from com- intens. prefix + fidere "to trust" (see faith).

The word Trust caught my eye. There's a subtle distinction between faith and trust which leads to a satisfying summation of the atheist-rationalist 'belief system.' I would phrase it thus.

Believe nothing. Form an idea of the world and act as if your ideas were true.

I love that phrase 'as if.' It's carefree. It allows you to pretend, to play act that you know all the answers, that you have arrived at the summation of all knowledge. In short to act like a believer, without the sinister finality of true faith. Without the tangle of internal false-justification, cognitive dissonance and tortuous logic.

Last word to Kevin Smith:

BETHANY
Having beliefs isn't good?

RUFUS
I think it's better to have ideas. You can change
an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life
should malleable and progressive; working from
idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to
certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't
generate. Life becomes stagnant.

from 'Dogma' (1999)

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