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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 27, 2010

A belief in life's infinite potential

By Jonathan Larson

What do you think of when you hear the term "atheist"?

The first thing that might pop into your head is a question mark.

Confusion seems to be built right into the name. It's a strange group of people who identify themselves by what they don't believe in.

There are billions of people who don't believe in leprechauns, but we're not about to start holding meetings or writing books about it.

However, there's a big difference between believing in magical redheaded elves and believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural being. Belief like that can have quite an impact. So disbelief must have an impact, too.

A common theme in monotheism is that the glory of the creator is written in all things. For devout believers, this is the light by which they see and understand everything in life. So, when I tell people that I don't believe in God it's not uncommon for them to ask, "So you don't believe in anything?" When I hear this, my heart breaks just a little. Atheism is not synonymous with nihilism.

I'm a naturalist. This means I don't make any distinction between the supernatural and the nonexistent. It's impossible to take this stance without believing that there is something profoundly special about nature. It could be that the greatest miracle is that there are no miracles. That existence itself could be so perfect, so fertile, and so graceful as to give rise to such a universe without any supernatural intervention.

I practice faith in a very different way than any religious person would. I don't see the value in belief without any evidence. I see a lot of potential for harm in that, actually. If we believe that injury and disease can be healed through prayer, then there would be no reason to develop scientific medicine or surgical procedures.

If we believe that God hates certain groups of people, then groups could suffer if only for irrational stigma and baseless fear. The rational mind would likely address such a matter by tracing histories to check for prejudices and cultural causes.

Believing in the biblical God is much more than a harmless wager on the safe side of eternity. What we believe about the nature of reality affects how we live our lives.

We're learning more all the time about the origins and nature of our world, but there is a lot that is not currently understood within scientific theory. If we decide to fill the gaps of our knowledge with myth and supernatural explanations, learning and discovery can break down.

I have faith in the infinite potential of life. I have faith that human beings will continue to create endless forms of art, literature, music, architecture and technology that will celebrate and further explore this adventure.

Most of all I have faith in truth itself. The more we know about morality, logic, beauty and the reality of our universe, the better we will understand our place within it and how to live our lives to the fullest.

The more we learn, the better we'll be. I don't know of any better application of faith than that.


What are your thoughts on faith? Share your ideas and stories with Advertiser readers as an Expressions of Faith guest columnist. For additional information, contact Maureen O'Connell at 535-2475 or moconnell@honoluluadvertiser.com.