Commentary: Faking Faith


November 30, 1999 # 36
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by Howard Thompson
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     The Christmas season challenges non-theists. We can't avoid "Jesus is the reason for the season" signs and all the other Christmas hoopla.

     We may run into government displays of Christian symbols and messages. School students may be faced with Christian activities. Employees may be faced with office parties, drawing for gifts, and evangelical co-workers all big-eyed to tell you about their "personal savior."

     The build up to Christmas as a national Christian holiday reminds us that we are outsiders. We are outsiders both by our free choice of rational sanity and the hostility of Christians against unbelievers.

     Family is the toughest for most of us. Fortunately, there are no strong religionists in my immediate family. Holiday meals get eaten just fine without blessings at our small gatherings. Christian symbols have diminished to near zero in recent years.

     Families with determined fundamentalists are toughest. I get chills reading some of the first person stories. I wish there was some way to help doubters who have been swallowing their feelings, pasting a smile on their face, and playing "let's pretend Jesus is real" at family gatherings.

     I understand why true feelings are suppressed for faking faith to get along with family. We all sacrifice for family due to our evolved behaviors. No one wants to cause a tense family situation or upset family members. Many doubters and unbelievers see faking faith as a small price to pay for family peace.

    The harm of faking faith comes from rebound feelings. There is an emotional cost from going along with believers, pretending their faith is wonderful, that your doubts and unbelief are non-existent. Faking faith is a kind of intellectual and emotional self-abuse.

     You make the sacrifice for them. You get along with them as they are because they are family. You fake faith and pretend their religious fantasy are noble and real. You bow your head for their prayers, go to their churches, sing their hymns, and smile over their Jesus stories and religious fables.

     They make no equivalent sacrifice for you. There is, in fact, the very real risk that some of them might harshly reject the real you, the doubter and unbeliever, if your mask of fake faith failed and the real you were revealed.

     Faking faith is extreme go-along-to-get-along atheism. You hide what you are, conform to the religious culture, and never live what you really are. You assume all the emotional burden and cognitive distortions that arise from faking faith. Faking faith makes you a master rationalizer about going along the dominate Christian culture; but it erodes your real self as years roll by.

     Atheists choose to live somewhere between living openly as an atheist and faking faith. All of our choices have risks and costs. Living openly exacts its price. Faking faith exacts another price. For me, the price of going along got too high. I finally realized most of my years were gone with me living other than was right for me.

     I feel better about things as an open atheist and simply pay its price as shit happens. My biggest atheist regret is that I waited so long. Many of going-along's harms are now permanent within me.

     Good luck to all who trod the faking faith path, its toll is great. May you have no regrets as the one and only life you will ever have runs out with you faking faith in death so none are disturbed by your unbelief. HT.

These are my sentiments as well --
Darwin Bedford, Spiritual Reality Therapist