Irish Senator uses Seanad debate to say that atheists have faith

by Michael Nugent on April 16, 2014

Senator Jim Walsh of Fianna Fail made the following sweepingly inaccurate comment about Atheist Ireland and atheists generally today in the Seanad.

“We’ve got a lot of representations from different groups, and particularly Atheist Ireland, and I want to say that, I said in the past here, I think that atheists, like people of belief, are people of faith. It takes faith for anybody to believe there is a God, and equally it takes faith to believe there is no God. And in many ways I feel reassured by Atheist Ireland because, if there wasn’t a God, well then there wouldn’t be anything particularly to atheate from, and I’d just like to say that.”

Ironically, Senator Walsh made this comment this during a debate on a Bill that aims to reduce religious discrimination. And the representations that Atheist Ireland had made were about the need for the State to remain neutral between religious and nonreligious philosophical beliefs.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paddy Crean April 17, 2014 at 10:32 am

I believe the senator was having a bit of semantic fun at the expense of Atheist Ireland. The words “belief” and “faith” are not necessarily synonymous although a Christian could be forgiven for believing so. If such should be her belief it does not mean she has faith in the synonymousness of the two words.

“Faith”, in the sense used by Christians, may be defined as assent to the unquestionable truth of what is declared by another. On the other hand “belief”, as declared by an atheist, may be defined as an expression, assertion or acceptance of an opinion that may be open to question.

My belief in the senator’s amusing little linguistic contribution to an otherwise serious debate is supported by his use of the non-word “atheate”.

2 Seán Hennessy April 17, 2014 at 11:34 am

I believe he’s trying to say the atheist submissions are invalid because there’s no such thing as an atheist. If it’s a joke, it’s a decidedly pointed one.

3 Michael Nugent April 17, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Paddy, I think a more relevant distinction is that faith is believing something because you want to believe it, disproportionately to the best available evidence.

On that basis, Jim Walsh’s comment is an expression of faith.

4 Michael Nugent April 17, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Also, to those of you wondering whether ‘atheate’ is a real word…. of course it is!

Using Jim Walsh’s impeccable logic, it must be a real word because if you don’t believe it exists then it must exist.

5 Anton April 17, 2014 at 9:44 pm

I think “faith” means taking someones word on a subject you know little about. You dont need evidence to the contrary, just a lack of prior knowledge and someone to fill you in. Unknowing is a prerequisite of faith. If you believe something you know to be untrue, or accept something you believe to be untrue, it isn’t faith.

In religious terms faith has come to mean an unwavering devotion to a huge party whip, the adopted stance. In practical terms it serves to highlight a persons acceptance of “the line” as a reflection on themselves, and failure to do so is a personal failing.

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