Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What happened to the Christianity of Jesus?

What attracted me to Christianity as a teenager were the liberal and pacifist words of Jesus in the New Testament. I, like many Christians today, largely ignored the Old Testament, even though I read the Bible cover to cover. The Old Testament was the Bible of Judaism. I believed then, and still do, that one can be a complete and devout Christian by basing your belief solely on the New Testament.  

It's impossible to ignore these days how far mainstream Christianity has diverged from the words of Jesus and example of his life. And by mainstream Christianity I mean the televangelists and representatives of the faith that appear on TV and in print espousing the standards of modern American Christianity.

When I listen to the words of Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps I can only conclude that the Jesus they follow is a vengeful and hate-filled deity. When I hear politicians proclaim their religious beliefs one minute then hear them recommend cutting social programs and taxing the working class the next, I can only conclude that they are either hypocrites or that they are reading a different version of the story of Jesus than the one I encountered in the New Testament.

If there is an attack being waged on American Christians, it's being conducted by the leaders of the faith.

Two of my literary heroes as a Christian were Thomas Merton and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both men not only understood and wrote inspiringly about what being a Christian meant, but they lived a life in full accordance with their beliefs. Merton didn't just write about the value of contemplation and asceticism to the modern believer, he lived his entire adult life as a Trappist monk devoting himself to those values. Bonhoeffer didn't just write about what has labeled as "religionless Christianity" but acted on his pacifist religious beliefs by openly proclaiming his opposition to the Nazi regime, a stance which lead to his death by hanging at the hands of the Gestapo.

This is what the Jesus of my believing years would have endorsed, a faith that was concerned with the plight of all humanity, a truly humble and serving belief.

Modern Christian "heroes", men of wealth and fame like Robertson, Joel Osteen, James Dobson and Tony Perkins, preach a message of intolerance and eschew empathy in any form. They are more concerned with telling others, even those who don't share their beliefs, how they should live their lives than they are with feeding and clothing the poor or helping those in need. Theirs is a gospel of greed and exclusion as opposed to Jesus' example of selflessness and inclusion. Modern Christian leaders and those who claim to speak for the body of believers are in fact the antithesis of Jesus; anti-Christs, if you will.

And while the Pope still proclaims a message of peace and concern for the poor, American Catholics cannot ignore the glaring disparity between his words and the way he lives. Indeed, his lifestyle is exactly the sort that Jesus was well known to preach against. 

I'm not at all surprised by the many polls that indicate that those who don't identify with any religious belief is the fastest growing group in America. Many of us who were raised on the Biblical message of Jesus can't help but see that modern Christianity has abandoned the very essence of Jesus' life and words. The concepts of serving the poor, debasing yourself and your own desires, turning the other cheek, living a life of humility, have been discarded by Christianity. Modern Christianity is now a faith that can best be summed up with the attitude, "I've got mine, screw you". Screw you if you're poor, it's either your own fault or a result of God's displeasure with you. Screw you if you're hungry or homeless, don't expect me to bail you out.

Those who preach this sort of gospel are the true enemies of Christianity and the reason that American Christianity is becoming both irrelevant and unpopular. This hypocrisy is what finally lead me to conclude that Christianity, living a life in accordance with the teachings of Jesus and living a life that emulated his, is a farce. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Existence versus belief

The debate over the existence of a god is a question about the factual existence in reality of a specific entity. Since no objective, verifiable evidence has been presented by religious believers that establishes beyond a shadow of doubt that their particular god, or gods in generic form, exists in reality, we are left with inferences from and interpretations of natural events that suggest to some that their god exists. That no conclusive evidence can be presented assures us that the debate over those interpretations and inferences will continue forever, or until such evidence can be produced. The standards for evidence that would establish the existence of a god are quite high, for as Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 

The debate over the belief that gods exist addresses a reality we can all accept, whether through personal experience or the testimonies of others. The standard for evidence that people believe gods exist is much lower than the standard for the actual existence of a god. We can easily determine that people genuinely and sincerely believe their particular version of god exists. We shouldn't even question that people do in fact believe their god exists. 

The debate over religious beliefs challenges the particulars and specifics of those beliefs. The belief that god exists is a philosophical argument, not a scientific claim, and we know that philosophy is not a scientific field. Science asks, "Can you show that..." while philosophy asks, "Do you think that...". Even believers in a particular god question and challenge the beliefs of those who have faith in another god. That's the basis for the observation that we are all atheists, we all disbelieve in some gods even if we believe that our particular god is real. At least I have never heard of anyone who believes that all the gods ever worshiped by humans throughout history all exist in reality, a sort of ultimate pantheism. 

It's worthwhile to challenge and debate the belief in gods. That process is what led me beyond my own belief in god. If someone's beliefs cannot withstand scrutiny and skepticism then they are shallow beliefs that may not be the most firm types with which to guide a person's life. 

On the other hand it's generally pointless to debate the actual existence of gods. Not only does the hypothesis lack quantifiable evidence but no framework has been suggested by which the question could be objectively confirmed or discounted.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Muslim perspective on the "Innocence of Muslims"

Followed by my response.

While the goal of this video is commendable it ignores a few factors that complicate the situation beyond what it discusses.

As to part 1, Muslims being portrayed as violently reactionary. I agree it’s both unfair and unreasonable to characterize an entire group by the actions of a minority of its members. No one I’m aware of attempts to paint all Christians as hateful and bigoted based solely on the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church members or the Ku Klux Klan. Neither should we characterize all Muslims as violent based solely on the killings and protests committed by a minority within the Islamic community. And lest we overlook the broader implications of this attitude, we should also refrain from judging all non-believers just because a few atheists such as Pol Pot and Stalin were inhumane and committed atrocities the vast majority of atheists condemn. I agree with the video on this point.

As to part 2, the freedom of speech. This issue is more complex and nuanced than the video acknowledges. It’s true that the freedom of speech is not an entirely unrestricted freedom. Societies and governments have established contexts within which the right to speak freely is curtailed either by convention or law. The right to freely speak our minds does not acquit us of responsibility for what we say. On this point I again agree with the video.

What the video inaccurately addresses is the freedom of speech when it involves insult and blasphemy. “Hate speech” is socially unacceptable but is punished, when it is, reactively and not proactively. In other words, anyone is free to insult another but has to accept responsibility for their insult when it results in violence. While it’s socially and, for many of us, personally repugnant to call a Black person “nigger”, there is no legal prohibition against doing so. Nor is it always unacceptable to use the word in every possible context. Both the video and I have used the word and neither of us has done so in an effort to demean or insult Black people. To the broader point, insult is not a prohibited or even restricted form of speech. While most civil people refrain from insulting individuals pointlessly, we generally don’t object to insults directed at groups of people or institutions who have offended us in one way or another. Android users insult Apple users, Democrats insult Republicans, we accept the use of insults and satire to make a distinction between our opinions and those of others with whom we disagree. And while those insults still incur responsibility, we cannot possibly be responsible for every extreme and irrational reaction to them. If I call the God of the Old Testament a jerk and someone stabs me for saying that, can you honestly say that I’m fully responsible for that reaction?

More to the point, Western societies and governments are primarily concerned with insults based on what a person is; their race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, hair color or age, aspects of their person they are born with and cannot easily change. We are not so concerned over insults directed toward what a person has chosen to be. A person chooses to be a Republican, fully aware that there are non-Republicans who may insult them for that decision. When a person chooses to be affiliated with a certain religion they ought to be aware that those who disagree with this choice may express their disagreement through insult, satire or philosophical challenges. There is no freedom from offense. Those offended by the insults and disparagements voiced by those of other faiths or no faith are just as responsible for their reactions are are those who issued the insult or disparagement. There is a real difference between insults directed toward individual believers and the beliefs they hold. The majority of negative comments directed toward Islam, Christianity, Scientology, the Church of Latter Day Saints and other religious groups are directed toward the beliefs of these groups, not necessarily the individuals who hold those beliefs. Religious belief is not exempt from criticism or insult any more than is political belief under the concept of freedom of speech.

What I find disingenuous is Eastern countries attempting to make blasphemy, the vocal opposition to a religious belief, a criminal act under international law while giving lip service to freedom of speech. Blasphemy is not an abuse of the freedom of speech, it’s perhaps the most important aspect of that freedom alongside the freedom to speak out against our own government. It’s a test of that freedom, and the efforts to curtail blasphemy are a failure of that test. 

When you choose to join a religion, political party or other social group, it’s both unreasonable and unrealistic to expect everyone else to automatically respect that choice. It’s a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the freedom of speech to establish legal barriers to disagreements of any passive, nonviolent disagreement with those choices. That’s tyranny, and those of us who champion the freedom of speech will not allow any religion, political party or other social group to become a tyrant. 

(A related commentary from AC Grayling...http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/oct/19/acgrayling)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

You're all gay...sorta.

I contend we are all gay to varying degrees. 

While I've seen no science that supports the notion that humans, both male and female, can be exclusively gay or straight, I have seen studies done that suggest sexual orientation is not an either/or proposition but rather a matter of percentage. Sexuality should be seen as a continuum.

It's a lot like handedness. People are primarily right or left handed, but that doesn't mean there aren't some things a righty does better with their left hand or a lefty with their right. I'm probably 80% left handed, maybe you're 80% right handed. but no one I've ever met has been exclusively left or right handed. In the same way I don't believe anyone is exclusively gay or straight. They might prefer to live a life that appears exclusively gay or straight, but that's behavior, not orientation. 

Many people who self-identify as exclusively gay or straight are horrified by the suggestion that they might harbor even a small percentage of the opposite orientation within them. That's understandable but I believe mistaken. 

I see nothing wrong with accepting that we are complex sexual creatures who are by varying degree both gay and straight, realizing that fact only in a particular circumstance or context or perhaps never at all. If societies hadn't demonized homosexuality the way a majority of them have, based on purely emotional and unscientific beliefs, perhaps we'd have an easier time coming to grips with our own sexuality and our lives would be that much richer and rewarding. As it is very few even among the most open-minded of individuals are comfortable considering the possibility that we are only predominantly gay or straight and not exclusively one or the other.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Crocaducks and Crackpots

Where creationists go wrong in their opposition to evolution and their support for Intelligent Design is their failure to understand that the natural process of evolution and the theory of evolution are two entirely separate things. 

The theory of evolution is the attempt by scientists to explain the process of evolution. It’s an incomplete and ever improving theory. There may be better explanations for evolution but so far none have been put forth that can explain evolution as well as the theory first proposed by Charles Darwin and that can be successfully defended by the scientific method. 

The process of evolution has been observed in nature and replicated in the lab. It’s a natural process that practically every biologist understands and relies on to explain the changes in populations over successive generations. 

The ID crowd errs in offering a replacement explanation for those changes without ever attempting to explain the observed phenomena known as evolution. They simply want to ignore evolution and suggest another unproven and untestable idea instead. 

Creationists often say evolution requires faith, that they can’t believe in evolution. That’s like saying they don’t believe in gravity. While it’s true to a degree that one can believe or disbelieve the theory of gravity, one would be a fool to say they don’t believe in gravity. It’s no different for evolution. Both are observed and documented natural processes. The theories of both gravity and evolution are simply our best attempts to explain how those processes work. The theories could be wrong, there could be better explanations that account for the observations. But neither creationism or ID attempt to provide a better explanation, they want to offer an entirely unique process that hasn’t been observed in nature and can’t be replicated in the lab. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Overturning Roe v. Wade

There can only be one logical, reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the Republican party's determination to overturn Roe v. Wade and once again make abortion illegal in the U.S. regardless of the woman's circumstances.

Republicans don't believe in freedom of choice. 

Instead they believe it's acceptable to legislate religious morality into the laws of our nation, inflicting their religious beliefs on every citizen with no concern for what we may individually believe. 

There's absolutely no practical reason abortion can't remain a legal option for those women who wish to  have one. Christian leaders are free to demand that Christian women refrain from electing that option. 

If abortion were considered repugnant by the vast majority of women they wouldn't get them. If there were other available options for the victims of rape and incest to avoid pregnancy or a mother in mortal danger from giving birth, then the abortion option could be ignored. There is no circumstance in which the lives of women or society as a whole benefits from making the abortion option illegal and forcing women in need of one to once again become victims of back alley abortions performed by less than honorable charlatans. 

The fact that there are women who want and need abortions ought to tell Republican leaders that this is an option many citizens find necessary. But Republicans, and all the others who oppose freedom of choice, don't care. The citizen's needs are of no interest to them, the very concept of freedom of choice is anathema to them. They see nothing wrong with telling the people they supposedly represent what they may do. This is the manner of an authoritarian dictatorship or theocracy, not a democratic republic. 

This is just the first step by theocratic conservatives to ensure their religious dogma becomes the law of the land. If they can win a victory in their crusade against women the rest of us are next. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Horton Hears an Evangelical

In a place known as Whoville the folks got distraught
When Horton the elephant said what he thought.
“The oddest of oddities isn’t as odd
As people believing that there is a god.”

The Who Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists
The Who Vegetarians, Wiccans, and Nudists,
The Who Presbyterians, Baptists, New Agers:
All spread the sad news on their cell phones and pagers.

A Who Evangelical fell to his knees
And he said, “Oh no, Horton! I beg of you, please!
We always have liked you. We all think you’re swell,
And we can’t stand the thought that you’re headed to hell!”

But Horton just laughed and he wiggled his trunk.
The bible to him was a big bunch of bunk.
He meant what he said and he said what he meant,
“Religion is silly a hundred percent.”

The Who Evangelical let out a snort in
A very snide way most insulting to Horton.
“You say you’re an atheist? Here’s what we’ll do —
We all know that atheists are anti-Who —

We’ll drive you from Whoville; we’ll send you away.
Or else we will force you to worship and pray.
A person’s a person, no matter how small
But an atheist isn’t a person at all!”

But Horton just laughed once again even louder
And told all the Whos he would not take a powder,
Nor worship some stupid nonsensical being
That no one was hearing and no one was seeing.

“I will not be threatened,” he said. “It’s not funny.
I won’t trust your god with my flag or my money!
I will not allow him to influence science.
An elephant thrives on his own self-reliance!”

The Who Evangelical said, “My dear chap, sure
You think you’re so smart, but just wait till the rapture.”
The anti-Christ’s coming and then you will find,
That your friends are in heaven but you’re left behind.

“We cannot allow that to happen to you,
Because, after all, Jesus loves ev’ry Who.
You must accept God for the good of us all.
A person’s a person no matter how small.

“And though you’re no Who (you are just a big elephant),
God loves you, too. What you are is irrelevant.
He can destroy us if someone’s defiant.
A sinner’s a sinner no matter how giant!”

The Whos approached Horton, began to surround him.
If some of the Whos had their way, they’d have drowned him.
Some others thought maybe they might build a fire.
And stoning was mentioned among the Who choir.

But Horton was huge and avoided the crunch of them,
Picked up his foot, and he stepped on a bunch of them,
Hoped the survivors would give up their mission,
So here’s what he told them about superstition:

“The oddest of oddities isn’t as odd
As people believing that there is a god.
There isn’t a heaven, or hell you should dread.
A person’s a person — unless he is dead.” (Anon)
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
Dr. Seuss

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My god

Theists are always trying to tell atheists that our religion is atheism, our gods are Dawkins or Darwin and our dogma is "something comes from nothing". As foolish as it is to try and tell someone else what their beliefs are, theists seem determined to equate our attitude toward theism with their belief in god. 

Rather than allow them to frame the conversation, rather than give them license to tell me what I believe, what I value, what I worship, I've decided to tell them what it is I hold sacred (if I may borrow that term from their lexicon).

My god and my religion is music. And my god is demonstrably greater than any anthropomorphic god humans ever invented. 

First and foremost, music accomplishes that which no other god can, it unites and brings joy to any person regardless of any factor that might otherwise divide them. It's the one thing common to every culture, tribe or clan that can be shared with everyone else with no loss of quality or quantity. It is a universal language, it can speak to the heart of both young and old, male and female, gay and straight, black and white, Republican and Democrat. There are no barriers to music, no nation can claim sole ownership of it. Music can inspire, comfort, enlighten, encourage and fascinate anyone who listens to it. Even the deaf can appreciate musical rhythm. Music is available to everyone and appeals to us all. 

No other god is as powerful as music to improve our mood, lift our spirits, and all without a demand of belief or sacrifice. No one has to believe in music. No one group of people holds the "truth" of music. It's accessible to anyone, anywhere, any time. Because music can take different forms it has universal appeal. No one is denied the benefit of music. Music can make us cry, make us love, make us think. It asks nothing of us except to listen.

Music is the greatest god humans have ever discovered, and it's the only thing I worship as a god, with the exception of dance, a minor but equally universal god. All else is temporal, conditional and flawed to some degree. Only music is perfect. Music has been with us since a time before god-belief and no doubt will be with us until we become extinct. 

Below are some videos of my god and of the joy and unity that music can provide when it's performed by surprise in a population of diverse humans. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Catholic Church tired of being persecuted for molesting children

Since Christianity grew out of Judaism I think it's appropriate to accuse Catholic bishops and their apologists of having a lot of chutzpah.

According to several reports online, the Mother Church feels persecuted. It's tired of apologizing for molesting children. Evidently they feel that their good works ought to outweigh the commission and cover-up of hundreds if not thousands of criminal sexual acts. 

In an effort to improve their image they've decided to put legal pressure on a victim's defense organization. Their obscene wealth should hire a lot of good lawyers.

Turning the tables on an advocacy group that has long supported victims of pedophile priests, lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church and priests accused of sexual abuse in two Missouri cases have gone to court to compel the group to disclose more than two decades of e-mails that could include correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witnesses, the police, prosecutors and journalists...

The network and its allies say the legal action is part of a campaign by the church to cripple an organization that has been the most visible defender of victims, and a relentless adversary, for more than two decades. “If there is one group that the higher-ups, the bishops, would like to see silenced,” said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University and an advocate for victims of clergy sex crimes, “it definitely would be SNAP. And that’s what they’re going after. They’re trying to find a way to silence SNAP.”

No doubt the Bishops and other leaders in the Church feel that this is all a matter of religious freedom. That's a phrase they like to toss around a lot. Take this letter from the Catholic Bishops as an example of their fondness for religious freedom.

Twice in recent weeks, I have written you to express my gratitude for our unity in faith and action as we move forward to protect our religious freedom from unprecedented intrusion from a government bureau, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

How fortunate that we as a body have had opportunities during our past plenary assemblies to manifest our strong unity in defense of religious freedom.

Since January 20, when the final, restrictive HHS Rule was first announced, we have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it...“Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.” Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop William Lori, with so many others, have admirably kept us focused on this one priority of protecting religious freedom. We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans.

And that's just within the first four paragraphs. The phrase is used ten more times in the letter.

They completely ignore the fact that every freedom in America includes certain responsibilities. For example, freedom of speech doesn't permit you to yell "fire" in a crowd. Neither should religious freedom be (ab)used to excuse the inexcusable. 

Even lay leaders are chiming in, urging the Church to quit apologizing, hire powerful lawyers, and fight for their right to molest. Bill Donohue, the outspoken Catholic League bulldog, posted in an editorial:

We now know from the deposition of SNAP director David Clohessy that he has been (a) lying to the media about his work (b) falsely advertising his group as a rape crisis center (c) working with unseemly lawyers (d) exploiting his clients by providing unauthorized “counseling” services (e) ripping off those who are truly in need of help by failing to contribute even a dime for licensed counselors, and (f) pursuing priests on the basis of legal criteria he admits he cannot explain.

Furthermore, we know from two people who went undercover last summer to a SNAP conference in the D.C. area that the Catholic Church is regarded by these activists as “the evil institution.” Yet when the bishops finally decide to play hardball, they are slammed by the New York Times!
When the Times is sued, does it hire wimpy lawyers? Does it allow itself to be a punching bag? Not on your life: they hire the most aggressive attorneys they can buy. But when the bishops follow suit, they’re accused of not showing “reconciliation” for the victims.TheNew York Times needs to get it straight: when rapacious activists and lawyers, motivated by revenge—not justice—seek to bleed the Catholic Church by using methods that are unethical at best, and illegal at worst, then it is only fair that the bishops take a page out of the New York Timesplaybook and defend themselves. With vigor.

In an interview with Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times, Donohue says that in the past the church “has been too quick to write a check” to individuals who report being victimized by pedophile priests. He believes that the church should fight each case “one by one,” ostensibly to save money “in the long run.”

He said that Catholic bishops should “toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough” in the fight against victims of sex abuse. “We don’t need altar boys.”

Spot on, Bill. Why waste money compensating victims of clergy abuse when that money could be better used to squash such a powerful foe. Obviously SNAP must be a powerful foe to incur the wrath of the Catholic League. (The Catholic League, comedian Kathy Griffin says, is “just that one guy (Donohue) and his computer”.)

According to the New York Times, it has three paid staff members, and its revenue in 2010 was a whopping $352,903. In other words, compared to the mighty Catholic Church, it's a pretty small, not-very-well-funded organization that exists solely to support those who've been victimized by the Church. Which means, according to Donohue, that SNAP is "a menace to the Catholic Church."

Not to be outdone by a mere layperson, Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, is opposing legislation that would make the Church even more vulnerable to these whiners that would challenge its right to protect molesting priests from prosecution.

Cardinal Dolan criticized a legislative proposal that would, for a year, drop the statute of limitations for filing civil claims for sexual offenses, allowing for lawsuits by people who say they were abused long ago. The cardinal said he was concerned that a flood of lawsuits over abuse by priests could drain the church of money it is using for charitable purposes.

“I think we bishops have been very contrite in admitting that the church did not handle this well at all in the past,” he said. “But we bristle sometimes in that the church doesn’t get the credit, now being in the vanguard of reform. It does bother us that the church continues to be a whipping boy.”

It galls me, as I would hope it does any person of reason whether they be Catholic, Protestant or non-religious, that the Church would try to excuse its priest's behavior by crying persecution and hold up the concept of religious freedom as if it were a shield to stave off responsibility. It should shame Catholics that their leadership is using its vast wealth to silence those who take an active role in trying to help victims of clerical abuse. 

If this is indeed all protected under the flag of religious freedom then perhaps it's time to reconsider the wisdom of allowing religions more freedom than other for-profit institutions enjoy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Belief can be beneficial

Those of us who are non-theists, non-believers in gods and the supernatural, those of us who champion logic and rationality over blind faith and challenge daily the faith of those who appear to prefer belief over knowledge, may be missing the whole point of belief and faith. 

Perhaps faith itself is what is beneficial to us, regardless of the validity or reality of what we believe. 

Call it the placebo effect, call it self-confidence or the power of positive thinking, we can't deny that believing strongly in something can provide a benefit to the believer. 

It would be wonderful to know everything or at least to know that everything could be known. Even if that's the case it's unlikely we as a specie will reach that point in our lifetime. Those of us alive today and reading these words will die with many facts about the universe and ourselves still unknown, still unknowable. Much if not most of what we think we know, what we believe, our opinions and education, are based on incomplete knowledge. Humanity is still young and our sciences younger still. We have only begun to explore the universe we live in. There's vastly more we don't know than we do.

Early in human history we had to guess at what the world was about. Humanity invented explanations for phenomena that these days we are finding natural causes for; the rain, natural disasters, emotions, life. Yet even in finding the causes we are left ignorant of the meaning of these things to the universe. The only true sense we can make of it all is what we value personally, what we believe about the meaning and purpose of reality. 

Too often I hear my fellow non-theists condemn faith and belief without considering that while the object of a belief might be irrational or fantastic, the belief itself can be a positive or at least neutral influence in our lives. 

I believe my dog loves me. I choose to interpret her actions as those born of love and devotion. How do I know she loves me? Honestly I don't. I can't read her mind and I don't speak canine. For all I know she may actually hate me but is smart enough to realize that acting on those feelings might cut off her supply of food and attention. I could go through life with the opinion that my dog secretly hates me and is only using me for her own benefit. But that would strain our daily interactions and our relationship. Someday we may invent the means to truly know what animals are thinking and feeling, but until that day we are left with our beliefs. I choose to believe that which enriches our relationship, the belief that is more beneficial to my peace of mind; Cleo loves me in equal measure to my love for her. I will likely never know for sure. All I have is my faith that this is the case. 

My fellow skeptics and atheists, the enemy of rationality and reason is not faith or belief. Both states of limited knowledge can be beneficial or detrimental to the person holding them. Faith and belief can both play a positive role in our lives within a constructive context and with the knowledge that we are employing them willfully. Blind faith may be unnecessary but faith in things unknown or unknowable is unavoidable and often comforting and reassuring. 

We should not disparage faith in ourselves, the belief that we are loved by friends and family (and even the family dog). Faith in our fellow man and the efficacy of knowledge are honorable. There is reason to believe that faith in the future can empower us to overcome obstacles and roadblocks in our lives. 

Faith and belief are natural parts of our humanity. We should not deny them or belittle them. We should strive to employ them to improve ourselves and the lives of others.