Losing one’s faith

I have never understood this concept – to “lose one’s faith.”

Surely, changing one’s mind or beliefs is a positive thing. Your are developing new ideas or beliefs because you have new information, or have found the previous beliefs inadequate in some way.

You haven’t lost anything, you have gained something!

Sure, I can understand why people often feel emotionally committed to an ideological or political belief, or to a community holding a common belief. Moving on can cause some emotional regrets. It may even lead to strained relations, or even severance of relations, with one’s friends. It may take time to accept that such friendships are of limited value if they require you to be hypocritical.

But surely that’s part of being alive.

“Loss of faith” seems even more inappropriate when used to described the ideological development accompanying growth of a child into adolescence. Matt Ridley remarks on Francis Crick’s “sudden refusal to go to church, at about age 12” and refers to this as Crick’s interest in science causing him to “lose his faith.” But surely this was just part of Crick growing up – he didn’t lose anything, he gained something (see Matt Ridley: Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code).

A similar thing happened to Albert Einstein. As a child he received education in both the Jewish and Catholic religions and had some “religious enthusiasm.” But at the age of 12 “he suddenly became completely irreligious.” (see Max Jammer: Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology).

Now, I find these description familiar. As a child I attended several churches, Sunday Schools and Bible classes. This wasn’t as a result of conscious choice or religious conviction. It was just because that’s what happened in those days. I certainly don’t recall any feeling of commitment to a religious belief or dogma. I don’t think such a commitment is possible for a child.

However, I do remember consciously starting to think about society and beliefs at the age of 10 or 12. Presumably that’s just part of normal development. I remember coming to the conclusion that I couldn’t accept the concept of a god, or the religious stories that had been fed to me as a child.

This realisation was accompanied by an intense interest in science and humanitarian ideas. (And, I vaguely remember, an intense interest in the opposite sex – perhaps its related somehow).

No, I don’t see my development of consciousness during transition from child to adolescence as a loss. It was very much a gain.
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Secular believers
Putting the Bible in its place
Why do we believe?
Thank God or Thank Goodness?
Discrimination at school
Religion and Schools
What do we teach our children?
Christian prayer problems
Teaching religion
Should we teach creationism?

7 responses to “Losing one’s faith

  1. Speaking from experience I’d say that when people use that term it’s similar to saying “Losing one’s innocence” where you objectify the lack of something. We who treasure knowledge see this as a deficiency but those who value the security of a (seemingly) internally coherent worldview see this as an ideal to strive for. That is until they need to see a doctor or fly in a plane in which case that all goes out the window.


  2. chillinatthecabstand

    Religious faith is programmed suspension of disbelief – losing your faith is when reality smacks you across the face and you just can’t hold out on it anymore.


  3. You haven’t lost anything, you have gained something!

    In the same way, I would say that when someone crosses the other way, they’ve not lost anything (i.e. reason) either, but have gained something…
    All growth is like that, whatever lines of belief being crossed…


  4. I agree, Dale. It’s just that there seems to be a custom of referring to it as a lost when it is on one direction.

    But, yes, growth (whatever the direction) implies retention of much of the previous ideas and hence should not be seen as a loss.


  5. Upon further reflection (and while I still agree on the “either direction, it’s not a loss” point), there is a very basic sense in which such changes can be seen as involving a kind of ‘loss’…

    People who (for whatever reasons) ‘doubt’ the existence of God, could be said to ‘have’ doubt. Therefore, those who later come to a place where this doubt is replaced (or outweighed) by belief could be (at least grammatically!) said to have ‘lost’ their ‘doubt’…
    Conversely, of course, people who (for whatever reasons) have ‘faith’ (trust) in God and later come to a place where this faith is replaced (or outweighed) by doubt could be said to have ‘lost’ their ‘faith’…

    And of course, God is not the only thing we can have ‘doubt’ or ‘faith’ toward… We can also have (or lose) faith (trust) or doubt in the stock-market, another person, or ourselves, etc…


  6. Sure, Dale. But why inject emotional words like “loss” into this. It implies a special status for ignorance over knowledge, for imaturity over maturity – whatever the direction of movement.

    But the interesting things is that the concept of “loss” is almost only ever used when referring to religious belief (I’ve never heard people being described as losing their atheism). I know, there is the concept of “loss of innocence.” Maybe there is a literary link there.

    We never seem to use the term in science when we are having to advance from old ideas to new ideas all the time. Rather than talking about loss we get positively enthusiastic about replacing old ideas.


  7. But why inject emotional words like “loss” into this.

    Question – don’t all words carry emotion?
    Comment – becase it’s a way of describing something that most people have no problem with?


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