The F word

The Hitchens-Blair debate was on one of the local public radio stations the other day, and I listened to a few minutes of it; something caught my attention that I hadn’t noticed at the time (because I mostly read it, and watched only a bit). What caught my attention (because it irritated the bejeezis out of me) was Blair’s insistent unctuous repetition of the word “faith.” It occurred to me that Hitchens used that word little if at all, and that I should check the transcript to see what the proportions were. They were as I suspected. It’s quite amusing to use the search function (CTRL + F) and see Blair’s sections speckled like measles with the highlighted word.

This is bad. This is annoying and bad; it’s annoying because it’s bad. “Faith” is a decidedly hooray-word, but it has become a pervasive synonym for religion, which gives pro-religion people an opportunity to load the dice, and to pat themselves on the back multiple times in every conversation. The word should be “religion,” which is a neutral, factual, descriptive word as opposed to an emotive one. “Atheism” and “theism” are the same kind of word – dispassionate and factual. There is no equivalent of “faith” for atheism, which puts us at a disadvantage. This use of “faith” should be challenged regularly. It’s a question-begging device, and I say the hell with it.

Check out just one sample from Blair:

I do say at least accept that there are people doing great work, day in, day out, who genuinely are not prejudiced or bigoted, but are working with people who are afflicted by famine and disease and poverty and they are doing it inspired by their faith. And of course it’s the case that not everybody — of course it’s the case that you do not have to be a person of faith in order to do good work, I’ve never claimed that, I would never claim that. I know lots of people, many, many people, who are people not of faith at all, but who do fantastic and decent work for their communities and for the world. My claim is just very simple, there are nonetheless people who are inspired by their faith to do good.

This is a big reason I find the “interfaith” outreach stuff from Christopher Stedman so irritating: he’s an atheist, yet he does that thing with the F word – he leans on it as heavily as Blair does. Doing that implies that religion is a good thing, and doing that implies that atheism is a bad thing. Clearly Stedman doesn’t intend that, but he should be more aware of rhetorical effects.

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