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No Such Thing as a Non-Believer

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No one's religious anymore. Not anyone with any sense. Religion incites hatred, starts wars, and vilifies anyone who challenges its narrow-minded views. Believing in a big bearded man in the sky is stupid. I can say and do what I want because when I die I'm either going to be burnt or rot in the ground. That's it. Finito, terminado, kthanksbye.

Of course I'm playing devil's advocate. There are still lots of people who consider themselves religious in Britain and these beliefs should be respected not ridiculed.

Yet there is a increasing portion of society who consider those with religious faith to be foolish, irrational or responsible for ostracising others. Religious beliefs are all too often either mocked or resentfully tolerated.

But having faith is not as alien a concept as atheists might suggest.

The gap between believers and non believers doesn't exist in the way that some people insist.

It is true that we all believe in something. And those beliefs are often fundamental to our view of the world and something we resolutely adhere to even when challenged.

We all have beliefs and through acknowledging this, some of the tension between religious and secular parts of society can be healed. Indeed our very need to believe unites us.

Belief means an acceptance that something is true, especially an acceptance without proof.

It also means having trust or confidence in something. Faith pretty much means the same thing (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) except it's defined in stronger terms.

We believe in lots of things without proof. Even if we don't use the word faith, we put our confidence in people or actions with no guarantee of whether they will work.

Loving someone is an incredible act of faith for example. Virgil wrote in 42 BC: "Love conquers all things; let us too surrender to love."

That was way before Christianity took off in the ancient world. Even those heathen Romans had some conception of faith. It's almost impossible to live your life believing in nothing.

Looking after our planet implies a set of beliefs about humanity too. After all, we will be reduced to dust before the world heats up, the ice caps melt and the mango becomes the national fruit of Scotland. It will be a shame but it's not like we'll be around to see it.

Yet lots of secular people care about the planet. Why? Are we trustees of its "still waters and green pastures"? Who trusted it to us then?

We should preserve the planet for our fellow creatures goes one argument. Perhaps we have a responsibility to the other human beings who come after us.

But that implies some sort of belief about the whole of humanity. And seeing as none of us have met the whole of humanity, that's a hell of a leap of faith in the worthiness of humans.

Perhaps you believe most people are fundamentally good, so we should protect the planet for them.

If you think we should "treat others the way you want to be treated" and seeing as we like to live in a green and pleasant land we should allow our descendants the privilege too.

Many people believe in the 'do unto others as you would to yourselves' maxim. It is also an ethic that underpins almost every religion from East to West. If you believe in that, you have something in common with every Muslim, Christian, Jew and Hindu in Britain today.

In Islam it is expressed implicitly and explicitly both in the Koran and the hadith, sayings of the prophet Muhammad. "That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind."

In Hinduism the ethic is embodied in the sacred text of the Mahabharata: "One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one's own self."

The maxim "Love your neighbour as yourself "is enshrined in both the Jewish Torah and Christian Old Testament

These religions are not breaking new ground with their adoption of the 'golden rule.'

"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself," wrote Confucius around 500BC.

Maybe this maxim is just a common sense practice for a decent society. Still, to hold true it requires a level of belief.

You're trusting that the person to whom you ascribe this maxim is like you.

Which requires a belief that in some way humans are similar. If you are like me, and I am like you, and I am thinking about you then you must also sometimes think about me. And we are both probably deserving of respect.

Even if you think the maxim has survived due to a selfish desire to preserve oneself, the very fact so many people believe it to be true shows we have more in common than we realise: ironically, regardless of all our different beliefs.

There's nothing wrong with belief, secular or religious. In and of itself, undistorted, it's not the dangerous force that it's sometimes labelled.

In fact, it takes a level of courage and self confidence to trust in something. I think perhaps we are all more inclined to believe than we realise. So even if our faiths are different, as believing humans we still have quite a lot in common. That sounds like a pretty good starting point for understanding and believing in each other to me.