I’ve been pondering this awhile now. I think possibly the most important thing to me is intellectual honesty when it comes to things - tending to be a realist; anticipating what is most likely going to happen rather than praying for a better outcome. However, recently I’ve been feeling that adopting faith, belief in things non falsifiable yet easily shaved by Occam’s Razor - such as telling myself that the soul survives death, which is comforting and unable to disprove, but requires more assumptions to accept baselessly than just saying our soul doesn’t, which is much more depressing to me.

I feel like blind faith has propelled people in life during hardships, and given them strength where realists would have more trouble carrying on. A mother carrying for her terminally ill husband like a nurse would find the job a lot easier to deal with if she was convinced she would go to heaven with him after all this was over or have good karma that would be repayed, rather than accepting that she will care for him until he was no more and that’s that. There’s less of a reason to smile and carry on. Yet it’s the more honest look at things - the least wildly unlikely outcome.

What I’m trying to get at is, I feel like being intellectually honest is a burden to someone when they face hardship. It gives them strong terror management in the belief of afterlife, fortitude in hardships, and grace facing old age - all based on baseless information. I know that the belief that we will be erased forever is also unproven, I consider it the most likely outcome as it requires the least assumptions to be made to justify it. Consciousness after death has enormous complications for physics and is burdensome to try and justify against physicalism.

In case someone argues that I’m choosing to view the postmodern rationalist takes on these subjects as more depressing, and that they’re not inherently, I would certainly argue it is inherently. Things that go against our self preservation instinct (unresolved death anxiety) and motivation seem hard to rule as subjectively bad.

I want the benefits of blind faith, with the intellectual integrity. How can this be done, other than forcing yourself to change your perspective because you clearly don’t like what the realist take is?

And let me just emphasize: I don’t mean faith only in the religious sense. I mean a gut feeling of hope in uncertainty. Faith in something. Having faith something will work out despite there not being a rational leaning to it happening.

If you disagree, how can a realist cope with death anxiety? Struggle with no promise of reward?

  • "how can a realist cope with death anxiety?" Do you accept transhumanism? Particularly extropianism. But that still requires some belief: belief that you will live till the moment when you can prolongate the life. And word "faith" seems less appropriate than "belief".
    – rus9384
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 10:45
  • For some it can be it really depends on what does faith means to someone, it can may mean the same as optimist so synonyms.
    – Fuel
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 3:24

6 Answers 6


You seem to assume that the person who comforts a friend by appealing to a faith in the afterlife, karma, the meaning of life and so forth is somehow in a weaker position that someone who denies all these things. The truth is that the denier is also speaking from faith. Nearly all discursive philosophers and natural scientists, when they have strong views, rely on faith for their more profound views about the world.

So it is not faith that is important but the object or content of faith.

The most important use of faith in esoteric practices would be as motivation for replacing faith with knowledge, thus having faith that this is possible. Many dogmatic religionists have faith that this is not possible, so it is not faith in itself that matters but the object of faith.

I'd say that faith is not necessary for optimism. The three reason would be first, that knowledge may replace faith and make it redundant. Second, that we may have faith in something that makes us unhappy. Third, that we may be happy not to speculate and instead just hope for the best and enjoy the moment.

  • I do acknowledge that the denier is also using faith, but I would acknowledge the denier’s faith is one which requires fewer assumptions to believe in, and thus carries more rational merit and thus a more favorable viewpoint for intellectual honesty. I view the scientific faith as more supported in extrapolation or hypothesis than more blindly hopeful faiths that perhaps help to make an optimist. To your points, the first I think is a scientific theory or hypothesis rather than faith, which not the kind of faith I’m trying to bring light to. Second and third no problems.
    – sangstar
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 8:43
  • @sangstar - I would concede your points for much of the time. But terminology matters. When scientists adopt strong philosophical and religious views this has nothing to do with 'scientific faith'.
    – user20253
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 9:20
  • @sangstar-I think you will find that 'who is making fewer assumptions' is in the eye of the beholder. The scientific fact is that NOBODY knows, nor has anyone come up with a test that can even suggest what happens to a person's 'being' after they die. Whichever position one takes on this issue, they are relying on nothing but faith. You can convince yourself that your conclusion is correct based on the facts as you see them. However, other people reach their conclusions based on the same identical facts as they see them. It all depends on how much 'weight' each person assigns to each fact.
    – Dunk
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 15:57
  • @Dunk - Lots of people claim to have a knowledge of what happens but it cannot be demonstrated so your view is not refutable. Still, there is a possibility that you're wrong and you can't be sure you're not, which is some reason for hope.
    – user20253
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 11:37

If you are now defining "Faith" in its broad term, there will be a significant difference in the answer:

Short answer: Faith is necessary for completely masking the existential despair.

Self-esteem is defined by: The belief of one, that he is part of a meaningful and righteous project (Ex: Communism,Atheism,Christianity or even being a fan for a football team) and a genuine follower of that project (Ex: for Christianity,being a non-sinner).

How you are defining realist now, as someone who rejects every belief. This will result will depression (unless this realist makes out of this condition of total rejection a way to brag and makes it a meal for his self-esteem, maybe that's the case for Camus).

There's a different between "Faith" & "Belief". Faith is belief pushed to its extreme. In other words, Faith is the obsession with a belief. Faith is the only way to mask the existential dread 100%. The man with faith is schizophrenic, unless he's lucky to be obsessed with some culturally tolerated belief (Ex: Art or Religion), he will be hospitalized.

The culture's everyday man is not a man of faith, but a man of beliefs. He believes in the means of acquiring self-esteem that the culture provides (Ex: Being a good father or acquiring materials). Since his faith is incomplete and self-doubtful, he will be prone to some degree of the existential guilt that depressed suffers from. Only a schizophrenic is free from the existential guilt.

The problem now is that there is no point in chasing faith, as faith is a matter of grace. Nobody can choose when to become obsessed and with what, it's a matter of luck.

  • Only a schizophrenic is free from existential guilt? A man with faith is schizophrenic? These seem like very hyperbolic statements. Why does rejecting belief seem to cause depression so clearly to you? And are you saying, without the subjective belief required for self esteem, existential despair and depression is all that’s left? This sounds really bleak and over the top.
    – sangstar
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 13:03
  • "Only a schizophrenic is free from existential guilt?" I'm not saying that all people are either schizophrenic or depressed, but the common majority are in-between, not dipped in enormous guilt, but not free from it. These "Normal" people will be distracted from reality, by being busy with trivial problems of their life that their culture defines (Note: Their problems might seems trivial to you & me, but they do not see their problems trivial and meaningless) and by pleasure. Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 17:29
  • "Why does rejecting belief seem to cause depression so clearly to you?" The depressed is someone who sees everything trivial, but in the same does not have a substitute for the reality. In this book (Which i suggest you read,if you did not), "The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life", the authors (which are psychologists), say that "We suspect that severely depressed people, like those suffering from PTSD, have probably completely abandoned their cultural scheme of things" . This means that the depressed people stopped believing that their culture business is meaningful. Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 17:55

In this previous answer, the enquirer was restricting faith only to religious faith.

I disagree that faith (as you define it) is a must for optimism.

Religious faith is merely an example of faith. You could have faith in any of your cultural business (Say for example, raising good kids or acquiring materials). By your definition of faith, all atheists will be living in despair and lack of possibility, but does that happen? No, because they have faith in something else (Which might be their atheism). That leaves us with the term "Self-esteem" as a better substitute for "Faith". Self-esteem is defined by: The belief of one, that he is part of a meaningful and righteous project (Ex: Communism,Atheism,Christianity or even being a fan for a football team) and a genuine follower of that project (Ex: for Christianity,being a non-sinner).

What i want to say in short, is that faith does not have to be literal, as in religious faith, here's where self-esteem comes as a working definition for all forms of faith. That's why most of atheists will not reach despair after abandoning their religion.

For the nursing woman example you give: Atheists are not free of the guilt present in the religious, if she's an atheist and her set of moral standards (super-ego) is well-established by the culture or any other non-religious means, she would still be prone to guilt that might a reason to force her to nurse her husband.

The fact that religion gives us literal hope (Ex: After life and reward), does not mean that it's the only way to mask the existential anxiety and despair.

What i want to stress is that, "faith" is too abstract to be substituted with its concrete daughter "religious faith".

  • Apologies. I mean to acknowledge all kinds of faith. Please see my re-edited post.
    – sangstar
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 8:12

The simplistic and obvious answer, is NO, faith is not necessary for optimism. However, for some specific situation (like death anxiety) and particular person, it might be necessary.
One has to keep in mind that optimism is a state of mind. It is "obtained" as a result of favorable/beneficial outcomes in the course of life/living. So if you have been fortunate enough to have "good" outcomes most of the time, you most likely will be an optimist, otherwise you won't be.

Regarding death anxiety causing depression, I believe it is a personal choice. The possibility/certainty that I will cease to exist, after my death, does not depress me one bit. So, if it depresses you, it's because you allow it to do so!

Also, it appears that you don't realize you are asking for an impossibility. You want the benefits obtained by virtue of having a "strong belief" (faith), without having a belief!


I support one of the answers above and also disagree that faith is a must for optimism.

You can have faith in a divinity, in yourself on in a cup of water. Neutrally speaking, it's the same thing. Now for each case, each type of faith will have different effects.

In a general case scenario, optimism (or pessimism) is dictated by both internal and external factors. The internal factors vary with each individual, while the external factors can influence more or less one's optimism level.

But that has nothing to do with faith. One can believe in a divinity and have a very pessimistic view of the world (as long as it's bases on objective observations) or be an atheist and have a very optimistic general view if the general situation of the environment, surroundings and overall situations favor it.

Unfortunately, related to all this, we today face what I call the 'formatting into compliance' pseudo-optimism. Basically, people are told that it's fine if in they are in a very bad situation and suffer because they must have faith and they will be better 'tomorrow' or the day after. When at that point when they are even worse, they are told it will be better in an year, or 10. This culminates with a life of suffering and promises in the after-life. Well, it's all a scam, a way to keep the meat-bags under control.


Of note here is the often overlooked fact that even the most physicalist/materialist standpoint cannot completely extract an element of faith from its foundations. Every scientific or formal field starts with axioms, first principles, etc, that are prior and outside the field of study. From this perspective, everything needs a measure of belief. (Except of course: Cogito ergo sum)

However I suspect that your question is more about different kinds of belief: Scientifically "justifiable" beliefs as opposed to belief regarding intangibles. In this regard note that Occam’s Razor is really more of a suggestion, lacking any proof. All of mainstream Science is predicated on a specific set of ontological assumptions.

So I don't think your intellectual integrity is in jeopardy if you believe in X to stay optimistic but use math to do your taxes. After all when you operate like this, all your beliefs are justifiable (within a particular context).

  • I made some edits for grammar which you may roll back or further edit. I didn't notice any references in this answer. With references the reader can go somewhere else for more information and the answer becomes more than an opinion. Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 5:29

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