On Sundays, my theologically-liberal Unitarian Church includes an offertory hymn which ends “In faith and hope and charity,” a common Christian phrase which causes me, as a spiritual non-believer in any sort of a “higher power,” to think about whether I have faith in anything. The more I think during my two hours per day of bike commuting, the more I realize that my life as an individual actually relies on faith in a lot of things.

Biking in traffic, by Lee Toma
Biking in traffic, by Lee Toma

Most immediately, my ability to travel in the world requires a faith that the other road users will not try to hit me. This faith is tried more often than I would like, but when I talk to non-bicyclists, it is one of the foremost of their concerns. Less than a month ago, a woman backed her car out of her driveway rather suddenly, and due to my limited evasive possibilities due to other traffic, she hit me and knocked me off my bike. I was bruised a bit, but with only a few very small cuts and an intact bike, I accepted her profuse apologies and went on to ride another 15 miles that day. But every day, I negotiate Boston’s Landmark Rotary and the intersection of Comm. Ave. and the B.U. Bridge expecting motor vehicle drivers to play by the rules and try not to hit me, and so far, they have not. Accepting that I ride because of this faith is a bit hard to deal with, but no matter how good bicycle facilities are, there are times when you just have to take other road users for granted.

In daily life, we often rely on the good will of others: that merchants will treat us fairly, that laws will be applied equally to all, that people will basically behave nicely toward each other. This faith makes our society work, but it is not a blind faith. We have to each do our part and believe. Theodore Parker said in 1858, ““The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But sometimes we need to push it in the right direction.

IMG_1765And then there is my life’s work, the study of the universe. In the end, you have to accept science on faith. Many parts of our model of the universe make proven predictions, but there is always a bit more that we don’t quite understand, and it requires faith that we will to keep studying it. I love finding new situations (like rings around planets, planets around other stars, or that galaxies further away are accelerating instead of moving steadily) and helping others model them so that we can find new rules, or applications of old ones, to understand them.

So even in a godless person’s life, there is a lot of faith in the center, often based on what we want our reality to be rather than what it currently is.