You can have faith — maybe — but you cannot have religious faith.

I do not say you should not: I say you cannot. It is not inadvisable, it is impossible.

Firstly, there are no gods — not even one. Therefore, you cannot direct your hope or your dreams or your attention to any deity because no matter how much you want them to be there they are not. They cannot receive anything from you, or give anything back, because they do not exist.

I don’t care what you say, people say. I believe there is a god. Well I’m sorry, no belief can change the facts, and you know it.

Look: if you believe you can walk through walls, will that help you walk through walls? Obviously no amount of belief (whatever that is) will increase your chances there.

Second point. I said hypothetically: if you believe you can walk through walls. But you cannot believe this. Because to really believe it would mean that you could walk toward a wall expecting, not just hoping or dreaming or imagining in a sort of daydream, but actually expecting to pass through, and being genuinely surprised by the painful result. You cannot do this. No one can who is not insane.

Can you honestly believe there is a god who answers your prayers and cares about you and is also the Creator of the whole Universe? OK, then why are you not honestly surprised when it does not answer your prayers? Does that not contradict your belief? What is it that you believe, exactly? — that it answers your prayers when your prayers make sense? Sense, to who? How can you tell the prayers that make sense from the ones that don’t? And if you can’t, if it’s totally up to a god and you never know what that god will choose, what does it mean that this god answers your prayers? It could be doing the opposite of some of them, and you would not know which, or why. Again, I am saying not that you should not have such a belief, but that you cannot have such a belief.

We are touching on the third point. It is more subtle than the others. It is that the idea of this kind of belief, the idea of believing such a thing, makes no sense if the thing you “believe” makes no sense.

Imagine that I tell you, “Sofa Europe artichoke.” Well, I have not told you anything. This statement does not communicate. It is in fact not a statement, because nothing has been stated; not a proposition, because nothing has been proposed. A string of random words has no meaning. The three words might each mean something — though Wittgenstein would say: not without a meaningful context! — but in any case, the “sentence” of all three put together certainly means nothing. My speaking it was a babble of sound with no purpose. It might as well have been a scribble in the sand, or a spill of of salt crystals on the kitchen table.

Now take it further. What if I told you, “I believe that sofa Europe artichoke”? What can this possibly mean? That I believe a statement that’s not even a statement? — that does not say anything? — that’s not about anything? What would such “believing” consist of? How is it done? Can someone believe a scribble in the sand, a spill of salt? No, the idea makes no sense. The claim that I “believe” that sofa Europe artichoke is no more interesting than the original proposition that sofa Europe artichoke. That is, it is not a claim at all. In saying it, I have said nothing.

This connects with “religious belief” in the following way.

Religious propositions are incoherent; therefore, the statement that someone believes such a proposition is incoherent.

Maybe there are some kinds of faith you can have. Faith in a partner, for example. But religious faith is not one of them. There is no such thing.

More on this topic later.