Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Religion v Faith

One of our readers makes the following point:

I think it is important to differentiate between religions (the organizations) and faith (the personal beliefs). Faith is not wrong, nor do I believe that the Christian faith is dangerous. . . . So, while organizations/religion may be bad, the beliefs are not necessarily.

Nonsense. This is love the sinner/hate the sin, hate homosexual acts/love homosexuals. Religion is fundamentally irrational. Faith is wrong, because it puts you in the position of believing something as absolutely true (based on no evidence) and that those who don't believe it are wrong.

Likewise, the claim of speaking for god being bad but personal faith is good is also a false distinction. Many of the people who profess faith as the basis for their politics or social belief don't claim to be speaking on God's behalf. They simply believe that gays shouldn't marry, or there should be no adoption, or that Shias/Jews/Atheists are bad. The organized religion v. personal faith line is blurry. When Shia muslims hit their heads with daggers, is that not an expression of personal faith? When women "choose" to not go to school and wear burkhas, is that really personal faith? And even if deciding Jesus hates your homosexuality and thus you need to repress it is a purely personal choice (though, of course, the "fact" of Jesus hating fags comes from the organizers of religion; doctrine requires organization), is that not incredibly damaging?

I'm sure I'll get some harrangue about religion providing spiritual comfort. Big deal. I get "spiritual" comfort from music. From my friends. From reading. From the majesty of the law (when I can see it past all the annoyance of working). The fact that you believe in some man sitting on a cloud caring for you doesn't make faith inherently good, else I could claim the fact that the Great Potato in The Sky comforts me, and you would have to nod and agree with me.

And finally, there are those who say good works are done because of faith. Yes. Many good works are done without faith. And really, what's better: I help people because I believe I'll be rewarded in the hereafter and it makes God happy, or I help people because I inherently believe it is a good thing to do in the present? And for every good deed done for faith, I will point you to fifty bad things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm an atheist, but I think there are some basic problems with raging against faith.

If you look at the history of philosophy, no system is airtight. By "system" I mean an explanation of the world, man's relation to it, and the best principles by which to live one's life. Every system is based on some unprovable assertions -- and I'm not talking about explicit axioms in the Spinoza sense. I mean that in each system, subsequent philosophers uncovered hidden assumptions or ambiguities that the original author wasn't even aware of.

What's true of history's greatest minds is true of us, too, of course. Ultimately we base our personal philosophies in part on some basic ideas that seem self-evidently true, but which when examined carefully are shown up to be little more than gut feelings.

Now we hold these gut feelings because they seem to be confirmed every day (the existence of a universe independent of subjective experience, the reality of cause and effect, etc.). But, again, no one's developed an airtight proof of their truth.

This is dangerously close to faith. In fact people of faith claim that they see their beliefs confirmed in a thousand ways every day -- though, personally, the beauty of a leaf has never persuaded me of God's existence.

Still, the point is we all live our lives according to beliefs that we can't conclusively prove. And I do believe there's a difference between statements that seem self-evidently true and that are supportable through inductive reasoning (such as a belief in cause and effect), and statements built entirely out of faith that contradict all evidence (such as the world being 6000 years old) -- but it can be hard to say exactly where the line between them falls. Especially when most of us don't have the capacity, the inclination, and certainly the time to find the deepest roots of every belief we hold or statement we make.

I think the real difference here lies in our degree of certainty. Pat Robertson is certain of his unproven beliefs; Socrates wasn't. As an atheist who recognizes the limits of his philosophical exploration, I have more in common with a person of faith who is open to doubt than I do with a dogmatically certain secularist.