Wednesday, August 13, 2008

There's A Reason It's Called Faith

My atheist predilections do not preclude me from having respect for people of religious faith so long as they acknowledge a few simple things:

First, that the central claims of religion require a leap of faith precisely because they defy the demands of logical truths. -- Many of my religious friends readily concede this point. It causes them no consternation to admit that what they believe in defies reason and cannot be proved by any logical process, and yet they are still called to faith. This I can respect.

Second, that their faith is not the only authentic source of guiding principles for morality and ethics. -- Acceding on this point is a very difficult thing for many religious people to do; but, again, there are those among them who are quick to disavow religion's exclusive claims as to the origins of these guiding principles. Another point to respect.

And third, that their faith does not require them to disqualify skeptics and non-believers from a life endowed with the full complement of redeeming human values. -- This is problematic for the vast majority of the religious. How often I have heard it said that life without God is a sad existence or is a life without purpose. This is condescending to say the least. There are, admittedly, some moderate believers who are quick to distance themselves from this kind of arrogant thinking thus disabusing us skeptics of the notion that all religious people think alike.

The act of believing in something that cannot sustain challenges to its logic and reasoning is by no means an ignoble deed. Trouble arises when wholly unsupported claims of truth emerge in specious attempts to authenticate one's belief. Indeed, the brand of faith most deserving of respect is the one which acknowledges no foundation in universally verifiable truths and exists knowing that its core tenets are beyond the scope of rational query. This faith demands the most of its believers. Conversely, the brand of faith least deserving of respect is the one which claims - with abundant certitude - to be borne of nothing more than self-evident truthfulness or divine revelation.

A mature and responsible faith is one that is amenable to criticism, understanding that criticism is not the same as disrespect; is quick to disassociate itself from the many lurid aspects of organized religion's less than exemplary past; and is not possessed of an arrogant infallibility regarding scripture, the nature of humanity, and the nature of the universe.

All this is not to say that we atheists don't have our unreasonable factions among us as well. Some of us are all too quick to display the very same kind of unappealing dogmatism we criticize in our faithful friends.

Belief in something despite its implausibility - that's faith. And its very implausibility is the reason it is called faith.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I'm an agnostic myself. Can't quite bring myself to go all the way, I guess.