Is there a reasonable faith?
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris argues that faith is unreasonable, and the cause of much of our present world turmoil (bar natural disasters). I have struggled with my faith and my beliefs have undergone radical changes in a short period of time. Presently, I have been looking at the nature of consciousness and the purpose of myth, these being incredibly fascinating areas. It took a great deal of time to let go of ‘the God out there’, yet once gone I was not saddened. What I now consider an inferior idea was replaced with the notion of ‘the ground of our being’. I no longer care to seek to experience God in religion, for the experience of life is far more enriching. This means that faith in God is entirely unnecessary, and however I name my experience of life is an arbitrary construction.
As such, I am more and more coming to the position, like Sam Harris, that religion itself requires deconstruction. The whole system is flawed and really should just be pulled apart. Depth and meaning, or sacredness and spirituality, can still flow through the culture without the necessity for institutions to administer it. I was never really into institutional religion even through my Christian years. I viewed my simple faith and pentecostal experiences to be superior to the extra baggage that seemed to be carried in other traditions. Still, that did not make me irreligious, just skeptical of the validity of the other forms. As I moved through my deconstruction process, I have tried to remain as open-minded as possible to the potential good that could still exist in the religious traditions, particularly Christianity. Unfortunately, it seems the negatives far outweigh the positives when it comes to the contribution that religion makes today.
I guess the most pertinent question to ask is, how useful is religion? What is religion’s contribution to the world? Some would say the benevolence, such as aid organizations that are currently supporting Burma and China in their recent disasters. Others might say that they have a tremendous unifying power, bringing people together under a system and banner that makes for effective community. These things may be true, but do they outweigh the pathologies? The institutional religions by-and-large hold on to archaic and imperialistic beliefs about the world and reality that more than counter any aid effort, instead leading to death and destruction. Christians might say, granted this may be true for Islam, even for Judaism, but not for Christianity with its peace-loving Saviour. Putting the historical argument of the Crusades aside, I have to again side with Harris in the thought that irrational beliefs, such as those promoted in the Left Behind series, do impact foreign policy, and are cited as motivators for war. Why should we consider the word of one person writing over 1,000 years ago (Augustine) to be definitive in the cause of launching a ‘just war’? Moderate believers who promote tolerance within their own traditions are condoning beliefs that lead to senseless violence.
So, is there a reasonable faith? There might be, so long as the beliefs in question are held lightly and are open to question. I would suggest that faith must be progressive for it to be reasonable. In other words, it must be open to change and correction. There is no room for reason and arrogance to coincide, whether believer or atheist. Willful ignorance should be challenged wherever it exists, without the necessity to resort to pettiness.