[Ed: Part One and Part Two were published here and here ]

Religious faith

OK – I’m treading warily here, but techniques from the preceding parts one and two may be applied to help untangle the concepts concerning religious belief.

I am not passing judgement on any religion. I am not myself a follower of any religion, but I am happy to have been brought up as a follower of Christ. If anything, I am now a follower of truth, logic and brotherly love, and any religion that comes close to that ideal I consider promising.

Disclaimer

I am not God. As a human I am fallible – in what follows I am offering you my viewpoint in the hope that it helps you to form your own viewpoint. You are free to disagree; I merely urge you to understand why you disagree.

Faith

In common parlance ‘faith’ indicates uncertainty. I have faith that if I go to the station I can catch a train to my destination – occasionally I will be disappointed.

Faith is an expectation good enough to act upon in the absence of certainty. This pretty much describes how we operate all the time!

If faith is not certainty, then it must embody uncertainty (despite assertions by highly motivated religious people).

Faith is not necessarily important. Mankind existed for many years in the belief that the earth is flat, and also (different time or place) that it is round. Mankind survived.

I suggest that faith is that which we choose to believe in the absence of certainty so that we can get on with our lives. Beliefs in excess of that are superfluous (but may provide structure that supports understanding).

Religion

Religious faith is that which a religious society chooses to believe in order to provide a system on which lifestyle can be based, and may include belief in one (or more) deities and/or an ‘afterlife’.

The word ‘faith’ implies that doubt (ie: uncertainty) is thus an inherent part of religion. The Book of Common Prayer (C of E) seems to acknowledge a degree of doubt (possibly confusion!) where in the funeral service it intones “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life . . .”

The Gospel according to St Mark chapter 9 verse 4 acknowledges doubt: “Lord I believe – help thou mine unbelief” – the same passage then reports that Jesus nonetheless effected a cure, implicitly acknowledging that doubt is no barrier to faith.

Religions tend to have their origins buried deep in antiquity, so proof is hard to come by. Indeed, in aborigine culture, the concepts of faith and truth were probably somewhat interchangeable, leading to what we would think of as faith being described as ‘true’. Not only is proof elusive but the terminology is likely confused by centuries of imprecise usage.

I suggest that this actually mirrors our humdrum everyday – if nothing is absolutely certain, then faith governs everything we do, even when we loosely describe something as ‘true’.

Them and us

Religions tend to exist on two levels – the humble follower and the religious leadership. I assume that religious wars were exclusively started by religious leaders (can anyone indicate the contrary?). Those who argue that all religions that have indulged in war are therefore compromised should remember how many such wars were started by the followers and how many by their exalted leaders.

This is why I say that I was brought up as a follower of Christ, rather than as a member of the Church of England. Committed Christians have been burnt at the stake by their leadership for the ‘crime’ of translating the Bible so that followers may read it in their own language. Go figure.

If we would concern ourselves with the warlike religion, then perhaps we should examine the behaviour of its founder in preference to the behaviour of the mere mortals who later may have led their flocks in conflict and burned both the good and the innocent.

Faith is faith

Religious faith is no different in principle to the ordinary faith that carries us through our daily lives – the input to our religious prejudice may come from ancient texts and artefacts and deeply-ingrained socio-religious upbringing, but in principle these may (I would suggest should) be subject to the same tests of veracity as other sources of information.

Testing enables us to come to a rational decision about what we choose to believe as a matter of religious prejudice, in the same way that our regular prejudice informs our view of our worldly situation and should be revised as new information impinges (see Part one).

It follows that a religious person ought to maintain a healthy awareness that in some respects the faith may turn out to be less than well-founded and hone it accordingly.

Nothing is certain (except logic)

To those that say that we should blindly obey the written ‘Word of God’ (in practice always written by man, albeit allegedly under ‘divine inspiration’), I say that their God gave us the most immensely capable brain in the world and it would be the utmost discourtesy not to use it to the full.

To regard religious faith with unbending certainty in a world in which everything is uncertain (see Part one) is illogical and thus perverse (unless you have a hot-line to God, or you are God).

Uncertainty implies tolerance

This reasoning leads directly to religious tolerance – if my faith is uncertain and so is yours, then who are we to pass judgement on each other? Should we not rather in all openness compare and discuss our similarities and differences and seek to learn from them in our joint humility of uncertainty?

Is our personal conscience sufficiently confident to permit us such intellectual humility?

More difficult still, is our religious leadership committed more to peace and logic than to office, so as to permit such intellectual humility?

And finally…

These are merely my views, based on the logical arguments that I have offered in good faith.

Do test them for yourself.

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