As Sam Harris discusses in his book, The End of Faith, there is no other arena of modern life in which we blindly accept the unsupported, the unsubstantiated, and the illogical on quite the same level we do in our concept of religious faith. When human behaviors are based on religious faith they slip through the loopholes of reason paving the path to destruction. Lacking in faith, society progresses. Led by faith society falters. Less faith by Islamic radicals as well as Christian fundamentalists would have generated diplomacy rather than war in the middle east today.
Religious history is dominated by the destructive power of faith in man’s commission of unspeakable atrocity. One only need read the history of the Catholic Church and the Papacy, the Holy Crusades, the history of Islam, The Salem witch trials, The history of the Church of England, The history of the practices of the Mormon Church, the history of the Civil War of the United States, Mein Kampf, the story of Jonestown, Ghana, to discover the historical truths of faith. It isn’t the lack of faith that has disastrous results. It is the concept of faith in governmental decision making that brings about social disaster.
We question our doctors regarding their diagnoses of our illness and the medicines they prescribe for us before we agree to treatment. We want facts, reasons, and proof. We want to know why our mechanics must replace parts on our cars and why it costs so much to do so. We seek substantiation for most of the decisions we make in our daily lives. Yet, we legitimize religious faith as our basis for life and death decisions with no supportable evidence beyond faith. Faith, by definition, requires belief in what cannot be proved. Why do we not accept our doctors, or mechanics, our investment bankers’ words on faith? Why do we demand proof before entrusting them with our lives and resources? It is because reason demands it.
Reason, by definition, relies on supportable fact. Faith, by definition, is the substance of things unseen; that which is hoped for, yet unsupported. Faith precludes fact, reason, and logic. Living by logic and ethics rather than by faith promotes intellectual and scientific growth. Living by faith shackles people to myth, tradition, interpretation, and inconsistency. The “lack of faith” within a culture propels cultures forward. Control by faith generates ignorance. One only needs to study the histories of Christianity and Islam to be uncover the travesty of faith.
Countless US politicians refer to the terrorist acts committed against the United States on September 11, 2001, as acts of outrageous “cowardice.” Nothing could be further from truth. Although heinous, the flying of hijacked airplanes into The World Trade Center buildings was not an act of cowardice. It was an act of faith, committed by men of faith, to benefit a community of believers in preserving its faith-based way of life. It was not the result of lack of faith by Americans. It was the result of great faith by the Muslim believers who carried it out. Had they been less “faithful” it would never have occurred. Had they lacked “faith” in their belief Allah guided their acts, not only would the three thousand Americans who died that day be alive, but the thousands of others killed in the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be alive still.
Giving one’s life in an act of faith can hardly be referred to as an act of cowardice. That fact is supported by the accepted definition of “courage.” “Moral courage” is the courage to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. The belief held by the September 11 Islamic pilots was that God would reward such an act of “faith.” These men acted “rightly,” according to “their faith,” in the face of opposition. Behaving “rightly” depends on one’s perspective, and therein lies the problem with faith. It is inconsistent, open to interpretation, and guided by belief rather than by fact. The fact is these Arab pilots were brave men, acting on faith, hoping for truth. The truth is thousands died because of their faith. Lack of faith would have resulted in thousands still living.
Faith is not an acceptable credo by which to live. Faith is whatever the individual wants it to be. By definition, it lacks social stability as we see in the actions of the Taliban and other fundamentalist religous sects. It is despotic in nature. It lacks accountability. George Bush claimed that God wanted him to become President of the United States. By faith he launched a political machine that is known for its corruption, that tramples the rights of citizens, and has caused the deaths of thousands. When he was making the decision to bomb Iraq he claimed not to have consulted with his advisors nor his biological father, the former President. Instead, by faith, he consulted with his Heavenly Father who, he claims, led him to war. Less faith by the President might have allowed more room for reason and diplomacy. More confidence in the facts would have saved the world a needless war, thousands of lives, and billions of wasted dollars.
The definition of faith requires that it operate outside the realm of fact, reason, or that which is provable. To expect proof prior to belief is, in fact, a denial of faith. One chooses to have faith or not. It defies accountability. It is the substance of things unseen; the proof of things hoped for. The rules of logic do not apply in any faith-based search for truth. What a conundrum!
Faithfully we still deny scientific medical, environmental and geological fact, much as the Catholic Church faithfully denied the works of Copernicus and Galileo for three hundred years, labeling them heretical in their teaching that the earth revolves around the sun. Fact supports that humanity is choking the earth by overpopulating it. Faith, according to the Catholic Church, makes birth control a sin. Scientific reason supports that the earth is millions of years old. Faith, through its “Young Earth Theory” claims the earth is only 6000 years old. Fact says that mental illness is a physiological process affected by chemical imbalance in the brain. Faith claims it to be demon possession. The list whereby faith denies fact is endless.
The inherent nature of faith makes all humanity vulnerable to any individual, religion, nation, or culture that chooses to utilize the fallacy of faith in its policies and actions. Faith based politics, faith based wars, faith based social constructs operate outside the realm of logic. One man’s action is another mans fraud when faith is the reason for behavior. Faith in the hands of political leaders has the potential to be more dangerous than nuclear power.
Utilizing faith as means of guarding civilization is only minimally different than using wolves to guard the sheep. It can turn disasterous at any moment due to the nature of faith and wolves. Ask the deceased faithful of Jonestown. Ask the martyrs of the Holy Crusades. Ask the innocent “witches” burned at the stake in Salem. It isn’t the result of faith lacking that ought to concern us. It is the result of faith leading that foreshadows disaster for humanity.