20 May 2008

In What Do You Have Faith?

I have previously written on proponents of fundamental atheism who argue that religion is inherently a bad thing. Part of their argument depends on faith: If we can will ourselves to have faith in a god that cannot be proven, this faith can be used and/or manipulated to drive us to commit horrible atrocities.

To this, I say that their basic premise is correct: Faith in the divine can be manipulated, and it has been in the past.

But does this mean that the problem is the faith or the manipulator? And what does the manipulator have faith in?

The Crusades are a dark, dark period in the history of the Church. Especially for Catholics. And they were fought over faith - faith in Christianity and the Church, faith in the Pope, faith in God. Many of the soldiers had faith that they were doing the right thing - delivering the Holy Land from Muslim conquerors. But what did the leaders have faith in? I would suggest they had faith in the money they could earn by capturing artifacts and royalty, faith in the ransom they would be paid, faith in the power they could gain by controlling the land, faith in themselves. This same theme pops up in many acts of religious violence: the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the sale of Indulgences, the wars of the Reformation, the White Power movement, the Wahhabi extremist movement, the Lord's Resistance Army, and many more.

Likewise, let's look at the Khmer Rouge, the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide. What did the soldiers have faith in? I would imagine that they had faith in the world they were fighting for, faith in the Revolution and the liberation of the workers, faith in Pol Pot. This faith in a cause, leader, and higher power - the same faith held by the Crusaders, though placed in a different cause - Communism, not Christianity - a different leader - Pol Pot, not the Pope - and a different higher power - the Government, not God - manifest itself in the same way. That is to say, it lead to violence and genocide, to the loss of life, and the murder of the innocent. And why did it reach this level? Because Pol Pot had faith as well. Faith that he would be rewarded for his trouble, faith that he could take power, faith in himself. And like the violence committed by those who have faith in God, those who have faith in humans and ideas have the same theme: the purges of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Kim Il-Sung, the genocide in Nazi Germany, the race-fueled violence in the Sudan, Rwanda, and South Africa, the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, and many more.

Faith can be dangerous. It must be taken with a grain of salt. Faith in most things can be manipulated. Believers in both God and Freedom must take into consideration what they are being told. They must think about the end results; they must think about whether or not their leader has faith in the cause or faith in the power delivered by the cause.

But faith can also offer hope of a better world. It can offer more than skepticism and rationality ever will. Faith has brought freedom, charity, love. Faith has brought peace. Faith has brought as much good as it has bad. And it is not worth abandoning.

Rock on.

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